Category Archives: Metro Info

Information about the Metro Rail system.

Breaking: Silver Line Delay Disappointment


WASHINGTON– Transit riders looking forward to the opening of the Silver Line in Tysons Corner and Reston will have to wait longer, as the project will face more delays and repairs.

Sources tell WTOP that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will announce on Monday that it does not consider the Silver Line complete, citing issues with the automatic train control circuitry and other new issues. The contractor building the Silver Line told MWAA on Feb. 7 that it believed the project was complete. MWAA had 15 days to inspect the work and decide whether it agreed that the tracks could be turned over to Metro.

The automatic train control circuits and other electronic signal issues were behind a delay announced late last year that caused the project to be delayed into 2014. Originally, MWAA and Metro hoped the Silver Line would open to passengers in late December 2013, although WTOP reported last June that such a launch would not happen.

Circuit and signal issues are troubling because those components were cited as causes of the deadly 2009 Metro crash outside Ft. Totten, which killed nine people. Metro shut down automatic train operation afterwards and trains still run in manual mode, which is a subset of the automatic train control system.

Sources tell WTOP that MWAA’s decision will delay the project at least three weeks, if not longer. Once MWAA does agree the project is complete, it will turn over the Silver Line to Metro for another 90 days of testing.

While no firm deadline is set for a grand opening, the delay means the Silver Line will not likely open until at least July 2014.

On Thursday, Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins told WTOP that she would be very disappointed if the Silver Line did not open before the end of the summer.

Metro loses about $2 million each month the Silver Line is not open.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

Buses replace trains on 2 Metro lines this weekend

WASHINGTON (AP) — Buses will replace trains on sections of the orange and blue lines this weekend.

Metro says beginning Friday at 10 p.m. and continuing through closing on Sunday, buses will replace orange line trains between Eastern Market and Cheverly. On the blue line, buses will replace trains between Eastern Market and Benning Road. Elsewhere on both lines, trains will run at 15 minute intervals.

On the green line, trains will operate at regular weekend intervals except at the Greenbelt station where trains will arrive and depart every 20 to 25 minutes between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. On the red line, trains will operate every 16 minutes, but between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. additional trains will run between Van Ness and Silver Spring.

No yellow line work is scheduled.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Grammy winner analyzes Metro announcements: Unclear

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) – Now a Grammy winning sound engineer’s analysis has found 95% of Metrorail announcements tested unacceptable, but – even in the wake of a similar WUSA9 test published over a week ago – WMATA won’t answer questions on the subject or even acknowledge the scope of the problem.

“Five percent maybe, at most,” is what sound engineer Pete Novak deemed understandable during a recent 19 stop spot-check on the Redline. “It’s getting lost. Not a clue.”

Metro won’t answer our questions, maybe they’ll answer yours. You can e-mail the WMATA Board of Directors here:

An earlier WUSA9 analysis found 79% of Metro announcements unclear or worse.

Despite the WUSA9 analysis, social media outcries identifying similar commuter concerns, and a WUSA9 public #MetroIntervention on the subject at Farragut North, WMATA’s only response to the engineer’s analysis has been to re-issue the same statement it released for our original story of audio problems.

“Mystery riders found that announcements were understandable 85 percent of the time,” said Caroline Laurin in the re-issued statement. “It is important to note that we will soon begin the replacement of more than a third of Metro’s fleet–every 1000- and 4000-series car–with new 7000-series cars that feature all digital audio systems and automated announcements for improved clarity and consistency.”

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles recently estimated the year 2020 as when half the fleet could be updated with the 7000 series audio systems, pending funding.

Novak doesn’t know trains, but he does know sound.

He won his Grammy for the Outkast Album of the Year, “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.”

He is also an engineer and instructor at Rockville’s Omega Studios.

During his Redline review, Novak cocked his head and expressed confusion at nearly every announcement.

“Not a clue. Soup?” Novak asked trying to interpret one announcement. “So much static in that message.”

Novak identified what he believes could be inexpensive, quick fixes to the problem.

