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Metro: Rail delays more frequent

What Metrorail riders have been saying for months is now backed up by Metrorail statistics: The on-time performance of the trains has declined.

On Thursday morning, the transit authority staff showed the numbers to Metro board members.

Overall on-time performance: It was 93.3 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30. As of December, it had fallen to 89 percent.
Red Line: 94.6 percent for the year ending June 30, and then 87 percent through December.
Blue Line: 90.8 percent through June 30, 88 percent through December.
Orange Line: 93.7 percent through June 30, 91 percent through December.
Green Line: 92.3 percent through June 30, 90 percent through December.
Yellow Line: 93.7 percent through June 30, 90 percent through December.

It's not very likely the numbers have gotten better since December, not with the storms and the service restrictions. The Metro staff, to its credit, did not adjust the figures to discount the effects of special safety precautions or snowstorms. The numbers were meant to reflect the actual experience of riders, said Dave Kubicek, Metro's acting deputy general manager.

Consider those results not only in terms of your experience but also in terms of Metro's goals. Metro wanted things to get better. The target for on-time performance this year was 95 percent of trains.

Expect to see a more detailed report next month. But this morning, Metro board Chairman Peter Benjamin of Maryland asked Kubicek to describe some of the basic factors.

Manual control. The trains are driven by the operators in the front cab, but the train system runs most efficiently under automatic control. Manual control is a safety precaution imposed because investigators and Metro officials believe the control system malfunctioned at the time of the June 22 Red Line crash.

Oldest cars in middle. Placing the 1000 Series rail cars -- oldest in the fleet -- into the middle of the trains was another step following the crash, but it created its own set of problems, Kubicek said. First of all, it's difficult to consistently assemble trains around the old cars. Second, whenever newer cars are linked up with old cars, it creates technical difficulties with train operations that cannot be overcome.

So if you know that, what do you know? You know your train ride is going to be slow for a long time to come. Before trains are restored to automatic control, the National Transportation Safety Board must complete its investigation into the June 22 crash and issue recommendations. Then the transit authority must develop and test a solution. At the very least, that's months away. And there's no timetable at all for ending what's known as the bellying of the 1000 Series cars, except the replacement of those cars with new cars, still several years away. [See Lena H. Sun story about the NTSB decision regarding rail car design.]

By Robert Thomson  |  February 18, 2010; 2:07 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Does anyone else find it ridiculous that the NTSB investigation is not completed yet? I know that it is a complex job that needs to be done right, but it has been eight months and no end in sight. Just sayin.

Posted by: Axel2 | February 18, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

People, this has a direct impact on the number of trains serving your station despite what Metro may say.

Here's a demonstration of the slower trains translating into worse service. I'm going to make up numbers.

Lets take the Red Line...Shady Grove to Glenmont. Lets say it takes an hour to go from one end to the other normally, therefore making a round trip in 2 hours or 120 minutes. If you want trains to come every 2 minutes, and it takes 120 minutes to make a round trip run, you need 60 trains on the line. Now lets say you cut the speeds in half. It now takes 2 hours to go one way, 4 hours (240 mins) to make a round trip. You want trains to come every 2 minutes, you need 120 trains on the line. But Metro doesn't have 120 trains, they only have 60. Thus, the trains come every 4 minutes.

Now Metro supervisors tell the first train operator to make 2 runs, starting at 6 AM. When the normal speeds were in effect, his 2 round trips would be over at 10 AM. When the speeds are cut in half, but the number of trips is not, he won't finish his run until 2 PM. So he gets paid overtime.

So in effect, cutting the speeds in half reduced the number of trains per hour serving each station from 30 to 15, and doubled the length of "rush hour". But rush hour didn't change in terms of people's schedules. That means during rush hour, twice as many people will cram onto each train, and from 10 AM to 2 PM in my hypothetical example, there are trains still completing "rush hour" runs, even though there is little demand.

So my example is an exaggeration, for sure. But the point is, if you have the same number of trains, but you run them slower, it will make the trains come less frequently and be more crowded, and Metro can still make the claim that they didn't cut service because the same number of trains are running on the line as always.

Posted by: thetan | February 18, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Not only are those numbers from Metro Lies, but they ignore the secret service reductions by making trains shorter during rush hour on the heaviest traveled lines.

Posted by: member5 | February 18, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

There is no way that the Red Line is on time 87% of the time. Is metro calculating this like the airlines or something where as long as you push back within 15 minutes of your scheduled departure you're on time?

Posted by: Razor04 | February 18, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

If my trains were on time as much as 87% of the time, I'd be pretty happy.

Posted by: DOEJN | February 19, 2010 12:55 AM | Report abuse

What I'm curious about is how they even calculate "on time". On the Orange line over the last 6 months there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the intervals posted on the board between trains. Last night at 6:15 coming home from Foggy Bottom, trains were 7 min apart (which I think is inexcusable during incredibly packed rush hour, sans major problems). But this morning, trains from Ballston were 2-3 min apart. This variation is really common. So are they calculating on time based on the published schedule, or the schedule on the board? Because 7 min apart is certainly not the published schedule.

There also seems to be no rhyme or reason to which trains are 6 car versus 8 car. The 8 car trains are very rare indeed.

And don't even get me started on the Next Bus system lately. It's gotten pretty unreliable lately, and I think the days of blaming it on the storms should be over. Last night I waited at 22nd and Penn for a 38B that was supposed to arrive in 11 minutes; 30 minutes later I headed to the Metro to wait for 7-minute interval trains and packed-to-the-gills cars. Thanks Metro!

Dr. Gridlock: any continued reporting you can do on the actual situation versus the Metro PR team is much appreciated. As a Metro "customer" it's hard not to feel like a DC taxpayer: without representation. Your reporting helps me at least feel like the real story is getting out there.

Posted by: neeky26 | February 19, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

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