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Mass Communicating With Metro Riders

On a Red Line train during the noon hour, the operator was making the best, clearest, most informative announcements I've ever heard aboard a train in this town. Some longtime riders will respond that in this town, that's faint praise. But the transit authority and its employees are doing some mass communicating that should be encouraged.

Today's episode: The operator on this train originating in Silver Spring made announcements about how to figure out where to wait for arriving trains, why the trains are moving slowly and what riders should plan for, details about transfering to other lines, why we were stopping briefly and which line offered the best route to National Airport at that hour.

It wasn't just what he said. He said it all in a commanding voice that could be heard clearly throughout the car. He offered friendly greetings to boarding and departing passengers.

If every operator were doing these things, it would vastly improve the relationship between Metro and its customers.

These are some things I'd work on: Metro has a tendency to bureaucratize its announcements. We see that in the e-mail alerts. Everyday at 5 a.m. and 3 p.m., subscribers see Red Line announcements that begin "Disruption at Fort Totten." It's not a new disruption. It's the same disruption that has slowed travel since the June 22 crash. It's nothing more than a bureaucratic category. The message is a useful reminder. Why not just say that's what it is so it doesn't look like an announcement of a new problem?

Other examples: In explaining how to figure out where to stand on the platform, the operator advised waiting passengers to look at the "PIDs." Many regulars know that's a reference to the electronic message boards, but many don't. Also, it's great that Metro is reminding people that the trains now pull all the way to the front of the platforms before stopping. But I think there's still a limited number of riders who know what the "eight-car marker" is.

Finally, I think it's valuable to remind passengers that a Red Line ride may take a lot longer than normal. Our operator advised adding "at least 30 minutes" to a normal trip. That's a really rough estimate. There's been many a long trip in the past two months, but many have been normal. And even a delayed trip of a few stations won't add "at least 30 minutes."

What's the latest with you? Do you still feel like you're not getting enough information from Metro, or has it shifted into overload?

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

By Robert Thomson  |  August 6, 2009; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash  
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Next: Traffic Alert: Delays on River Rd. After Person Struck


I can definitely tell that all of the train operators are now trying to give the announcements described in this post, but they're having varying levels of success.

This morning on my Red Line ride to Silver Spring, the operator would turn on his intercom to the train cars, and nearly the moment he would start talking, some kind of static, announcement, radio call, whatever would come over it too. Sounded to me like the mic in his cab was right next to the speaker for internal announcements. The result was horrible screeching incomprehensibility and earsplitting feedback every 2-4 minutes all the way from Metro Center.

But in a general sense, they're definitely trying. Some operators are clear and honest and I wish more operators were and more train PA systems supported them. ;)

Posted by: EtoilePB | August 6, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

This is probably an old question, but with delays seeming to be a constant these days I'd like to know why Metro puts 6-car trains on the Red Line at rush hour. Why can't they all be 8-car trains?

And now they are pulling forward to the end of the platform - what does that have to do with the fatal crash? Will they ever go back to stopping in the middle of the platform?


Posted by: LifeBeforePrinciple | August 6, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

My big issue is that when they say "add an extra 30 minutes," that doesn't really mean anything. Some trips are normal and some trips are an extra 60 minutes or more. So how can you really plan? It's a complete crapshoot every single time.

Posted by: geneticcounselor2 | August 6, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: LifeBeforePrinciple, I'm pretty sure Metro doesn't have enough reserve capacity to make the Red Line all eight cars without taking away cars -- or even whole trains -- from riders on the other lines. As I roam around the rail system, I'm not finding any line that's really getting a luxurious ride at rush hour. So I think they'd miss those cars.

About pulling to the front: Since the crash, all trains have been under the control of the operators. Metro hasn't found a way to get human beings to remember they're driving eight cars and not six cars. Sometimes, the operators were stopping eight car trains at the six-car mark on the platform. So the rear doors opened in tunnels.

Having all trains pull to the front of the platform means all the operator has to remember is to pull to the front of the platform at every station no matter how long the train is.

They could go back to the old stopping points once they have a precise and reliable automatic train control system, but it's very unclear how far off that is.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | August 6, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I've noticed drivers are doing a much better job of reminding people that trains are pulling to the front of the platforms.

Posted by: edwardaggie98 | August 6, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

"I've noticed drivers are doing a much better job of reminding people that trains are pulling to the front of the platforms."

How clear are the announcements on the platforms? Those really matter more in the context of trains pulling all the way up, since the people already on the train aren't much affected one way or the other (as long as the doors don't open in the tunnel, of course)--they just get off the train wherever it stops. It's the people on the platform who need to have a sense for where to stand.

Posted by: 1995hoo | August 6, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

The announcements can be annoying too.

I was on a yellow line train to the airport and the driver kept making announcements at each station, each lasting about 2 minutes and not closing the doors until he was finished.

For a short trip from Gallery Place to the airport that added 10 minutes just sitting at the stations not moving.

Posted by: blah1233242 | August 6, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Looks like someone at Metro got the message. The Metro alert I got in my e-mail this afternoon read:
"Disruption at Fort Totten. Trains are moving at reduced speeds between Fort Totten and Takoma stations due to track circuit repairs. Expect delays in both directions."

I think that's better than the previous message which still said that the delays were due to the accident investigation, and it reflects the reason behind the delay.

Posted by: MVTzen | August 6, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

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