He believes audio levels should be increased, operators should be trained to better use the microphones and enunciate, announcements should be prevented from being made at the same time as the trains automated doors closing warnings, and train speaker systems should be combined.

“”The automated announcement are a good 20 decibels louder than what’s coming out of the from the conductor,” Novak said of warnings from the separate automated speaker system.

He said design issues could be impacting the other speakers serving the operator’s announcements.

“So that speaker is very directional,” Novak said. “Coming straight down. It’s getting lost. It might need to be mounted different.”

“You can have two things going over the same speaker, he said as another unclear announcement interrupted him. “I still don’t know where we’re going next.”

WUSA9 offered to share with WMATA Novak’s opinions that some easy changes could make big improvements, but Metro did respond.

New Metro Silver Line, like other Metrorail lines, won’t run express trains

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Has Metro considered an express option for the Silver Line, or any other line where service duplicates that of another line?

For example, could the Silver Line (when it finally opens) offer local service through theTysons Corner stops to where it merges with the Orange Line, and then go to express mode until, say, Foggy Bottom?

Silver Line riders needing stops in Virginia could switch at the merge, but those bound for the District could — in theory — save substantial amounts of time. As the Silver Line extends farther into western Fairfax and Loudoun counties — and even for those boarding in Reston — this could provide a needed incentive for single-occupant vehicles to park and ride.

— Jeff Wiese, Reston

No express service for the Silver Line or any other line. Neither the original system nor the new 11-mile extension to the Reston area was built with an extra track, which would allow trains to skip stations and bypass local trains.

This is not an unusual design for a U.S. subway system. These things aren’t cheap or easy to build.

Metrorail’s original construction costs and the disruptions of neighborhoods often threatened its completion. With the Silver Line, cost was a constant concern. In 2008, theFederal Transit Administration threatened to withhold funds because of the Silver Line’s cost.

A third track for the Silver Line would be real nice. So would a tunnel through McLean and Tysons Corner. So would an underground station near where the airplanes are at Dulles International Airport. None of those things are happening, because the cost was deemed too high.

Still, it’s easy to see Wiese’s point about the benefits of express trains. Wiese, who lives a long walk from the temporary end of the Silver Line at the Wiehle-Reston East station, expects to find many people coming in from western Fairfax and Loudoun counties as they transfer to rail for the last part of their D.C.-bound commute.

Metro and Fairfax planners also expect to see that. The garage at the Wiehle Avenue station, which can accommodate 2,300 cars and 150 bicycles, is the only one built for the five new stations.

Many bus routes will be adjusted to funnel travelers into the Wiehle Avenue station. Metro will halt its Rush Plus service on the Orange Line and shift those peak-period trains to the Silver Line so that the Silver Line can operate every six minutes during rush hours.

But Metro calculates the normal travel time between Wiehle Avenue and Metro Center at 41 minutes. That’s a fairly long time on a train. Shady Grove to Metro Center is 36 minutes. Vienna to Metro Center is 29 minutes.

The Silver Line travel times reflect the varied missions of this project. Among them: Move commuters, offer a one-seat transit link between the region’s center and the airport and provide focal points for transit-oriented development. They’re all important, but they don’t always mesh smoothly.

An air traveler bound for the District would prefer an express from Dulles to the District. A commuter who boards at Wiehle Avenue and works at the Pentagon or Crystal City wants a stop at Rosslyn for a switch to the Blue Line.

Neither of those riders will be interested in the four stops in Tysons Corner, each stop two minutes apart.

The service plan that Metro developed over the past several years is consistent with the Silver Line’s environmental impact statement, which dates to 2002. That document previews the shifting of Orange Line trains to the Silver Line, with the resulting decline in rush-hour service between Vienna and West Falls Church.

It does not make a case for express trains. Even if that could be done within Metro’s existing structure, it would require a significant cut in service for commuters waiting at stations from Ballston through the District.

As Metro’s planners look ahead to 2025 and beyond, they’re still not thinking of express tracks along existing lines, as travelers find on the New York subway. But they are looking at several other possibilities that would help move people across Northern Virginia and into the District.

