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?
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