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Red Line Trains Not Doing Normal Turnbacks

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Since the tragic accident, Metro has been running all trains from Shady Grove, rather than having some start from Grovesnor. As a result, trains are arriving fairly packed at Grovesnor, and downstream, virtually impossible to get on. Why can't Metro return to its practice of having alternate trains begin at Grovesnor?

That practice allows folks to get on the train without difficulties all the way into D.C. At Dupont Circle on Monday, the train I was riding was so packed that the doors jammed and the conductor "offloaded" the train's passengers onto an already overcrowded platform. I gave up and walked to Judiciary Square. I can't do that every day in D.C.'s hot summers.

Alternatively, how about treating some trains as "express" and skipping some stations so that every car is not packed?
Carol H. Shulman

I think Metro is underestimating how much information it needs to get out to the hot, tired and late commuters on the Red Line. The transit authority has taken several steps, out of caution, since the train wreck on June 22. Those steps have affected trains throughout the system, but it has been most dramatic on the Red Line.

All trains are under manual control and will continue that way for some time, until the transit authority certifies that the automatic controls are safe. But the Red Line is the only one with two speed restrictions. That could change in time for the July 4 holiday, but it will not happen until the National Transportation Safety Board investigators finish their work in the crash zone and Metro does a safety check to make sure that trains can move at their normal speeds.

For now, trains are moving most slowly through the Takoma-Fort Totten zone where the crash occurred. That has a ripple effect through the entire line, from Shady Grove to Glenmont. Trains could get bunched up or spread out at various points. So Metro imposed a 35 mph speed limit all along the rest of the Red Line. That helps maintain some sort of a flow outside the really slow spot on the eastern side of the line.

Tell that to the people squeezing aboard those trains this morning.

With the line in this condition, the normal turnbacks of some trains at Grosvernor and Silver Spring lose their purpose. The turnbacks are meant to keep more trains in the system's core, where most of the riders are. Right now, the people controlling the line need to adjust to crowding in other ways.

They are holding trains along the line to spread them out more. And they are keeping the option of offloading some trains at Rhode Island Avenue, Brookland or Fort Totten during the morning rush and sending the trains back to Glenmont to pick up more passengers.

The shuttle buses are still taking people between Silver Spring, Takoma, Fort Totten, Brookland and Rhode Island Avenue, Metro says. But when the line is operating on two tracks -- even this slowly -- it makes more sense to stick with the trains, rather the back streets of the District, Takoma Park and Silver Spring.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 1, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash  
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Next: Traffic Alert: Major Delays on Outer Loop at University Blvd.


Offloading at Fort Totten is fine and dandy, and I know that the folks on the East side of the Red Line can use something to help and cheer them on their commutes.

But that offloading doesn't help those of us on the West side of the Red Line. It really is almost impossible to get on a train after Friendship Heights. The safety measures, fine, I guess I can deal with them for a short time, but not for the foreseeable future. But really Metro needs to take a long, hard look at how packed the Red Line is everytime on the West side and figure out how to relieve that. We had a woman get sick today at Cleveland Park from all the people crowding aboard. You would say wait, but the next train is just going to be as packed.

Posted by: DCCenturion | July 1, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Here is another suggestion for coping with the red line crowding and delays: People traveling between points in downtown DC should be encouraged to WALK or take advantage of the many bus routes that service the area. The D6, for example, will get you from Dupont Circle to Union Station and passes within blocks of every red line station along the way. It runs frequently and the AC is MUCH better than in the Metro stations.

Posted by: VDouglass | July 1, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Plus, if the turnback's goal is to keep more trains in the core, fine. But a fully loaded train in the system's core, where nobody can get on it, is no different than no train in the system's core. That's what Metro is missing. You can see nice trains down there and lots of icons, but there's no space to take people on. So yes, there's enough trains in the core. There's just no room.

Posted by: DCCenturion | July 1, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

For those from Woodley Park...I'd like to give an endorsement to the Circulator bus. You can connect to the Green line at Columbia Heights or the Blue/Orange at McPhearson Square.

Posted by: thetan | July 1, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

The D6, for example, will get you from Dupont Circle to Union Station and passes within blocks of every red line station along the way.
Vdouglass, as someone who has tried the D6 as an alternative to taking the train from Union Station to Dupont Circle, it is not a good alernative -- unless you give yourself an hour to commute 2-3 miles. Between the rush hour traffic jams and the frequent stops, it takes at least 45 minutes, and often an hour and change.

Posted by: Elkay1 | July 1, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

There's some room on the trains. Please continue to remind fellow passengers to move to the center of the car. And not to lean or block the doors. I suffered a hour long trip between Wheaton and Fort Totten because of the slowdowns and a door malfunction

Posted by: cprferry | July 1, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Ten minutes between trains during rush hour is UNACCEPTABLE. If the trains can't run at a 5 minute headway in manual mode, there is something horribly wrong with the system. Or maybe with central control. Or maybe management.

Whatever, it needs to be fixed, NOW.

Posted by: ceebee2 | July 1, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

The problem with the Red Line is not the 35 mile per hour speed limit but the fact that the trains stop for long periods of time between almost every station for no obvious reason. Why is this?

Further, why won't Metro tell people what is going on in plain English, rather than meaningless scripts-- if I hear "we'll be moving momentarily" one more time to describe a 20 minute wait for no obvious reason, I'll scream.

