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Metro Response Angers Orange Line Riders

Metro commuters are complaining about the transit authority's response to the service disruption yesterday afternoon on the Orange Line. They express concerns that are common -- too common -- when there is an emergency in the rail system: Metro's reaction, they say, is too slow, and when it comes, it's disorganized.

The problem began at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, when the storm brought down a power line on the tracks between East Falls Church and West Falls Church and service between stations had to be suspended.

Metro set up a bus bridge, providing free shuttles service to get homebound riders to West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna. Regular service wasn't restored until 6:12 p.m.

Here's a letter that captures the anger that other riders also expressed.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am so surprised that the WP only has 1 sentence in their story about yesterday's storm about metro's incompetence. The promise of shuttles from East to West Falls Church was ridiculous! I knew there was going to be delays when I entered the system at Union Station at 4:30 p.m., and everything was fine until they made us offload at West Falls Church to an already crowded scene. It looked like traffic leaving a baseball game it was so crowded!

The platform, turnstiles, ticketing area, and all of the sidewalks and the road in front of it were crowded with people. Most were patient while we waited in a group that was probably 20 people wide and stretched from the gate exit to around the bus loading area, but some were testy.

We stood for an hour in the rain and lighting to watch half empty buses leave on their normal route and the occasional packed shuttle bus. Traffic was bad, but it took police at least 30 minutes to show up to direct traffic out of the station so the buses could move faster.

Thankfully, an officer commandeered a normal bus route with five people on it and turned it onto a shuttle, there were too many people piling up and no other way to relieve the massive crowd.

Once things got moving again with more shuttles, finally we got news from the first Metro official who even came by during this ordeal to inform us about that the trains were moving again.

Metro needs to have a better plan to move large amounts of people who are reliant on their service. I hope to God I am never in Washington when a catastrophe occurs and I need to go home. It would be a disaster. If Metro cannot operate well after a thunderstorm, I'm afraid to think how it will perform if something worse happens.
Georgette Flood

By Robert Thomson  |  June 5, 2008; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Your standards are far too high. Metro can't even figure out how to wait until the train reaches the station before opening the doors. What on earth made you think they could competently handle a live power line on the tracks?

This is the quality of service your fare increase bought you. Cheers!

Posted by: Bob | June 5, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

When I arrived at East Falls Church around 5pm, the one Metro official standing outside was shouting instructions, including how to walk to West Falls Church. Nothing like walking 2-3 miles in work clothes, down the bike trail and through neighborhood streets to finally reach West Falls Church. I figured walking was going to be easier than standing outside with the thousands of others waiting for a shuttle to never arrive. It was quite a sight to see all the people walking down the bike trail in their work clothes.

Posted by: Mary | June 5, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Be glad the power line isn't still there and that they aren't rerouting all orange trains to Branch Avenue.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 5, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

This is nothing. EVERY Nats game day brings frustration to regular green line commuters. Nats fans (often drunken) push and shove their way onto the trains, take all of the seats away from the elderly, disabled and pregnant riders and are generally loud and rude. They crowd into the trains with complete disregard to the fact that the trains are already full, often jumping into the car as if they are leaping into a mosh pit at a punk concert. Transit police meanwhile, stand to the rear of the crowd or off in some corner visiting with each other or talking on their cell phones. I understand making room for people, but when they start shoving (assaulting) me, I feel I should have the right to fight back. Nats fans (those that are obnoxious) -- be warned!

Posted by: Regular Green Line Customer | June 5, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I would like to reiterate the comments with regard to how inadequate Metro service was. All I can wonder is what will happen in the case of a true emergency? I heard about the problem on the orange line at 4:10. I left my DC office at 4:15 and boarded an orange train at Farragut North. It took thirty minutes to get to East Falls Church, only to find hundreds of very angry people gathered in the parking lot. There was no structure, no instruction, no one to help -- people were swarming any bus that made it into the parking lot - even running alongside busses. I wonder if there were any injuries? When I finally located a Metro worker, on the opposite side of the parking lot, he informed me that "this is crowd control without the control" and he "had no idea what to tell" me. I then went back in to the station to inquire about taxis. I was blatantly ignored by a Metro worker. I understand they were frustrated, but isn't their job to help? I was one of the few polite ones trying to ask a question. Finally, I (like at least 100 others) just started walking to the bike trail, and took the trail until the point where a homemade "Metro" sign was posted to direct us to turn. We continued walking until a bus pulled over when we were approximately 1/4 mile from the station. Upon arriving at the West Falls Church station, we were then told to go to the New Carrolton side of the tracks in order to go to Vienna. After waiting 10-20 minutes, a train pulled in with a "Not in Service" sign on it. 10 minutes later, another train pulled in, Metro personnel were telling us to board it. Once it was boarded, the train operator announced it was going to New Carrolton. We then got OFF of that train, and were directed by Metro personnel to get on the "out of service" train which at that point said "Vienna." The doors would not open. By this time, the platform was packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder. An announcement was made that the trains were back in regular service. Metro personnel kept telling us to wait until the doors opened on the train in front of us. Guess what? WE HAD TO GO BACK UPSTAIRS, CROSS THE STATION, GO DOWNSTAIRS, and then BOARD THAT TRAIN. It was a fiasco, and inexcusable. Again, thank God there was no "real" emergency... I arrived at Vienna at 7:00 p.m. Ridiculous.

