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8-car trains an endangered species?

The Washington region's travelers are about to engage in a complex and consequential debate over how to preserve the Metro transit system. A focal point will be the round of budget hearings set to begin March 22.

On this Sunday's Commuter page, I'll try to summarize the range of options (pdf) that the Metro board has presented for public comment. But right now, I want to focus on one particular money-saving proposal: Eliminate all eight-car trains at rush hour. Metro lists that as a potential savings of $6.23 million. Metro officials have said that the main savings are in reduced power use and reduced maintenance on the rail cars.

We need to have a serious debate about many cost-cutting measures and many ways of increasing Metro's revenue, almost all of which will be bad news for riders. The Metro board asked the staff to list every option that was legal and technically feasible.

But I think elimination of eight-car trains should be off the table. This isn't a legal or technical argument. It isn't about how one type of service cut might hurt more than another. This is almost, well, moral.

When Metro went to the region's governments -- and the taxpayers -- in 2004 and asked for more money to improve the long-term health of the transit system, they complied. One of the core goals of that capital-improvement program, known as Metro Matters, was to relieve crowding and provide for ridership growth by having 50 percent of peak-hour trains operating with eight cars.

As the Metro Matters program comes to an end this year and Metro goes back to the region's governments asking for a new financial commitment, we're not hearing much about that pledge. Instead, we're hearing that Metro fulfilled the pledge by providing "system capability for 50 percent eight-car trains."

Oh, swell. In other words, the rail cars were purchased and the power supply upgraded to the point that the transit authority could operate half the rush-hour trains at their maximum length. It's just that people don't actually get to ride them.

In fact, since the last of the 6000 Series cars arrived to complete the rail car purchases under Metro Matters, most riders have never experienced commutes in which half the trains were eight cars long.

Knowing that Metro has the "system capability" to provide those trains is not a very satisfying reward on the investment. Not for riders who are letting a couple of rush-hour trains go by before they can squeeze aboard.

And if I were among the leaders of the regional governments being asked to come up with more money for the next program, I'd first want to know why the riders didn't get what they were promised in this round.

Metro not only needs to knock it off about eliminating eight-car trains completely, it also needs to explain why it didn't meet the original goal in the first place.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 10, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Comments

It's simple: we need 8-car trains during rush-hour and during special events. It's not just a comfort issue, but safety as well.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 10, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: jckdoors, I agree completely. But let me give everyone a side issue to discuss. The reason all trains must pull to the front of the platform is that some operators were forgetting they had eight cars behind them, rather than six. Sometimes, they would stop at the six-car marker and doors on the last car would open in the tunnel.

Eliminate all eight car trains and you've eliminated the need for the safety measure of stopping at the front of the platform, right? Would the potential trade-off be worth it?

(You can tell from my original posting that I say no. Just find a way to give us the eight-car trains you promised. But I wanted to add this element to the discussion.)

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | March 10, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

If there are no 8 car trains, there is more crowding, and a potential for more door breakages which puts cars out of service. In their cost savings estimate, did they consider that? How much is lost when that happens?

Posted by: DrMeglet | March 10, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

The rare occasions I see 8-car trains during my commute is when I leave extra early or extra late. During my normail commute time (between 8 and 9 a.m. and between 5 and 6 p.m.) it's all six-car trains on the Blue & Orange line.

Particularly in the mornings, when I get on at Eastern Market, I might have to let 2 or 3 trains go by before there's one with enough room to board (I'm not talking about getting a seat, here --- I. just. want. to. get. on.)

The cost keeps rising, the services keeps deteriorating, Metro employees are clearly unhappy (oh, yes - it shows in a BIG way) trains and stations are dirtier, and crime seems to be on an upswing based on anecdotal evidence as well as on those recoprded annoucnements warning us to watch our belongings.)

Will a 25% increase in what I'm paying now put an end to all of that? No frackin' way.

Posted by: kbockl | March 10, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

This should be obvious. Even when there are 8-car trains, they are frequently overcrowded in the first six cars and quite full in the last two. There is fundamentally no room in the 6-car trains for those passengers, leading to more door-jamming and more delays.

Posted by: member5 | March 10, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: On the Red, Orange and Blue lines, the proportion of eight-car trains at rush hour is about 25 percent. Maybe slightly higher. (The Yellow and Green lines have a higher proportion.)

So if an Orange or Blue Line commuter like kblockl does what commuters normally do and arrives at the platform about the same time each day, it's entire possible to wind up thinking there are no eight-car trains running.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | March 10, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Yesterday, when I got to Clarendon, the train was too full. I sprinted the full length of all six cars, and reluctantly gave up and waited on the platform for the next train, 8+ minutes away.

It was *7:18 a.m.*

If the 6-car trains are that crowded, before it's even 7:30, what do they hope to achieve with the 8:00 commuters?

Posted by: EtoilePB | March 10, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Metro needs an independent, outsider audit. Eliminating necessary services (i.e. 8 car trains) is their 'threat' that riles people up, so that they get more funding. Metro needs more funding, granted. However, there is waste, WAY too much waste at Metro.

From the movie Office Space, someone needs to get in there and ask every single employee, "What exactly, do you do here...?"

If you are not driving, fixing, or cleaing at metro, chances are you are doing nothing. And those that are driving, fixing, and cleaning, need to do a better job.

Posted by: 123cartoon | March 10, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

@kbockl Which Eastern Market station are you using? I ride at the same time as you, and I have never had to let a train go by (MAYBE when there is a huge mechanical issue at some point, but that's possibly happened 1 or 2 times in the 2 years I've lived at Eastern Market). It is more unusual for me to have to stand; 90% of the time I can find a seat. It's one of the secrets of living in our neighborhood -- the reverse commute! (Shhhh.)

Posted by: DCLiz | March 10, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Indeed Liz. I take that route almost every day at that time , when I'm not carpooling, and it's never that crowded.

Not once.

Are we all going to pay for it? I'm all for th 8 car trains, but nothing's free.

Posted by: EricS2 | March 10, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I still don't understand why the train operators need to pull to the front of the platform. How hard is it to remember how long your train is? It seems that they could solve this problem by having trains stop in the middle of the platform, and firing any driver who stops an 8-car train at the 6-car marker. (I know, that's hard to do, because the union protects incompetent workers -- but it's worth a try.)

Posted by: robwilli | March 10, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

I agree with 123cartoon, there needs to be a thorough outside audit--not just finances, but operations, customer service, safety, everything. I, frankly, based on what I see (on the trains and in the parking lots), do NOT believe Metro's claim that ridership is down. Or their claim that they haven't already reduced service.

Posted by: ceebee2 | March 10, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm just curious. Does metro make a decent amount of money on their advertising sales? I ask this because the ads on the sides of metro buses (and inside for that matter) are woefully out of date. I also notice from time to time that the advertising in the metro stations has been there a very long time. Yesterday for example, I saw an ad for the Chipmunks movie - "Due out this Christmas" (of 2009) - on the side of a bus.

If they had someone with basic knowledge in ad sales, they could figure out that their current paradigm is NOT making them money.

I guess my question is though, does that matter, and does ad sales income help with their budget?

Posted by: Ellvee | March 11, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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