Why can't Metro understand that rush-hour commuters have to go to work (and go home) TODAY and do not have hours to wait while they screw around??

My door-to-door trip from downtown Silver Spring to Farragut North should not take nearly 2 hours, as it did this morning. I could drive in less time, and save myself the aggrivation of 3 hours on an overcrowded train each day.

Posted by: padnactap92 | July 1, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

For those talking about the insane commute from Wheaton/Silver Spring this morning to downtown, here's what happened. I was on a train that had just left Silver Spring and was maybe halfway to Takoma when we stopped. It seemed to be the "normal" slowing down/stopping we've all been experiencing, but then it went on for about 20 minutes before the operator started asking people to make sure they were not leaning on doors, touching doors or had any bags touching doors. All of us regular riders immediately knew that there was a door malfunction but we were stuck IN BETWEEN stations, so this was a little scary. I was in an uncrowded 2nd car and no one was near our doors, but I don't know about the middle cars. The operator made another announcement about 5 minutes later. (I'm glad he wasn't yelling at us like the one female operator frequently does.) You could feel the train gears trying to move and we finally did. It was nervewracking. We were sitting there at least 30 minutes. We finally got to Takoma and were offloaded. It was actually pretty scary to think about being stuck between stations and wonder how they were going to rescue us. I had already made up my mind to get off at Takoma if they didn't offload us.

Posted by: melp | July 1, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I enter the system at Grosvenor, and every train I've seen since the accident has been jam packed. They're full before reaching White Flint --it took 25 minutes (2 trains in 25 minutes) to squeeze onto one today. And as we continued south, every platform was packed. Reinstating the "grosvenor" trains WOULD help alleviate the overcrowding issue.
i've also been on 2 trains this week that were completely offloaded because of door malfunctions. Those doors couldn't close because too many people were crowded into the car. And unlike other major systems, Metro offloads EVERY car in that case, not just the broken one. Why is that? BTW, the doors seemed to close just fine once the car emptied.

I've traveled on 3 lines during rush hour this week, and neither the orange/blue or green are seeing the overcrowding that we're seeing on the red line.

And why is Metro allowed to charge rush hour fares for this horrible service? I understand the need to operate the trains manually, but that doesn't explain a 10, 12, 15 minutes between rush hour trains. There is no reason that Metro can't have a train servicing each station, instead of holding 12 minutes at the start of the line. Add a few more trains--it's obvious that the line isn't at normal capacity.

Posted by: jollyw | July 1, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

This morning, it took 20 minutes to get from Silver Spring to Fort Totten. I ditched the Red Line for the Green Line, but that's not an option for everyone. Our driver made no announcements as to what was going on and why we kept stopping and sitting.

I agree with all the people commenting about rush hour fares. We're paying a premium for substandard service.

"We will be moving momentarily" drives me crazy. Momentarily means "for a moment." It has been corrupted in the U.S. to mean "soon" or "in a moment." Though I suppose in Metro's current state, "We will be moving for a moment" is appropriate.

Posted by: runnergirl03 | July 1, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I know some people in Friendship Heights/Bethesda who have resorted to riding outbound Red Line trains to White Flint or Twinbrook, and then transferring across the platform to an inbound train.

Posted by: thetan | July 1, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

" enter the system at Grosvenor, and every train I've seen since the accident has been jam packed. They're full before reaching White Flint --it took 25 minutes (2 trains in 25 minutes) to squeeze onto one today."

What time are you boarding the train? I have been boarding the train at either White Flint or Twinbrook at 8:30am (as usual) and since the crash I haven't had that much problem getting on a train. Definately more crowded than usual but I'd say more than half the time I even get a seat. I also haven't waited more than 5 mintues for a train at that time of the morning. Do you have any flexibility with your work schedule that you could go in later to avoid some of the worst crowds? You might not get a seat at 8:30, but you'll get on the train.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | July 1, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

gallery place is ridiculous and dangerous. i'm amazed nobody has been pushed onto the tracks and killed. i feel like i have been through a war zone by the time i get to work.

Posted by: geneticcounselor2 | July 1, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

According to Metro's website, they need "at least $811 million in the next capital budget program to replace the 1000-series rail cars." Instead of bailing out wall street and failed companies, wouldn't it have been nice for the federal government to have spent the money on something that actually improves safety and service on a vital transportation system. I suppose if the goody two shoes in congress had to ride the Metro, then maybe we'd see results.

Posted by: Standardman76 | July 1, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Going in later doesn't work, unless you mean really, really late - the trains at 9:45 were just as full reaching Grosvenor as those at 8:30. Going in very early was a little better last week, although I haven't managed that one yet this week.
TURN TRAINS AROUND. At least from Grosvenor you can get on a train, if not in a seat - there are people left over on the platform at pretty much all the Tenleytown --> Dupont stations.

Posted by: grosver | July 1, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse


Today I got to the station at about 8, and got on a train at 825. But that's Grosvenor, and I think those 2 stops make a difference. In the old days (pre crash), we were used to seeing full(but not packed) trains that started at Shady Grove...however you could get on a train that started at Grosvenor and find a seat, and there was also room for people in town. Now, not at all. As for times: other days: around 730, and 830. At the end of last week, trains were packed at 750, and also 9-ish.
I'm hoping lots of people take tomorrow off, and the tourists stay away until 930, or so.

Posted by: jollyw | July 1, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

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