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Get There: June 8, 2008 - June 14, 2008

A Messy Morning Downtown

UPDATE: Metrorail riders who could not use the faregates when leaving the powerless downtown stations this morning should be able to reenter stations this afternoon without a problem. "We're reprogramming our fare gates so that riders who exited stations without paying this morning do not need to see the station manager this afternoon/evening on their way home," Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asto said in an e-mail. "They can just go through the gates and tap their SmarTrip cards or process paper Farecards like they usually do. Basically, we are overriding the fare collection system. Those riders who exited the stations affected by the power outage this morning will not be charged for their morning trip if they exited a station that was experiencing a power problem." Metro Center and Dupont Circle stations, closed this morning for different reasons, have both reopened. Power has been restored at other stations that were operating...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 13, 2008; 8:25 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (90)
Categories:  Metro  
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Analyzing Metro's Performance

As Deputy General Manager Gerald Francis was starting to tell Metro board members about improvements in customer communications today, board member Chris Zimmerman said he wanted to talk about other important forms of communication. Zimmerman, the Arlington representative, board chairman and advocate for better bus service, clearly wasn't happy with Metro's performance during the past two weeks. Hadn't Metro been notified on Sunday that the region was under a Code Red air quality forecast for Monday, triggering the free bus ride program in the suburbs? Metro has said that the fax and e-mail notifications the transit authority received had obscured the "Code Red" alert. (The alert has a red-colored box containing the word "Red," but to Metro, it just looked like a solid-dark box on the fax and the Metro computer couldn't read the HTML box in the e-mail version.) Given that these alerts are part of a highly-valued and...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 13, 2008; 7:19 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  Metro  
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Metro Promises Better Communication

Metro's bus bridges don't work during rush hours. As Orange Line riders know only too well, when rail service is disrupted during prime time, the band of buses brought in to bridge the gap can't do the job. Unless you've got hours of time and thrive on chaos, you may want to consider alternatives. Transit authority leaders laid out a customer communications plan today that includes being realistic about such things. If Metro responds to a service disruption by creating a bus link between the stations involved, riders will be told that it may make them a couple of hours late and they should consider alternatives, such as another bus, a taxi or a walk. This Communications Initiative has been in the works for many months, but transit authority staff made it public today because the plan is so unfortunately timely. Orange Line riders have been hammered by delays during...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 12, 2008; 1:33 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  Metro  
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Big Delay on Orange Line (Again)

UPDATE: Delays continued Wednesday night on the Orange Line because of the sun kink in the rail, but the transit authority says normal service would resume by 5 a.m. Thursday, when Metrorail reopens for the day. Discovery of the bend in the rail between East Falls Church and Ballston at 3:15 Wednesday afternoon led to big delays. Orange Line service was suspended between those stations when the operator of a train heading toward New Carrollton noticed an irregularity on the tracks, Metro said. (Good work by the operator. The problem could have resulted in another derailment. VRE and MARC riders are very familiar with the slowdowns ordered in summertime out of concern for heat kinks.) Orange Line trains then had to share a single track and cut their speeds between the East Falls Church and Ballston. Metro also set up a bus bridge of free shuttles between the Ballston and...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 11, 2008; 5:08 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (9)
Categories:  Metro  
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Kaine Talking Transportation Tonight

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will return to Northern Virginia on Wednesday night for another town hall session on transportation. In the Woodbridge town hall last month, the governor found an audience eager for congestion relief, and eager not to pay for it. Many people pleaded for more roads and better transit, many insisted that neither a sales tax nor a gas tax increase -- in fact, no tax increase that they might wind up paying -- should be employed to achieve the goal. Kaine wants to do a 1 percent increase in Northern Virginia's sales tax, along with some other tax measures, to replace the money that would have been raised through the taxes the General Assembly authorized last year, but the Virginia Supreme Court struck down earlier this year. He said he didn't propose a gas tax increase because he's convinced many people see gas as one of life's...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 11, 2008; 6:14 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Confusion on Code Red