Posted by: Dawn P. | June 5, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

"I heard about the problem on the orange line at 4:10. I left my DC office at 4:15 and boarded an orange train at Farragut North. It took thirty minutes to get to East Falls Church, only to find hundreds of very angry..."

Posted by: Dawn P. | June 5, 2008 4:40 PM

Do you chase tornadoes, too? Why did you do that if you knew there was a problem? Do you work for Metro?

You knew there was a problem and you chose to do absolutely nothing about it. Then, you criticize Metro employees for doing the same thing you did.

1A, 1Z, 2B, and 2G all go from Ballston Metro to Vienna Metro.

1B, 2A, and 2C all go from Ballston to Dunn Loring.

That was some great inside-the-box thinking, Dawn.

Posted by: Bob | June 5, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, come on, why would you expect Metro employees to understand the Metro system or guide Metro customers any better than a random bag of dog feces?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 5, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I knew that a problem existed at East Falls Church before I left the office in DC, and that was confirmed by an "alert" on the website. What the website alert failed to do was to indicate that buses from Ballston could get riders to Dunn Loring or Vienna, while avoiding East Falls Church--this was a good alternative to the shuttle bus disaster that could only be expected as a matter of course at East Falls Church. WIth a little seaching on the wmata website, I did manage to locate a bus route I could use. At Ballston, I grabbed a 1Z, which was surprisingly empty, considering the snafu brought on by the storm. I give a gold star to the lady driving the bus--she had to deal with snail-paced traffic on Route 50, complicated by the fact that traffic lights were out all along the way. It took a full hour to reach Vienna from Ballston, but at least I wasn't standing out in the storm all that time waiting for a shuttle bus at East Falls Church or hiking through the storm to West Falls Church. A word to wise for next time.

Posted by: Dave B | June 5, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I'd venture that the entire system was a mess yesterday -- at 4:10 PM I waited 30 minutes on the platform for a red-line train I could actually squeeze onto (and I am by no means fat) at Metro Center; at that I finally boarded one to Silver Spring and had to switch trains there.

By the way -- it was 4 PM, why were trains only running toward Glenmont every 7 minutes?! I counted three trains going to Shady Grove between each train going my way. UGH!

(And I echo the wondering what will happen if there's ever a huge emergency of true-disaster proportions; a downed power line isn't good but there are many worse things on the spectrum of problems that Metro really ought to be able to handle and has not shown that they can.)

Posted by: Red line was no picnic either | June 5, 2008 9:18 PM | Report abuse

It took me an hour (4:45 to 5:45) to get from Union Station to Dupont Circle on the Red Line. Our train had to be emptied out at Judiciary Square because the doors would not close due to too many people crammed in the last car. The platform was packed to the hilt, and I had to wait for 4 four trains before I could get on again.

Posted by: Getting Home | June 5, 2008 11:25 PM | Report abuse

The situation at East Falls Church was unexcusable. Yes, some of these folks could have used other methods, such as catching a bus from Ballston. But my car was at the East Falls Church lot and I had an appt at the Virginia Hospital Center. The crowd was so thick at 5:30 that I had trouble getting out of the station to my car. Metro can and should do better.

Why bother to have extra metro employees there (which they did) if the employees won't do anything to help? Crowd control was definitely needed.

Posted by: Charleen | June 6, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Like other posters, I was sorely dissapointed in WP's lack of coverage of Wednesday's orange line fiasco. I understand that I should not have, as one acerbic commenter put it "standards [that] are far too high" but I expect something! Metro officials were less helpful than random civilians, like the sweet old lady standing on her lawn holding a home-made METRO sign with an arrow for the hundreds of us who walked from East Falls Church to West Falls Church.

As pointed out, METRO ought to be able to provide some instruction for passengers -- such as information about the bus routes from Ballston to Vienna or Dunn Loring.

