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Orange Crush Riders Were Blue Tuesday

The storms that rolled through the Washington region at rush hour on Tuesday disrupted service on the Blue and Orange lines and put many Metro riders in a stormy mood. Here's the way one person expressed it in an e-mail:

"In what conceivable universe does it make sense to provide DOUBLE the number of blue line trains west toward Virginia as orange line trains in the midst of evening rush hour during a MAJOR DELAY???

"Seriously, two half-empty blue line trains for every one stuffed-to-the-gills, so-crowded-don't-even-think-about-boarding orange line trains!!

"I had to watch two orange lines and FOUR blue line trains go by before I could squeeze on board at Farragut West -- the orange line trains spaced about 15 minutes apart!!!

"Doesn't anyone at Metro keep ridership statistics? Isn't there anyone there who understands there are probably twice as many orange line riders as blue line riders going in that direction at that time of night? Is this rocket science or something?"

The eventful evening began at 5:40 p.m. when the lightning storm knocked out an important piece of track communications equipment in Cheverly. The failure meant that Metro couldn't set the switches at New Carrollton and outside Stadium-Armory. That messed with service on two lines at the height of rush hour.

Some of the switch fixing couldn't be done immediately. Workers couldn't go out onto the elevated tracks because the lightning storm was still in the area. It took till 6:44 p.m. to restore the equipment, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

Meanwhile, he said, the managers in the operations control center were trying to fill the gaps this created in their rush hour service. "They were making split-second decisions," he said.

Some of those decisions affected many riders who were well outside the zone where the problem had occurred and were heading in the opposite direction. For a while, trains moved back and forth on portions of the lines that remained open. Because of the disruptions, Taubenkibel said, some trains were taken out of service before completing their normal runs and were sent back in the opposite direction. At one point, an Orange Line train was coverted to a Blue and at another, a Blue was converted to an Orange. Passengers who weren't going that way had to switch trains.

Metro managers know that the Orange Line has more riders than the Blue and trains are normally scheduled that way, Taubenkibel said. At rush hours, it's typically two to one service.

"Things were out of whack last night," he said. During emergencies, managers are taking special measures, including watching the video monitors to see whether particular platforms are getting overloaded and need relief.

"You have to see what you can run out to balance the line so you can have some order of service coming back the other way when the incident starts clearing up," Taubenkibel said.

I continue to find that Metro does a pretty good to very good job handling the heavy-crowding situations it can prepare for, such as Nationals games, Cherry Blossom Festivals or July 4 celebrations. The weakest point is still its communications with riders during the early stages of a big disruption. Many riders last night couldn't hear announcements and didn't know why they were being told to get off trains, or why -- if they were heading toward Vienna -- they had to watch relatively uncrowded Blue Line trains pass by while they waited to squeeze aboard a crowded Orange Line train.

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

By Robert Thomson  |  June 10, 2009; 5:39 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Blue Line, Orange Line  
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This is a pretty charitable description of what happened yesterday evening. I was stuck at Rosslyn Metro for roughly an hour and a half. From about 6:30 to 8. I would like to know what exactly got out of what last night that would make Metro run Blue line trains at about a 3 to 1 ratio. As for changing on of the Orange line train to a Blue, there were a number of folks stuck at the platform at Rosslyn who grew increasingly angry and confronted some Metro workers about it with shouts and profanity as to why they were forced off when clearly, it was the Orange line that needed more trains. The recorded message that the Blue line problem had been resolved was broadcast every 5 minutes or so and did not improve the crowd's move. To add insult to injury, when I finally got back to Vienna around 8:30, I had to wait 10 minutes for Station Manager McDowell to show up. When I asked it it was possible to be refunded the difference between a non-rush hour fare and a rush hour fare, she said it wasn't Metro's fault there had been a major delay, but that I could fill out a comment card.

This is the sort of episode that really angers Metro's core constituency. They would do well to remember we are the ones who pay the fares for service. In addition, they receive our tax dollars. If they can't be held accountable to riders, who are they actually accountable to?

Posted by: PhilV1 | June 10, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Accountability is arguably the main problem Metro has. Most other issues stem from a lack of it.

Posted by: reller521 | June 11, 2009 6:56 AM | Report abuse

And this is why I drive and dumped metro about two years ago. I'd rather pay the exorbitant parking rates in DC plus gas plus wear and tear on the car plus the gw parkway than ride metro.

Posted by: charlotte7 | June 11, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I don't blame people for being blue after being stuck at a Metro station for an hour and a half. Impractical as it might be, it seems unfair for people to pay rush hour fare for non-rush hour--or even majorly delayed--service.

Explanations for major and minor delays are appreciated as well. What was going on on the Red Line today around 5:10?

Posted by: DOEJN | June 11, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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