Metro says it has fixed the way it receives notifications about Code Red air quality days so that it can get the word to its bus drivers that it's time to offer free rides. On Monday, the transit authority says, it didn't realize till 7:28 a.m. that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments had posted the alert for unhealthy levels of ozone. The alert triggers the free ride program on most suburban bus lines and on most Metrobuses in the suburbs. The Council of Governments declared the Code Red alert for Monday at mid-afternoon on Sunday. Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says the alert came in by e-mail and by fax, but transit authority personnel had a problem reading each of them. The fax blotted out the Code Red wording and Metro's computer couldn't read the HTML parts of the e-mail, only the text. Metro says the text didn't indicate the...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 4:35 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Commuting  
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The Hot Afternoon Commute

As I hear about problems, I'll post them here ... Driving. A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for Loudoun, Frederick, Montgomery and Howard counties until 6:15 p.m., and more heavy weather may follow through the evening. Trains slow. MARC says that the high heat has led once again to speed restrictions on the afternoon trains. This affects all lines, and riders should anticipate delays of 10 to 15 minutes. The Camden Line already was having problems because of the oil truck fire on the Hanover Street ramp in Baltimore that shut train service all morning. But MARC says it is operating a "holiday" schedule this afternoon on the Camden Line. Brunswick Line Train 881 is starting service from Silver Spring Station. Metro is honoring MARC tickets. Metrorail. Metro, which suffered a derailment on the Orange Line yesterday afternoon, says all is good so far today. The Orange Line is...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 2:24 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Weather  
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I-270 Commuters Seek Advice

Here are a couple of questions that came in from commuters taking new routes to work. I'm seeking your help in advising them. Dear Dr. Gridlock: We just moved to Gaithersburg and will start commuting down I-270 toward I-495 in the mornings. Can you tell me what time the morning rush hour generally eases up? If you need to reach I-495 by 8:45 or 9 a.m., what time would you routinely have to plan to get on the road at exit 9? Dear Dr. Gridlock: Can you advise the best route to get between Rockville and Hyattsville? Would you advise taking 495 or using back roads. This will be Mon-Fri at the peak morning and afternoon commute times. [Shady Grove Road is the exit off I-270 that I take to get home. I will need to get to Prince George's Plaza for my new job, to be more specific.] On...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 1:58 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Fares Rising on VRE

The fares on the Virginia commuter trains are rising in two stages this month. Effective today: Monthly and TLC fares increase 3 percent to offset the rise in fuel, insurance and maintenance costs. Effective June 29: Fares for Ten-Ride, Five-Day and Single-Ride tickets will go up by varying amounts. Here's a link to the VRE chart that shows the impact on different trips. The reduced fares will be 50 percent off the full fare equivalent. Here's a link to the VRE page that explains the reduced fare policies and categories....

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 1:31 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  transit  
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MARC Restoring Some Camden Service

It won't feel like it to riders or train crews, but MARC is going with a "holiday" schedule this afternoon on the Camden Line, which was knocked out of service this morning when an oil truck caught fire over the tracks. These are the trains scheduled out of Union Station this afternoon: Train 846 at 4:13 p.m., 848 at 4:39 p.m., 852 at 5:51 p.m. and 856 at 7:35 p.m. Out of Baltimore: Trains 853 at 3:30 p.m. and 857 at 6:10 p.m. The tanker truck caught fire early this morning on the Hanover Street ramp near I-95 in downtown Baltimore. That shut the CSX tracks leading to Camden Station from MARC's Riverside Yard. Penn Line: Train 450 (normally the 5:10 out of Washington) has been canceled today. MARC says Baltimore bound riders should take Train 534. Riders going to New Carrollton and Seabrook or getting on at those stations...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 12:43 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories  
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Bikers Question Trail Speed Limit

The Washington Area Bicyclists Association says it's concerned about the plan to post 15 mph speed limits on the popular Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and the D.C. line. The association asked cyclists who use the paved trail to urge Mary Bradford, the director of Parks for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, "to open up a dialog among all trail user groups to better address safety." "Trail safety is the responsibility of all people who use the trail, whether they are cyclists, runners, skaters or people walking their dogs," WABA said. "However, with the new safety plan, cyclists bear the brunt." The association asks whether any effort be made to educate all trail users on proper trail etiquette. The speed limit, the first one on the trail, is one of many steps the park and planning commission is taking right now to address trail safety. Because of...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 10:22 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Biking  
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Getting to Work Today