A key element in the 2025 plan is a proposal to either add a track at Rosslyn to create a new link between the Blue Line and the Orange and Silver lines or open a second Rosslyn station for the Blue Line. In either case, transit staffers say, it would allow Metro to push more trains through Rosslyn and cut waiting times.

Either one would cost about $1 billion.

Beyond that, the planners are talking about the possibility of creating an inner loop of stations to add capacity in the region’s core by 2040. That would include another Potomac River crossing for trains at Rosslyn.

Add many billions more for that plan, if it someday gets approved by the region’s governments.

This is why our big plans progress like our train rides: one stop at a time.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or
e-mail .

Tips on clearing out after snowstorm

Snowy street

You may be clearing your driveway before the plow reaches your street. Push snow to the right, so plows won’t cover your work. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Most people in the D.C. region will begin their post-storm travels as pedestrians, whether they like it or not. Here are some tips for getting around.

Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. The District, for example, has a rule that sidewalks should be cleared of snow and ice within eight hours after the end of a storm. They don’t expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing driveways, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow back across the driveway entrance.

When clearing your own sidewalk, think about neighbors who may be elderly or disabled, and save a little energy for their walkways.

Metro doesn’t clear the bus stops or the areas around them. Metro does clear areas around rail station entrances and the above-ground platforms. Some platforms have a new type of paving tile that is less slippery, but some still have the original, slip-prone paving tiles.

Before starting to clear snow, try using Pam or car wax on the shovel blade, so the snow will slide off more easily. With a heavy snow like this, give your back a break by skimming off a top layer first, then making a second scoop down to the pavement. Think twice about parking in a street space your neighbor just cleared out. That probably won’t end well.

If you are driving, be extra careful of pedestrians. They’re more likely to be walking in the streets in the immediate aftermath of a storm.

Highway departments generally don’t clear bike paths.

Clearing streets. Much of the clearing work goes to contractors, whose trucks might not bear the emblem of the agency that hired them. The D.C. departments of public works and transportation team up on street clearing in the city. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of interstates, main roads and neighborhood streets within its turf. The Maryland State Highway Administration handles the state’s numbered roads, while counties and municipalities take care of the rest.

Highways in the D.C. area are in much better shape as of 10:45 a.m. than they were at dawn, but road surface conditions vary a lot across the region. Many drivers will have difficulty getting out of their neighborhoods. The initial goal for the plows working the neighborhood streets is to make them “passable.” That doesn’t mean you’ll see bare pavement soon.

If you are planning to drive to an airport in the D.C. area, be sure to check on your flight first. Many Thursday flights from Dulles, Reagan National and BWI airports have been cancelled.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. This affects many District residents, where the Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.

Waiting for transit. Most of the D.C. region’s bus systems suspended service for Thursday morning. So did MetroAccess, the paratransit service. Watch for updates on restoration. This is the link to The Post’s storm updates. Metrobus’s Next Bus system, designed to provide real-time information on when the bus should arrive at your stop, doesn’t perform well during weather disruptions. So even as bus service is restored, don’t count on the accuracy of the prediction system.

See storm updates from the Capital Weather Gang.

Metro weekend track work: Red line station closures, delays on orange and blue

WASHINGTON (AP) – Riders will have to wait longer some Metro trains this weekend and into Presidents Day.

Metro says beginning Friday night and continuing through Monday, trains on the blue line will operate every 20 minutes. Orange line trains will operate every 10 to 20 minutes.

On the red line, buses will replace trains between Woodley Park and Metro Center. Trains between Shady Grove and Woodley Park will operate every 10 minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and every 15 to 20 minutes at other times. Red line trains between Glenmont and Metro Center will operate every 15 minutes.

The green and yellow lines will have normal weekend service.

On Monday, Presidents Day, the system will operate on a Saturday schedule. It will open at 5 a.m. and close at midnight.

Crowding draws complaints about Metro doors, announcements, escalators

A Metrorail train pulls into McPherson Square station. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

How Metro treats its rail customers was Topic A during my online chat Monday, and most commenters wanted to talk about customer discomfort.

