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Red Line realities shred schedule

Use Metro's Trip Planner to calculate the time it takes to ride a Red Line train from Shady Grove to Glenmont. The planner tells you the trip will take 61 minutes.

The calculation assumes that a train spends 20 seconds at each stop with its doors open. It also assumes there's no New York Avenue Station, no crowds on downtown platforms, no consistently crowded cars at rush hour.

pids Metro photo.jpg The way life should be. (Metro photo)

That's a lot to assume. Metro says the end-to-end run on the Red Line is usually four to five minutes over the planned time during rush hours.

On Thursday, the Metro board is scheduled to hear the staff's plan to adjust Red Line schedules. Some of the adjustments will save money. Others will simply take account of the reality of how long it takes to go station to station in 2010.

Revised schedule
The Metro staff proposes adding four minutes to the scheduled running time at peak periods, for a total Red Line run of 65 minutes. That's basically two minutes to account for the stop at New York Avenue Station, which opened in 2004, and two minutes to account for longer stops at all stations during rush hour. The off-peak schedule would be adjusted to add two minutes, for a 63-minute run time.

Other steps
Besides acknowledging realities, Metro plans to take some steps that managers think will smooth service and save money. Among them:
-- Increase the scheduled time between rush hour trains from the current five minutes, to six minutes.
-- Eliminate the peak-period train turnbacks at Grosvenor. (The turnbacks at Silver Spring would not be affected under this plan.)

Metro's analysis
This will save $90,000 in the current fiscal year, ending June 30, but that's a sliver of the $4 million in total service cuts and the $40 million grand total shortfall in the budget. The transit authority staff is pitching a variety of benefits, some of which I can see and others I don't get, at least not yet. The staff says the results would include:
-- Smooth peak-period operation on the Red Line.
-- Minimum or no disruption for riders.
-- "Actual service will be in line with scheduled service."
-- Platform crowding would be reduced downtown.
-- More than 15,000 riders at rush hour would enjoy better service between Shady Grove and Grosvenor.
-- Cost savings could go beyond the current fiscal year if the program is implemented, because Metro would need one less train than it uses in the current schedule. The operation would save 318,000 rail car miles annually, as well as train operator hours.

I think the Metro board will want a better explanation for parts of this program than the one I'm giving you here. I love the idea that "Actual service will be in line with scheduled service." How refreshing.

But will widening the gaps between trains and ending Grosvenor turn-backs reduce downtown crowding, or even result in minimal or no disruption for riders?

Some Red Line riders bound for the outer stations do wait on the platforms for a "Shady Grove" or "Glenmont" destination sign on a train, so they won't have to get off and wait again at either Grosvenor or Silver Spring. Now the Shady Grove people, at least, would be able to board any train. And the number of people headed out that far has been increasing in recent years.

Still, I've been telling you for a long time that the reason those turnbacks exist is to send more trains back downtown to increase the number of cars available to carry people away from the most heavily used platforms. Why have we had the turnbacks all this time if eliminating them would actually ease platform crowding?

And how does subtracting one train from the service have either no effect on the ride or contribute to a reduction in platform crowding? (The one platform where this would clearly help: Grosvenor.)

What's that you say? Maybe they'll space out the trains, but there will be more eight-car trains? That's not in the plan. In fact, the plan is there won't be any eight-car trains anywhere in regular service. It's one of the proposed money-saving measures. How are they going to do more with less?

By Robert Thomson  |  January 6, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
 | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget, Red Line delays  
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