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Orange Line Travelogue

As Dr. Gridlock, I don't commute. Soon as I put the key in the ignition or pay the fare, I'm at work. Part of my job, as the Dear Abbey of Traffic, is to share your pain out there.

Orange Line, Wednesday, 6:52 a.m.: Got on board a downtown-bound train at West Falls Church. Things were going well at that point. I'd parked on the second level in the garage, taking one of about 2,000 all-day spaces at the station. ($4.50 per day, payable by SmarTrip card only.)

Just two stops from the start of the line, the train car already was filling with standees. And we could hear a platform announcement about delays ahead, because of a switch problem at Foggy Bottom. This wouldn't prove to be a major delay, but it did add 10 minutes to the scheduled 28 minute trip to Federal Center SW.

Waiting at WFC web.jpg

During the trip, the train operator made frequent announcements about our status, and we could hear similar platform announcements as we held at various stations in Northern Virginia. (As I looked around the car, now filled with standees, I couldn't spot anyone who appeared to be looking at text messages. People were either satisfied with the announcements or they don't use Metro's eAlert system.

In fact, our car was very quiet. I heard no conversations. No one even muttering to himself. This crowd was into music, reading and snoozing. Highlight: Man offered his seat to a pregnant woman as soon as she boarded.

Orange Line Car Web.jpg

The train crowding eased as we got deeper into the District, passing Foggy Bottom, Farragut West and Metro Center, which really swept out the car.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel reviewed the morning's troubles for me:
-- At 6:24 a.m, the rail switch outside Foggy Bottom developed a mechanical problem. As a result, Orange Line trains were turning back at McPherson Square and Clarendon and Blue Line trains were turning back at McPherson Square and Arlington Cemetery.

There was no train service between Clarendon and McPherson Square on the Orange Line and no train service between between Arlington Cemetery and McPherson Square on the Blue Line.

-- At 6:43 a.m., shuttle bus service was requested to link those stations.

-- At 6:54 a.m., trains began moving through the Foggy Bottom switch at reduced speeds. [This is the part of the morning my train experienced.]

-- At 7:11 a.m., the Foggy Bottom switch problem was fully corrected.

-- In the short-lived shuttle bus service, one Metrobus took 23 riders from Arlington Cemetery to McPherson Square with stops at the stations in between.

How did my morning compare to your typical morning? (More about this trip on The Post's Commuter page this Sunday. Also, there were a couple of other situations along the Orange Line that I'll address in additional postings here.)

By Robert Thomson  |  August 7, 2008; 7:42 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Congestion , Metro  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A Short Hiatus
Next: No More Metrobus Shuttles to FedEx Field


I think "Dear Abbot of Traffic" is more the point, though your work is far from monastic.

Posted by: Scott Wells | August 7, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

As a Blue line rider who gets on at Franconia, I heard announcement after I'd entered the system and was on the platform.

What little information we were given included nothing about shuttle buses being called for. My train left around 6:45 a.m. and the operator warned us there were switch problems and trains were being turned back at McPherson Square, which also happens to be my destination.

The operator also advised riders to transfer to the Yellow Line at Braddock Rd., King St., etc. if we wanted to go downtown. As we pulled out of Van Dorn St. she repeated her earlier announcements and added that she wasn't sure the train would be going past Arlington Cemetery.

I got off at King St. and got on a Yellow Line train. At Gallery Place, I transferred to the Red line (no delays there for a change!) and exited the system at Farragut North. The detours added maybe 10 minutes to my usual commute.

Posted by: cab91 | August 7, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I get on at Dunn Loring - it used to be I could always get a seat - now I have to stand about 50% of the time. I don't know if this is because the trains run less frequently, more people are riding from Vienna or what but that means that from West Falls Church on it can get pretty croweded and HOT.

No one was checking for text because they rarely show up in a timely manner and they often provide useless info so why worry about it - 9 times out of 10 there is nothing you can do but deal.

But you're right - if you can make it to Farragut West things are good and you have the space to breath again.

I suffer through this because I can walk to the Metro and I simply accept that I can't control it and i'll get to the office as soon as I can. It stinks but for me it still beat driving at least for now.

Posted by: Washington, DC | August 7, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

My commute was normal except for the unexpected congestion on the bikepath between Iwo Jima memorial and Arlington cemetary. Lot of people clogging the path on the way to Roslyn.

Now I have a reason for my 45 second delay.

Posted by: Tom | August 7, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

What a difference a few minutes make, as my experience on Wednesday was very different. I entered got on an Orange line train a little after 7am at the East Falls Church Metro station. Our station manager had posted notices of the delay on the fare card readers, which was very helpful.

