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The Long and Short of Metro's Train Stops

The cherry blossom festival and lots of sports events put large crowds on Metro trains this weekend. It turned out to be the third highest Saturday and fourth highest Sunday ridership in the transit authority's history. There will be more to come as the Nationals start their home season at Nationals Park next Monday.

We had a lengthy discussion about Metro train cars and platforms that I couldn't complete in Monday's online discussion.

Here are a couple of comments I didn't get to publish yesterday, followed by my responses:
Silver Spring, Md.: Where on the platform should a 4, 6 or 8 car train stop? If we rely solely on the operator, cars will sometimes get stopped in the tunnel. If only we had automatic controls that would stop the train in the right place! (We do, but it's turned off. LOL!) I love it when WMATA "solves" a problem by doing some funky work-around like this.

Dr. Gridlock: For several reasons, including operator training and the limits of the automatic train controls, Metro puts the operators in charge of the stops for much of the day. The eight-car trains, as you know, fill up the entire platform. The stop has to be precise. If the train overshoots the platform and has to backup or just go on to the next station. If it undershoots because the operator forgot that the train was eight cars rather than six cars, then some passengers at the rear of the train are in danger of stepping out onto the track bed.

We hate it when that happens. So does Metro. When more eight-car trains are added for an event such as the inauguration or the cherry blossom festival, Metro has the operators stop all trains at the front of the platform, just in case an operator forgets how long the train is.

Washington, D.C.: Honestly, if the operator isn't bright and/or attentive enough to handle this, he or she shouldn't be operating a train. People's lives are at stake!

Dr. Gridlock: They certainly are. Also, not everyone on the platform has heard the announcement about all trains stopping at the front, so if a six-car train comes in, the people who were waiting toward the rear of the platform start running toward where the train is.

I think the goal should be to have precise automatic train controls that can stop all trains at all times in the right place. But until then, I vote for whatever method ensures that the train doors don't open in the tunnels.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 7, 2009; 8:32 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Comments

I happened to be sitting at the very front of one of the eight-car trains this weekend, so I could see into the operator's cab. He had a little computer-printed sign on his window - not obscuring his view, but in his line of sight as he looked out the window - that said "8 CAR TRAIN."

I guess it was a reminder.

Posted by: edwardaggie98 | April 7, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

I think the solution is that *all* trains stop at the front of the platform at *all* times regardless of length.

Operators don't have to worry about remember the train length, no announcements have to be made, and regular riders will be able to anticipate where to stand.

This seems so obvious, I can only dream of the convoluted reasoning Metro has for not doing this.

Posted by: zizzy | April 7, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

In response to the online discussion question about seeing 8-car trains on the Orange Line ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/04/03/DI2009040302334.html ):

I live at Clarendon and I almost never see 8-car trains going inbound on weekday mornings. I can catch them going home, in the evenings, but if I get to Clarendon station after 7:40 a.m., odds are that I'll have to let 2-3 trains go by without me on them due to overcrowding.

The 8-car trains are usually going back the other way, towards Vienna, when I commute in the mornings.

Posted by: EtoilePB | April 7, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

@edward--glad metro came up with the obvious, low-cost solution. So obvious I thought of it too!

@zizzy -- doesn't work so well in stations like Metro center, where half the platform would need to run to the other end. The train should stop so the middle cars are in the middle of the station, which obviously varies depending on train length.

Posted by: ah___ | April 7, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The funny thing about this is there is a display on the operator's console that displays how many cars are on the train!!! And no matter how many times I post this to the WaPo blogs or online discussions, the comment gets ignored. (It also makes the fact they can't stop trains in the proper place more of a mystery, the operator can just look in front of him and see if it is a 4, 6, or 8, although the 6 and 8 do look similar on the display.)

Posted by: FHMetro | April 7, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Why is it again that the trains can't stop automatically at the right place? I'm sure this has been discussed, and I'm sure it has something to do with "Metro bought a crappy ATC system" or something, but...

Looking at Asian systems (which are, of course, far superior to anything here), they stop on a dime. So much so that there are things painted on the platforms telling you where to stand.

Why is this so hard for us?

Posted by: edwardaggie98 | April 7, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree this shouldn't be that hard. And if the operators aren't attentive enough to know how long their train is they shouldn't be operating the train. Period. It's much more dangerous to have people running up the platform and all jamming on the last door of the last car.

And what's the deal with all of the broken escalators? It's much worse now than I can ever remember. The stations I use all have several stopped escalators. Including some that were very recently overhauled for months and months. It's a disgrace. Are they saving money on the electricity? Or are they just completely broken?

Posted by: fedssocr | April 8, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

And what's the deal with all of the broken escalators? It's much worse now than I can ever remember. The stations I use all have several stopped escalators. Including some that were very recently overhauled for months and months. It's a disgrace. Are they saving money on the electricity? Or are they just completely broken?

I agree, have been taking the metro to a from work for 8 years and can never remember more broken escalators then I have seen in the past 6 months. Though am sure according to metro's doctored statistics 98 - 99% of them are running at any given time. Go figure!

Posted by: Axel2 | April 8, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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