Have a nice Tuesday. (Can't hurt as much as Monday, can it?) -- The ozone alert drops down to a Code Orange on Tuesday, so the pollution-fighting plan that offers free bus rides on Code Red days won't be in place. -- Metro says Orange Line trains in the direction of Vienna are running slower than normal between Rosslyn and Court House, but that service is largely back to normal following Monday afternoon's derailment. Metro had been planning to continue single tracking through the area because of concerns about track damage. But crews worked through the night to restore the two-track service. -- MARC's Camden Line riders should head over to the Penn Line. Service on the Camden Line was closed this morning after an oil tanker caught fire on the Hanover Street ramp near I-95 in downtown Baltimore. That shut the CSX tracks leading to Camden Station from MARC's...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 6:19 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Bad Ride on Bad Air Day

So we told you Monday would be a bad air day, and to help out the environment, you should leave the car at home. And what did you get? A bad commute. The bad vibes started early -- real early, in fact -- when Metrobus riders discovered that the transit authority had not gotten the word that Monday was a Code Red alert day, for potentially unhealthy levels of ozone. Whenever that happens, most of the local buses in the suburbs are free, to encourage people to at least temporarily abandon their cars. But early morning Metrobus riders in Maryland and Virginia who should have been traveling for free instead had to pay the regular fare, till Metro heard about the Code Red at 7:28 a.m. and shared the news with bus drivers. By mid-afternoon, that glitch was starting to look minor, when commuters on Metro's Orange Line and MARC's...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2008; 5:52 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Commuting  
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Westbound Orange Line Train Derails

UPDATE: Rail commuter delays are long and widespread, but no one was injured in the derailment. See story. An Orange Line train headed to Vienna derailed between the Rosslyn and Court House stations on Monday afternoon, according to the Metro web site. The train derailed around 2:45 p.m., according to Metro. Trains are sharing a single track between Clarendon and Foggy Bottom. Metro has told customers to expect "major delays" on the Orange line for the remainder of the day. The Blue Line is operating normally....

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 9, 2008; 3:19 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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Heat Restrictions on MARC

We got our first advisory about heat restrictions that will slow commuter rail service this afternoon: CSX, which owns the tracks that MARC trains run on, has issued heat orders for MARC's Camden and Brunswick Lines from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. MARC says riders should expect 10 to 15 minute delays, because the trains will reduce their speeds to comply with the orders. The rail services issue these slowdown orders out of concern that the hot weather will cause the tracks to bend, which can lead to a derailment....

By Robert Thomson  |  June 9, 2008; 2:22 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Weather  
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D.C.'s Plan for Safer Streets

This week's Commuter graphic takes a look at the District's 10-year, $18 million plan to improve pedestrian safety in the city. A map charts the eight high-priority corridors that the plan would target for improvements including sidewalk repairs, relocation of bus stops and changes to signals....

By Mike McPhate  |  June 9, 2008; 1:29 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
 
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Metrobus Didn't Know About Code Red Day

Today is a Code Red alert day, in anticipation of unhealthy levels of ozone in the air, so many local buses are free. But Metro says it didn't know that until the morning rush had already begun, and people were paying the regular fare for rides that should have been free. This is what I heard from one rider in Montgomery County: "Despite what has been reported on your blog, Channel 4 and Montgomery County, I was made to pay fare on this morning's J9 bus between Lakeforest and Bethesda, even though I told the driver that this being a Code Red day, fares were not supposed to be charged. "Although I did not take down the driver's name, the bus number is 6213 and it left Lakeforest at 6:20 AM. I was told I had to pay fare "or else." When I called Metro's customer information line, I was...

By Robert Thomson  |  June 9, 2008; 11:02 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Weather  
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Commuting on a Bad Air Day

Forecasters say the air is likely to contain unhealthy levels of ozone on Monday, and on any such Code Red alert day, most local buses in the Washington suburbs are free. Local governments subsidize this free ride program to encourage people to leave their cars at home and cut down on pollution. Of course, the downside is that you'll have to walk through that same bad air to reach the bus stop. But if you're willing to do that, and can dress according to the weather, then a free ride day is a good time to check out these bus systems, which might provide an alternative to gas guzzling even on good weather days. Participants in the program include most of the local public bus lines in the suburbs. Some Metrobuses in the suburbs will be free, too, but most of the ones that operate in the District are not....

By Robert Thomson  |  June 8, 2008; 3:24 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Commuting  
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