Unfortunately, the ride went downhill from there.

My car was pretty packed when I got on. This is pretty typical since this particular car is the closest to the 18th Street exit at the Farragut West stop. By the time we reached Clarendon, two other standing riders nearly came to blows. One rider was attempting to read the Express paper and essentially using another rider’s back as a table. (Why do people insist on such rude behavior?)

Then at Rosslyn, a number of riders near the doors got off the train to let the other people exit the train. However, there was one man with a briefcase who did not step off the train and blocked a bit of the doorway. One of the exiting commuters tripped over the briefcase and started swearing at the offending object and person. Not pleasant at all.

One of the tourists near me was obviously jarred by the events and the “crabbiness” of fellow commuters. A number of the riders were quick to explain that none of this behavior was typical. Still a little common decency would have avoided all of the aggravation and made the ride much more comfortable.

Posted by: 22207 | August 7, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I boarded the train at Vienna at 6:25. I heard no announcements at all from the conductor until we reached Ballston. Someone who boarded at West Falls told be about the problem. I had no idea that I would be expected to detrain at Clarendon. They did manage to fix the problem and I did not have to detrain. Fortunately I was only 30 minutes late reaching Farragut West.

Posted by: Vienna | August 7, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

It would also help if tourists could figure out to GET THE FUKC OUT OF THE WAY.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 7, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

6:50 am -- locked my back door and drove car out of garage. Turned on radio to catch news, adjusted temperature. Relaxed and started commute. Made my way through neighborhood to Route 50. Sipped coffee while enroute.

7:00 am -- at stoplight at end of Whitehurst Freeway.

7:10 am -- parked in garage at work (Dupont Circle) and took elevator to my office. 20 MINUTES.

For 15 years using Metro, a 15 minute walk from my house, the same trip took anywhere from 1 HOUR (good day) to 2+ HOURS (bad day). Walk to Metro, stand all the way from Ballston to Dupont Circle with sore legs, uncomfortably hot (or cold), in overcrowded car taking in foul odors. Walk 1 block to office.


Posted by: Rich | August 7, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I normally drive. Sailed right in yesterday: left home at 7:33 and was downtown before 8:00 via Van Dorn Street and I-395.

Today I took one of the cars to the mechanic in Ballston. Took perhaps 20 minutes to get there, again very light traffic. Then walked the three blocks to Ballston and took the Orange Line. 8-car train was quite crowded. Made me wonder how it will be come September.

Posted by: Rich | August 7, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I gave up on metro right before summer hit. I'd rather pay 20 bucks a day to park in my garage, and gas at 4.20 a gallon (premium).

Posted by: Kim | August 7, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I normally drive to my office in Rosslyn from Fairfax, but had a need to take Metro instead to work on Wednesday.

7am, I caught the bus right by my house to Vienna: no problems... it's nice being the last stop before the station!

I walked in to the station and directly on to a train: no problems... even got a seat!
It's nice to get on at Vienna! Husband text messaged me that there were problems with Metro (he's just heard on the radio), but no announcements. Now I was dreading the worst!

Hit all the stations on the way to Rosslyn, all escalators and elevtaors were working, I managed to walk up more than half the flight (personal accomplishment).

Total commute time house to desk: 37 min. Shortest ever via public transportation! Will I do it again? Only if I have to. I am happy to pay a little more for my alone time in the car every day, which takes only 8 minutes more each way.

Posted by: Caroline | August 7, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I always have a pretty good commute -- in April I purchased a lovely black prius. Told my husband that I would now be driving him to work and dropping #1 son at daycare in Upper Marlboro Rt 301.

Leave house @ 6:15 to 6:20, drop off hubby and then drop off son, head to WAWA and meet my hubby there after he picks up his delivery truck for a nice cup of coffee made by Agnes the coffee lady, chat with another regular for few minutes, smooch hubby bye-bye and head north on 301 to 214.

Take 214 all the way into DC (19 miles) to work. Only once have I had to detour my route due to backups.

Can generally be at my office between 8:00 and 8:15 in the garage.

I wouldn't ride Metro if my company gave me the fare cards -- no traffic could possibly change my mind.

I enjoy those few extra minutes in the morning with my husband and son. My day gets started off on the right foot almost every single day......

Posted by: cj | August 7, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Blue line trains have been running 15-20 minutes apart. Metro, of course, reports no delays and refuses to use the train time arrival signs.

