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Red Line Ride Varies From Trip to Trip

This is my recent experience: A rush hour trip away from the Takoma-Fort Totten bottleneck can be just like the old days, before the June 22 crash. Take a trip in the direction of Takoma-Fort Totten, and it's like the train is being towed by mules.

You stop. You start. You stop. You start.

This is because the trains go one at a time through the crash zone, where the track circuit has the same problem it did at the time of the crash. It can wink out so that controllers can't see a train in that zone, so for safety, the trains have to go through one at a time.

Self Help
The slowness of the ride is only one of the variables. Here are some suggestions on ways to deal with others.

If the car is too warm, move. Some cars are way too hot, because the air conditioning is busted. In other cars on the same train, you could chill beer. So if you're too hot, change cars at the next station. But you can also do everyone a favor by reporting the hot car to the operator. On Monday afternoon, I heard an Orange Line operator announce to all passengers that one car was hot. He suggested that passengers move out of it, adding that a repair crew was on the way to meet the train.

While all the stopping and starting is meant to balance out the distance between trains, they still get bunched up. Watch the electronic information panel on the platform. If there's a big gap between trains, the next one to arrive is likely to be extra crowded. If the one behind that is coming on quickly, wait for it. That train is likely to be a lot less crowded and you won't lose much time waiting.

Another reason to watch signs: Some trains do turn back at Grosvenor and Silver Spring, as in the old days. The turnbacks haven't returned to the more or less consistent pattern of the past, but it's still a good idea to look at the message boards and at the displays on the sides of the train cars.

Underground station temperatures vary for lots of reasons. They vary from station to station and even within a station. It's possible to find spots that are cooler than others if you walk around. (By the way, I was in Metro Center from 5:30 to 6 p.m. on Monday, walking around all the platforms, and didn't find it any hotter than other stations I stopped at. As with the other stations, some parts of the platform were more or less pleasant than others.)

Least crowded cars: The first and last cars of an eight-car train and the first car of a six-car train. They're also the newer cars, the ones that look cleaner and have better lighting. They also tend to be cooler, since they're less crowded.

Most crowded cars: The last cars of a six-car train. People still haven't gotten used to having all trains pull to the front of the platform, another safety measure. They wait too far down the platform, and have to rush forward when they realize where the train is stopping. So they jam into the last two cars. A crowded car gets very hot.

Can you add to this list?

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

By Robert Thomson  |  July 28, 2009; 7:31 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash  
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I have a question: How is pulling to the front end of the platform safety given that the crash occurred in the front car? Furthermore, does not pulling up to the front eliminates any lag time when attempting to put on the brakes to avert a crisis? Please respond because I do not understand. Thanks.

Posted by: phenomena1 | July 28, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

@phenomena1 - The trains are all being operated manually at all times due to the accident (it used to be that 6 car trains operated automatically during rush hour). Since Metro operators can't be relied upon to remember how many cars their train has (6 or 8), ALL trains pull to the front of the station, rather than just the 8-car trains, to ensure that doors in the back of an 8-car train are not accidentally opened in the tunnel. No word yet on what can be done to ensure operators open the doors on the correct SIDE of the train.

Posted by: DCLiz | July 28, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: DCLiz has it right. I think this was a very good safety step, and I had been urging Metro to do it before the June 22 crash. We were lucky there were no cases of passengers getting spit out onto the tracks when car doors opened in tunnels.

Next step: Getting Metro personnel on platforms to actively manage the platforms. Give them megaphones so they don't have to yell at people. They could help move people foward to board trains in the proper spots, and they could help ease crowding around the doors.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | July 28, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

All great tips, but there are still problems with the accuracy of the information on some electronic information panels, both with respect to time and terminus.

Posted by: mcljphillips | July 28, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: I agree with mcljphillips. Based on my experience plus what I hear from other travelers, the signs may display inaccurate arrival times, inaccurate train car numbers and inaccurate destinations. However, my experience, based on just sitting in stations and watching train after train arrive, is that the message boards turn out to be mostly right.

Some message board mistakes won't turn out to be that harmful. For example, you won't often go wrong waiting toward the front of the platform to board the first car, whether it turns out to be a six-car or eight-car train.

There's not much you can do about a destination sign that turns out not to be right. The controllers are doing making adjustments based on current situations. So a train marked for Shady Grove could be turned back at Grosvenor, or another station, if the controllers think they need to get another train back downtown.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | July 28, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Changing to a Shady Grove train at Gallery Place has been particularly challenging. The last car of a 6 car train is far up the platform from the escalators to the lower level, and there always seem to be a large number of people trying to get by the crowd that congregates at the last door of the train.

Posted by: jskirschDC | July 28, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Cars like ovens, I've seen plenty. Cars in which one can chill beer - well, I would love to find one of those, just once.

Posted by: DellC | July 28, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

For anyone that needs to get frozen items out of town to Maryland, may I suggest the S9 bus. I think it has something to do with the new car smell that is still in most of the buses, but the air conditioning works VERY well. Most of the time, too well!

Posted by: vtavgjoe | July 28, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I had a great commute in today. I caught a ride down Beach Drive to Rock Creek Park. Thanks for nothing John Catoe.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | July 28, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

"The top Metro official in charge of the train control systems designed to prevent crashes is back at his normal position.

Matthew Matyuf, Metro's superintendent of the Automatic Train Control Division, was reassigned to a "special project" just days after the deadly crash on the Red Line on June 22. As of Monday, Matyuf is back on the job, WTOP has learned."

Meanwhile, riders continue to ask for accountability from Metro GM and call for his removal/resignation. 80% of respondents on a local metro blog think Catoe should be fired. And WaPo is silent on the matter.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | July 28, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

What I would like to see if Metro continue to have all trains stop at the end of the platform indefinitely - then they could mark the spots on the platform where the doors will be. It would make preparing to board much more bearable, and I would guess speed up the boarding process as well...

Posted by: dctimothy | July 28, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

dctimothy - I agree with a caveat. They should also mark spots on the floor for where people should be standing back to let people disembark, say in a reverse U the size of the doors. During rush hour it gets so crowded that only one person can exit at a time, exacerbating an already bad boarding process.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | July 28, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

dctimothy, totally agree.

I hated this when it first started because the stations I use the most require me to enter from the "back" of the station, thus the end of the platform, so I was constantly running up.

Now I am used to it, and just stroll up to the front where nobody seems to ride. Plus, the front cars usually are the most climate-comfortable, since the operator is in there and knows the condition.

Posted by: m1ke3i6 | July 28, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

There are also problems with the driver announcements about destination! On Saturday, taking a train to Glenmont, the message board & train both said Glenmont. Then, the driver announced Silver Spring as the last stop right before pulling into that station. As we pulled in and everyone unloaded, he announced that it was the red line train to Glenmont. Everyone was confused and half the people stayed off, half got back on. Turns out, it was going to Glenmont.

Posted by: ksf1 | July 28, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

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