Metro's dilemma: Serve or preserve?
What Metro decides to do about its above-ground rail service Friday night will be a flash back to decisions made by an earlier generation of transit managers on a snowy evening almost seven years ago.
On Sunday, Feb. 16, 2003, thousands of people were attending an ice show in downtown Washington at what was then known as the MCI Center. Many other transit services were shutting down because of the heavy snow, and the Metro managers were worried about how much more their rail cars could take before breaking down.
But they had just delivered much of the audience from the suburbs to the ice show. Were they going to strand them there, or get them home? It wasn't a simple question of being a hero or a villain. If Metro kept operating above ground to return people to the suburbs, it might cripple so many rail cars that the first rush-hour service of the week would be a nightmare for commuters.
This Friday night, the Washington Capitals hope to extend their 12-game winning streak before thousands of fans at Verizon Center, formerly the MCI. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Right now, Metrorail is scheduled to remain open till 3 a.m.
After the 2003 experience, which did indeed leave the rail fleet crippled for days, Metro developed a policy: When the snowfall reaches 8 inches, the point at which managers know the trains will begin to lose power and break down, Metrorail will serve only its underground stations. You can see what that means in the map below.
If suburbanites used Metrorail to get to the game and Metro shut down outdoor service before they went home, there would be virtually no way for them to make it home Friday night. They won't be able to take a bus. The buses will probably end service before the trains do. They won't be able to find cabs to take them to destinations far away from downtown. They won't be able to walk far in that snow.
Since setting the policy in 2003, Metro has confronted this decision about service only once. That was on the Saturday of the December blizzard. Metro made the right call in suspending service early that afternoon. But there were hundreds of people who had come into the District by train who didn't get the word and were stranded. Metro sent through extra trains to bring many, but not all, to their destinations.
Today, I hope Metro will do the two right things: Suspend service before the trains break down, so that service will be close to normal for Monday's commuters, and also make the announcement early enough so that hockey fans, and anybody else thinking about traveling far by transit, will know what they're getting into.
Map shows the above-ground stations portions in lighter colors.
February 5, 2010; 4:45 PM ET
Categories: Metro , Weather | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, snowstorm
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