Posted by: WTF | August 7, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Yesterday: "9:03 a.m. A Blue Line train at McPherson Square in the direction of Largo Town Center was taken out of service because of graffiti on the exterior of the train, and customers were required to exit the train."

Because clearly a train with graffiti making all the stops without passengers is better than a train, you know, being a freaking train.

Posted by: WTF | August 7, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Hooray for the man who gave up his seat for the pregnant woman! Wish he rode the yellow line. I'm 7 months pregnant and have never had a man give up his seat for me. A couple of women have. Usually people just stare at me as I try to balance with my new center of gravity. I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually gotten a seat on the metro. I think we're going to start driving.

Posted by: PG | August 7, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Next time take a rush-hour bus/Metro trip (preferably bus-Metro-bus itinerary). Note how long you have to wait to change from one leg to another (even before your bus falls far behind its schedule).

Posted by: Mount Unpleasant | August 7, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Metro Man | August 7, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I started to take the Metro in May when gas prices started to spike around $4.00 a gallon. I canceled my parking space and started to use Metro. Since then there have been over 6 different outages on the Orange line alone, and I must agree with Anonymous above; I am giving up on Metro. “Walk to Metro, stand all the way from [Herndon to West Falls Church] with sore legs, uncomfortably hot (or cold), in an overcrowded car taking in foul odors…” When driving from Herndon it is only 35 to 40 minutes and although it costs me more for parking and is more expensive but it is much more convenient and reliable. When trying to attempt to catch a bus to West Falls Church, then waiting for 4 to 7 minutes for a train (which even at 6:00 AM is crowded and strained with people fighting over seats) it is an hour at best; two hours if there are delays. Not to mention, if the Orange line breaks down, we are usually shuffled off at some other station, to wait for another packed train like sardines to take us the rest of the way or to try to catch a shuttle bus! Inexcusable service.

No more Metro for me!

Posted by: No more Metro for me! | August 7, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

My commute on Wednesday was not as good as yours. I got to Metro Center okay but after boarding the Orange Line and before McPherson Sq. the announcement came that there was a switching problem at Foggy Bottom. This announcment came several times as we inched forward. At no time was it announced that we would be off loaded. The announcement said they would be single tracking. It took a good 45 minutes from Metro Center to Ballston. A normal 15 to 20 minute ride.

Posted by: Silver Spring | August 7, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

And those fools think they can add Metro to Tysons to this mess?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 7, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I am a regular metro commuter and regularly am disappointed. However, yesterday I had a meeting that required me to be at work at 7:30am. In order to arrive by that time via metro (bus and rail), I would have had to leave my house at 6:20 because the busses run only every 25 minutes before 7am. I opted to drive yesterday. Left my house at 7:10 and arrived to work at 7:25. I shake my head regularly when this occurs and wonder why I continue with metro...

Posted by: LV | August 7, 2008 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I've been riding the orange line in from Vienna to Metro Center for a bit over a year, and in the last 3-4 months I've noticed a marked increase in ridership at the Vienna stop. Every morning when I get in--usually around 6:30, bus after bus after bus of passengers rolls up and piles onto the train. It's to the point that if you don't get on at Vienna, forget about a seat. Metro needs to be running 8 car trains every 3 minutes in the morning, but that will never happen.

Posted by: Vienna commuter | August 8, 2008 12:01 AM | Report abuse

Metro can't run orange line trains every 3 minutes. There are now delays going through the Roslyn tunnel with trains every 6 minutes.

Wait until the silver line is added. The delays will be epic, unless they reduce the number of orange line trains. I'm sure Dr. Gridlock has an article already written about the delays. Do we really have to spend $5 billion to prove it was a bad idea.

The fact is that metro is very close to capacity going through the city. Unless people start changing their work schedules, metro will continue be packed going into town in the morning.

Posted by: Dose of reality | August 8, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Changing work schedules isn't enough. Government agencies and companies need to do their employees a favor and abandon DC.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Wednesday was easy.

Walk out the door at 6:55 and pedal my way to the Fairfax drive bike lane. Dodge 3 vehicles, including one Arlington County cop, blocking the bike lane. Jaunt over the Roosevelt Bridge, and head up 22nd St. Get nearly run over by a driver who fails to yield the right-of-way at the four way stop (yes, I stopped at the stop sign and waited for my turn). Dodge the dump truck taking two lanes and the homicidal taxi driver pulling out of the parking garage. Arrive at office. 6 miles, 35 minute ride. Takes 45 minutes via Metro. Burned some calories, not a lick of carbon, didn't contribute to "the Orange crush", and didn't curse out any tourists. A typical day.

Posted by: 22205 | August 15, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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