I understand METRO is notoriously inept, and I know not to have high expectations, but Wednesday's fiasco hit home just how inept they are. It seems as if each time we lower our expectations the transit authority -- as if a prodigal limbo champion -- convinces us that we ought to lower the bar even further.

Posted by: P.J. Mathews | June 6, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I am shocked that metro doesn't have at least 8 busses pre-positioned at all stations to ensure nobody has to wait. And why they didn't airlift those busses over traffic to EFC is beyond me.

I heard the message when I passed thru the turnstiles at Smithsonian. I left (was charged $1.65) and found a bus (actually 3 busses) to take me home. That's because metro does not have enough spare busses in their fleet to smoothly move all those people when there is a disruption.

Dave B. you have been named commuter of the week for using your head. For all you other dopes who boarded the train even though they knew the train was out of service, you get what you deserve.

Posted by: Recent convert to bicycle commuting | June 6, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

"As pointed out, METRO ought to be able to provide some instruction for passengers"

The plain cold hard fact is that metro can barely provide instructions to passengers on a day to day basis, so there is no hope for when a fiasco happens. You have to be proactive and find alternate routes for yourself. Now if you were unaware of the situation before leaving work/boarding the train, I do sympathize with the fact that perhaps you didn't have a way of being proactive. But for those who found out at work, why didn't you start looking at the trip planner feature on the metro website for alternate routes? (i.e. getting off at another metro station and taking a bus, cab, etc.).

And if you were one who got to metro and then found out, why didn't you try calling someone who might be able to look up an alternate route for you. You must know someone who could access a computer.

I've said this before, but I will say it again. Sit down, right now and take a look at the bus routes that go near the metro stations you frequent, and some of the metro stations along your route. Become somewhat familiar with what is available. Make a couple plans for if a station is closed. How would you get around the problem without relying on metro's "shuttle bridge". How can you avoid that station entirely so as to avoid being in that mess? If metro shut down, what would be your plan for getting out of the city?

Posted by: Laura | June 6, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I agree that there were alternatives for people who needed to go further than East Falls Church. But what people seem to be missing is what Charleen alluded to: Even for people who WANTED to get off at East Falls Church and did not have to go further, it was still a frustrating situation.

To not be able to get out of the station because of the huge crush of people is irritating, scary, and could have become dangerous. There is no excuse for the lack of crowd control.

The smart thing for metro to do (besides crowd control at EFC) would have been to announce before the Ballston stop that it would be best to get off there and catch a bus to WFC or beyond. Metro did not live up to its responsibility to its passengers. Another option (not as tidy) would have been to send them back to Ballston form EFC - catch people BEFORE they went through the exit turnstyles.

Some of the commenters implied that commuters should take responsibility. METRO knows the system and options better than anyone and THEY did NOT take responsibility for communicating the options.

On another note - can you imagine the bewilderedness of deaf passengers? They had NO idea what was going on.

Posted by: cc222 | June 6, 2008 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Crowd Control? How is metro going to rush "crowd control" employees to a certain location (at the drop of a hat) when there are already thousands of commuters on their way to the same destination. None of the crowd control complaints make sense because Metro is basically locked into the same set of circumstances as the commuters at that point in time. For those that didn't HAVE to rush home the very moment they heard about the approaching storm, maybe wait it out at work, or someplace close to work that is comfortable until the crush of commuters and storms have subsided.

Posted by: Mob Scene | June 8, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Today, with the Orange line again out of commish due to a train derailment (thank heavens no reported injuries), I noticed that Metro's spokeswoman's great advice was that tonight is a good night to call in a favor to a friend for a ride. This is a day where some people left their cars home to ride buses and trains because of the predicted crummy AQ.

I am one of those people who knows the bus routes that goes by her house. I do not think I am normal in knowing them. I guarantee most of my neighbors would have no idea how to get home on Metrobus, CUE, Fairfax Connectior or ART versus Metrorail. Laura's advice is good advice -grab those schedules before you have an emergency. I sometimes bike commute and know the bus routes that head home in case of dangerous inclement weather - I'm not riding my bike in a t-storm and I have gotten caught at rush hour when my bike is verboten on the train.

Today, I am sitting in my office (I finished work almost an hour ago) about to head to the gym in order to buy time for Metro to clean up the derailment. Often I hang around a good hour or two after I'd like to because of Metro's problems. At least I can do something constructive while I wait it out. My employer pays for our Metro cards and I don't really like to drive to work. I try to avoid the crush of humanity on Metro's bad days, which, unfortunately seem to have become more numerous. If the train is hopelessly messed up tonight, I'll either opt for buses that will eventually get home, or I'll call for a ride.

