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Metro Riders Still Dealing With Crash's Aftermath

The operator on my Red Line train did a smart and helpful thing this morning: He could see people waiting too far down the platform as he pulled the train into stations. So he got on the speaker and called out to them to move up, because the six-car train would be stopping at the head of the platform.

Also, when I walked into the station, an electronic message board was displaying a systemwide alert: Trains are pulling to the front of the platform. (By the way, a systemwide alert is sure a lot better than those "No Line" messages that go out through Metro's eAlert system. The eAlerts suffer from bureaucratic English.)

So I'm optimistic that Metrorail is responding to some of the communications issues that arose after the June 22 train crash. But riders have not been inclined toward optimism when discussing service.

A Red LIne rider from Gaithersburg wrote in to say this in response to my earlier posting headlined, "Was Your Red Line Commute a Bit Easier?"

"No, if anything, the commute was worse today, or as bad as it's ever been since the crash. I ride from Shady Grove to Gallery Place. Got on about 8:10 and at first things were fine--my car, shockingly, even had several empty seats leaving SG. But as soon as we crossed into D.C., it all went to crap. The trains started stopping in stations for long stretches, which allowed even more people to cram into the already over-crowded car. This morning's train was as packed as I've ever seen, and I've been commuting every day for the past five years.

"I finally gave up at Farragut North and walked. My commute home was slightly (but only slightly--this is a relative scale of awful) better last night, but the morning's seen no improvement whatsoever."

An Orange Line rider was complaining that there aren't eight-car trains on that line anymore. I thought, hmmm, maybe moving around the 1000 Series cars or some other problem that developed after the Red Line crash forced a change in other lines.

But no, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel, the crash did not force any changes like that and there still are eight cars on the Orange Line.

Another question that has come up frequently: What's up with the turnbacks -- or lack of them -- at Grosvenor and Silver Spring on the Red Line? Never have I heard from so many riders who like the turnbacks. Usually, people are asking why they can't be eliminated.

The turnbacks are designed to keep more trains operating in the core of the Red Line during peak demand. But trains are operating more slowly than normal between Fort Totten and Takoma, where the crash occurred, so the middle of the line tends to get clogged up. Riders notice this when their trains are ordered to hold at the inner stations so that Metro can put more distance between trains.

Under these unusual circumstances, Metro needs to get more trains out to the ends of the lines. There were some turnbacks at Grosvenor and Silver Spring this morning, and probably will be again this afternoon, but Metrorail controllers will turn back trains at other stations, as well, if they think it's necessary to balance out the line. This helps some waiting riders, but certainly doesn't make Metro popular with the people who have to get off the returning train.

What else have you seen on Metrorail that you think might be a problem stemming from the crash?

By Robert Thomson  |  July 7, 2009; 2:56 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash  
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System-wide alerts are fine and dandy, but when they scroll across the screen 4 times in a row, then go through elevator outages before finally displaying the time until the next train, that's bad. What's the point of having signs outside the station if you have to stand there for 5 minutes before seeing the information you need?

Posted by: nuttyturnip | July 7, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

As demonstrated over the last two weeks, turnbacks are necessary during rush hours. Without them, there's no point trying to ride the Red Line from upper NW into downtown during morning rush, and outbound trains would be much less frequent during evening rush.

Posted by: grosver | July 7, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

If there are 8-car trains on the Orange Line, I'm not seeing them either. Perhaps Mr. Taubenkibel can provide times and dates when 8-car trains have been running? I'm skeptical...

Posted by: HeShootsHeScores | July 7, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Tonight's ride from Gallery Place to Silver Spring wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great. Train was packed, when at that point, it's usually not bad. We were in one of the newer trains with less seating in the front and back and thus more standing space. Great! Unless you're not tall enough to reach the handrails. I'm 5'3" and wear flats to commute. I can just wrap my fingertips around the rail. If we jerk to a stop (as we did many times on this particular ride), my grip doesn't hold and I stumble into whoever is standing around me. Let me tell you, that gets you a lot of dirty looks. There was some poor kid who couldn't get to a handrail and kept stumbling into people. There was no way he was going to be able to reach.

The train went pretty smoothly through New York Avenue - then it all fell apart. Moving a few feet, then slamming to a stop, moving a few more feet, slamming to a stop again. No announcements or anything. And as is par for the course, the trip took me twice as long as normal. It's not as frustrating when I'm not in a rush to get somewhere, but it's still getting old fast.

I'm tired of hearing that things are getting back to normal. They aren't. I understand that Metro has a lot to deal with, but we aren't dumb. Just because Metro tells us things are back to normal doesn't mean we'll believe it. I have co-workers regularly missing MARC and VRE trains because they can't get on a packed Metro to get to Union Station, and when they wait for the next one, it takes 15 minutes to get there, and it's also packed.

Unfortunately, when people are stressed, they also get rude - and the unexplained and persistent delays are definitely stressful for a lot of people. While for the most part, people have been polite, I have witnessed more rude and angry behavior over the past few weeks than I normally see in a year. I'm sure Metro doesn't know how prevalent it is - if something happens and no one is hurt and it's over, I'm not going to bother to report it. "Some guy in a blue jacket shoved me so he could get in the train before me?" Reporting that would serve no purpose, plus most of the Metro employees I have encountered in the stations (not all, of course, some are gems) couldn't care less about what I have to say.

Posted by: runnergirl03 | July 7, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

"I'm tired of hearing that things are getting back to normal. They aren't. I understand that Metro has a lot to deal with, but we aren't dumb. Just because Metro tells us things are back to normal doesn't mean we'll believe it."

Runnergirl03--exactly! You said it well.

Posted by: DOEJN | July 8, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

It would be nice if Metro would give us a "normalization" timeline--at least we'd have something to look forward to. That uncertainty, combined with seeing train after train packed to the brim every day, is a real morale crusher.

Posted by: smith241 | July 8, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I think I was on an 8 car train to Vienna last night (the sign said it was but I wasn't at the end of the platform so I can't be positive).

What I'm noticing when I get on at Dunn Loring is that 3 trains will go to Vienna while waiting for a train to come towards New Carrollton. When the train gets to Dunn Loring every seat is full and there are quite a few people standing in the aisle. By the time it leaves Dunn Loring the aisles are crowded and we're leaving people behind at West Falls Church because they can't get on. I'm not sure how anyone else down the line ever gets on. Its bad and gotten worse in the past couple of weeks.

Posted by: archers44 | July 8, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Dr G--The follow-up question to ask are these: WHY are trains still moving so slowly through Ft Totten/Silver Spring? Is there still damaged track present? If so, when will it be fixed? Are they still investigating? If so, what is taking so long (when a plane crashes, the system isn't disrupted for weeks)?

When a Metro spokesperson gives another of their everything is hunky-dory answers, you need to say: OK, we all know that's a bunch of BS; now what the REAL answer?

Posted by: ceebee2 | July 8, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

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