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Skipping Stations: Solution or Just a New Problem?

I'm not sure how I feel about this, so I'm turning to the source of all travel wisdom: actual commuters. (Specifically, people who ride Metrorail.)

Here's the scenario: On Monday evening, those of us on the Red Line platform at Fort Totten saw a Glenmont-bound train approaching. The horn sounded repeatedly, and the train slid through the station on its way north. It had skipped the stop and was off to Takoma.

That wasn't a problem for us on the platform. We had another train in about a minute. But I felt for the people aboard the train, many of whom were missing a connection at Fort Totten to a Metrobus or to a Green or Yellow Line train. They would have to get off at the Takoma platform and take a train back in to Fort Totten to make their next connection.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel explained to me that there had been a problem earlier in the rush period at Grosvenor, and the trains had gotten bunched up. (We talk many times about bus bunching in heavy traffic. The same thing can happen with trains, with the same consequences. The lead train gets really crowded and the following one is empty.)

So Metrorail's operations center orders the operator of one train to skip a stop to close the gap between trains. The operator is supposed to tell the riders what's going on. I can't confirm that this happened. There was no announcement to the people on the platform while the train was sliding through the station.

I've written about such happenings before. This was the most recent case:

"Friday afternoon [March 20] I was going home on the Orange Line. The train I was on blew through the West Falls Church Station with no notice that it wasn't going to stop. Roughly 100 passengers (myself included) were forced to get off at the next stop and backtrack. The detour added 20 minutes to my commute."
-- Scott Blackerby, Reston

So I knew that Metro does these things to balance out the line, but I was startled to see it done at a transfer station, as it was at 7:12 p.m. Monday. So many people were inconvenienced by skipping the transfer, even as Metro was trying to balance out the crowds on the Red Line.

Then I recalled Scott's letter, and thought, Well, it's always an inconvenience. He noted that 100 passengers had to get off at Dunn Loring and back track. And another writer, who works as a Travelers Aid volunteer at Reagan National Airport, told me she was horrified to hear about that incident, because Travelers Aid people often recommend that people going from National to Dulles take the Metro to West Falls Church and then board a bus for the airport. They could become hopelessly lost of the train skipped West Falls Church.

So how do you come down on this? Is one skip any worse than another? Is an overcrowded train followed by an empty train better than a skipped stop?

Metro Resources:  Riding the System  |  Trip Planner   |   Map  |  Post Coverage

By Robert Thomson  |  May 6, 2009; 6:09 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Comments

I am o skipping a station now and then to balance things out. However, the skipped station should NOT be a transfer station because it essentially forces the riders to transfer twice and, unfortunately, the headways aren't always that quick.

Posted by: rwp5 | May 6, 2009 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Don't skip a transfer station, ever. And warn us at least one stop ahead of the skipped station. I'd rather get off and wait for the next train on the same platform than have to backtrack. At many stations, backtracking means having to cross over or under the track to get to the train in the other direction.

Posted by: jcflack1 | May 6, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

I wish Metro would skip stations MORE often with two requirements:

1) A list of lightly used stations be listed by supervisors as stations eligible to be skipped. No transfer stations (including to non-Metro modes such as West Falls Church or Union Station), no busy stations. On the Red Line, I often see Brookland, New York Avenue, Forest Glen, and sometimes Medical Center (in the mornings on trains that originate at Grosvenor.)

2) The train should be verified as having a working PA system in all cars, and the driver should clearly announce it before and after doors closed at the two previous stops. When I've been on skip-stop trains, it's always been announced clearly, to the operator's credit.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | May 6, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree with others, and have mostly experienced good practices by Metro when stations on the Red Line have been skipped --the conductor announced the skips to the whole train several stops before the skip took place. Commonly NY Ave, Brookland, and Takoma are used for skips. Fort Totten shouldn't ever be skipped.

However, PLEASE don't skip stations north of Silver Spring on the Red Line. Those of us at Forest Glen and beyond don't get to use every Red Line train, so skipping those stops can result in a substantial delay for MoCo passengers, and in rush hour it can really crowd the next Glenmont-bound train.

Posted by: OneSockOn | May 6, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

When an over-crowded bus is followed by an empty bus, the bus driver can stop short of or over-shoot the official stop to let passengers off and discourage new passengers. If there are no passengers getting off, they can breeze by the stop. Not perfect, but it works. Metro-rail operators do not have that flexibility and too many subway riders try to cram on obviously crowded trains as though each one is the last ride of the night.

If Metrorail riders showed better judgement about trying to get on crowded trains, the conductors could stop, let off passengers and not worry about a safety incident. As Metro riders, let's do our part to work with Metro and ensure a safe, efficient journey for all.

Posted by: Alison3 | May 6, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I would say not to skip a major transfer station (Rosslyn, Metro Center, etc).

But definitely skip the lighter used stations, like Arlington Cemetary. More of than not, especially in the winter, the train stops there without anyone getting on or off.

Posted by: random123 | May 6, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I have no problem with a skipped station *IF* it is clearly and repeatedly announced. I used to live in both Boston and in New York, and it was a fairly common practice in both of those cities. But, they'd make sure you knew it. For example, the 1 train way uptown in NYC often expresses past about four stations if they're too bunched up, but they hold the train for a minute and announce about seventeen times, "THE NEXT STOP FOR THIS TRAIN WILL BE _____."

Skipping stations *without* warning anyone, though, is a nasty, nasty surprise that can seriously wreck your day.

Posted by: EtoilePB | May 6, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I agree with others: if Metro is going to skip a station, they need to announce it well in advance so that passengers can get off and catch another train on the same line.

Getting off and catching another (bunched) train on the same line adds 2 minutes to the journey. Having to backtrack can take 20 minutes and mean missed buses.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | May 6, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

So wait, did the train operator not make any announcements prior to the skip?? A number of years ago - for the "green-on-red" experiment - Metro had skipped over Ft. Totten a number of times when delays posed challenges, and the operator made several announcements on approach to Brookland/CUA that Ft. Totten would be skipped and that folks needing to transfer should exit the train at the CUA station and wait for the next SS/Glenmont-bound train. Wasn't a big deal.

Posted by: chumbucket | May 6, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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