I highly recommend subscribing to the e-mail alerts from WMATA. At least you know what you're facing when you venture out. It saves you from the frustration of being stuck in the crush, without adequate A/C, on a day like today, at least.

Metro is an aging system and starting to show it. The one bright thing I've found is that most, but not all, of Metro's employees are pretty candid with customers. I appreciate that at least. One thing I had heard from a Metro maintenance guy last summer when trains were breaking down and our station was overflowing is that opening too early and closing too late means they have a real struggle in the maintenance yard keeping trains working properly. They have to work quickly and they may not be able to do as good of a job on their aging cars.

My big fear as an Orange line commuter is how are they gonna handle the Tysons/Dulles spur when they can't even handle the line they have? The funding always seems to be too little, too late for Metro, one of the few transit systems with no real dedicated funding source. Metro seems to rely on goodwill from the three jurisdictions it serves. It's not easy to run a railroad. Never has been.

Nevertheless, these rush hour fiascos are understandably frustrating for customers and for employees.

Posted by: Daily Rider | June 9, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

"I heard about the problem on the orange line at 4:10. I left my DC office at 4:15 and boarded an orange train at Farragut North. It took thirty minutes to get to East Falls Church, only to find hundreds of very angry..."

Posted by: Dawn P. | June 5, 2008 4:40 PM

Do you chase tornadoes, too? Why did you do that if you knew there was a problem? Do you work for Metro?

You knew there was a problem and you chose to do absolutely nothing about it. Then, you criticize Metro employees for doing the same thing you did.

1A, 1Z, 2B, and 2G all go from Ballston Metro to Vienna Metro.

1B, 2A, and 2C all go from Ballston to Dunn Loring.

That was some great inside-the-box thinking, Dawn.

Oh, thank you so much for your thoughtful response.
1. I just moved here from out of state
2. I had to get home by a specific time to handle personal business, otherwise I would have stayed in DC a while
3. I DIDN'T KNOW THE BUS ROUTES -- I thought perhaps Metro personnel would be able to help. Clearly, I was wrong.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful criticism.

Posted by: Dawn P. | June 10, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Dawn P., it sure as heck isn't your fault that you got stuck. I don't know what was with the person who criticized you. These problems are particularly frustrating when you are new here. The sad thing ist hat you'll have to get used to it. Metro s#cks.

Most people do not know the bus schedules. One helpful thing to know is that Metro stations tend to have schedules for the local lines that go to that station. The schedules are usually by the kiosk. If you are in luck, one may take you to where you want to go. I have used buses to get around delays. A lot of people don't think to do that. And it doesn't always work.

Catching a cab once a disruption is underway is often pretty difficult. Everyone gets that idea.

So far, the Orange line is on a three day losing streak this week. Can they stretch it to a full five days?

Posted by: :-( | June 11, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I was caught in that mob scene at East Falls Church Metro Stop on 6-4-08. It was a mess. Hard to believe suit-n-tie, professional people reverted to animals. There was no control by metro personnel. People kept coming out of the station as trains kept dumping them off. Since I was one of the first people I got in a crowd near where the busses would stop near the light and the intersection where the busses leave the station. Then the crowd got bigger and bigger. Soon they had pushed onto the road where the bus picked people up. Hundreds of people pushing and shoving to get aboard when a bus stopped. Some ladies were screaming as they were being crushed from the crowd surging toward each bus. I was five people-deep from getting aboard 6 busses and never made it aboard because people kept cutting in front of me from the sides. I am absolutely shocked that no one got their feet run over by the busses as they were pressed nearly noses to the side of the busses as they arrived and left. Metro personnel did hardly anything and certainly should have commanded the entry to each bus that stopped and kept the crowds in an orderly line as they left the East Falls Metro Station and not let them leave the sidewalks. I saw one rental policeman grab a lady by the arm and try to remove her---she screamed "what did I do? Get your hands off me!!" It was a mob mess!! Finally after not being able to board six busses, standing in sweltering heat, armpit to armpit, in rain showers, I got out of the crowd and moved to a location another location and caught a bus. The ordeal took about 1.5 hours to get a shuttle bus. Once aboard the bus I saw a line of people waiting that was nearly a block long. It then took about another hour to get to West Falls Church metro because of storm damage to roads, trees, and traffic. Some people I viewed from my windows in the bus were walking the 4 miles to the West Falls Church station and were soaking wet. Metro needs to learn some lesson and are very fortunate that no one got run over or injured from the mob mentality. I would call the incident a near-riot situation!

Posted by: Lee | June 16, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

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