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Less may be more on Red Line

Many Red Line riders look at Metro's plan to lengthen the gap between trains and say, When can you start? That's because Metro's cutback plan sounds better to them than what they commonly experience now.

Metro is talking about decreasing the number of rush-hour trains on the Red Line so that they run every three minutes between Grosvenor and Silver Spring -- the most heavily used part of the line -- and every six minutes to the outer stations at both ends of the line.

On paper, Metro says, that's not a huge change from the current schedule. In reality, riders say, they'd love to see trains arrive that frequently. Riders often write to me asking when and why Metro cutback on Red Line service and how much money the transit authority is saving through the cutback.

Various Metro officials tell me there has been no cutback. Even this new plan won't save that much money. For fiscal 2011, the year starting in July, it would save about $300,000. That's not much of a target for managers trying to close a $189 million budget gap.

What Metro officials and riders see right now on the Red Line may be exactly the same thing. Metro officials say they assign all the trains the line can safely hold. The problem, they say, is that as the rush hour advances, some trains bunch up while the gap among others widens. (Been on a train holding for "schedule adjustments"?)

Bus riders are very familiar with this sort of thing during rush hour traffic, and the causes of the train gaps are somewhat similar. The train doors stay open longer at crowded platforms, slowing departures. So the following train gets closer. Plus, Metro never adjusted the Red Line schedule to account for the extra station at New York Avenue.

Many riders experience gaps between trains that are significantly longer than the schedule would have it. Metro officials say that if they slightly decrease the number of trains on the line, the scheduled wait time increases slightly but the real wait time could be less for many riders.

Plus, the plan is to approximately double the number of eight-car trains, so that there's no overall loss in train capacity at rush hour. (Doubling means going from less than 25 percent to less than 50 percent during peak periods.)

The Red Line plan has gotten wrapped up in the discussions about the budget, but riders evaluating the proposal should look at the other issues involved.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 26, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, Red Line  
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Uh, Metro never adjusted the schedule to account for the extra station at New York Avenue?

The ongoing stupidity at that place boggles the mind.

Posted by: econgrrl | April 26, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

As the chap said the other day, "Metro has a schedule?"

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | April 26, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

"Metro is talking about decreasing the number of rush-hour trains on the Red Line"

This is why I dislike this proposal. Anytime you decrease capacity, you will have a decrease in service. I think people are seeing 3 minutes and think, that would be nice since right now it's 4-6. But how does decreasing the total number of trains decrease the amount of time between trains? I can't see how that would be possible. In my mind this change will result in trains running every 7-8 (maybe longer). Even with 8 car trains, the platforms still get very full in the 8 minutes it could take a train to arrive. This results in trains having to hold longer (they generally do at crowded platforms), and more door problems as people try to hold open doors to board the train. So the trains will still get held up, further widening the gap between trains. So there is potential for waiting 10 minutes for a train, to find it completely packed and having to wait another 10 minutes for the next train with no guarantee you will be able to board that one.

Perhaps the return to automatic control will make this point moot, but I still think that is a pipe dream at this point. I just hope my scenario is proven wrong.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | April 26, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

@Terpsgirl: I asked this question of Dr. G in a chat a few weeks back, and his response was that he thinks the system physically cannot handle trains every two minutes under manual control. Perhaps that's true, but, like you, I worry that the reduced schedule will only be the starting point for further delays.

Also, I'm not at all convinced by the argument that eight-car trains will replace lost capacity. At Farragut North, the only "next train" sign that displays the number of cars on inbound trains is not visible from the majority of the platform (just the center of the platform by the escalators). Those last two cars are going to sit underutilized because people aren't going to want to risk waiting in the wrong place and not being able to crowd onto the back of a six car train.

Posted by: adbiosec | April 26, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

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