The concerns they raised occur during rush hour crowding: Many of the commenter have experienced doors that close not only before riders on the platform can board but also before the riders on the train can get out. Other said they were annoyed by what operators say in response to crowding and delays. But I think all this got started in response to one Q&A with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles. This is the rider’s question and the GM’s response:

Q. “Why doesn’t Metro enforce rules about not closing doors while customers are still entering or exiting trains? A couple of weeks ago I was caught in a Metro train door. It closed on both my upper arms as I was just stepping out of the train. It was very painful. There were others still moving in and out of the car. When I complained to the station staff at Pentagon City, their response was the drivers have schedules to keep and I should step back when the bells sound.”

A. “I am not aware of such a rule. Train operators do their best to provide enough time for boarding and alighting, while not excessively dwelling at any one station to prevent train congestion. We never want to see anyone get injured, which is why we have posters and announcements advising riders that train doors don’t work like elevator doors. When you hear the chimes, the best advice is to step back and wait for the next train.”

That sparked a discussion Monday, in which commenters focused on the plight of riders stranded aboard trains by rapidly closing doors. At chat’s end, I said I would try to publish comments I couldn’t get to during the chat, so here’s one on that theme:

Yep, it’s us awful passengers…

“So if the operator isn’t allowing enough time for passengers to get on or off, it’s the passengers’ fault. It’s always all our fault. Imagine how smoothly Metro could run if it didn’t have to deal with pesky passengers. This is just offensive on too many levels to count.”

Another of the unpublished comments picked up on an exchange we had about what the operators say to riders in response to crowding around doors. In that exchange, a commenter characterized operator announcements as “petulant threats.” I said: “This is a mistake on the part of the operators who do this. They must have no idea how this nanny talk comes across to a train-load of jammed in customers.”

To that, the unpublished reply was:

Nanny talk

“Yes, it is occasionally annoying, but frankly so are the customers who idiotically jam themselves between closing doors, and risk having the train offloaded.”

Plenty of blame to go around. Some riders do lean against the doors, which can cause them to malfunction.

Another thread of this customer service discussion began when a commenter questioned why it may take “five or six seconds before the driver opens the doors” after the train has stopped at the platform. I offered my guess, that the operator first makes sure that all doors are indeed lined up to open on the platform, and also may need to move across the cab, open the window, look out and then hit the button on the left side of the cab to open those doors. This was an unpublished reply:

Metro doors

“I, too, wonder why this happens. However, your answer isn’t logical. First, we know Metro operates trains of six of eight cars in length and no longer. We have to assume that all stations have platforms that are at least eight car-lengths long, which is a safe assumption. Now, we also know that with manual operation of trains, the driver has to stop the train with the front of his/her car at the end of the platform. Therefore, if all that is true, the last car must be on the platform and when the doors open, there will be a platform for the passengers to exit. The only changeable factor is the location of the driver’s cab and if he/she can see out the front window that the train is as far up as it can go, why the need to look out the side window?”

It’s the operator’s responsibility to look out the window when opening and closing the doors. (Some riders question whether this is always done. Or if it is, why would the operator close doors when it’s obvious passengers still are exiting?) To open the doors on the left side, the operator must move from the right-side console over to the left side, open that window and hit the button on the left-side panel to open the doors. Sit in the first car and watch the operator do that. Should take about five or six seconds.

Another rush-hour service question I couldn’t get to during the chat:

Escalator/entrance direction

“Who determines which direction (up vs down) the escalators run at each station? Same question for the direction (in vs out) of turnstiles? The ratio of in/out & up/down often seems arbitrary, rather than reflective of the likely usage of each station. We shouldn’t, for example, see mostly up escalators and in turnstiles during the evening rush hour in Takoma since, as a residential area, people are mostly exiting (not entering) the station at that time… and yet we do (this occasionally causes major pileups of people all trying to exit through the one or two working turnstiles). I’ve seen this at other stations too. Simple common sense should dictate these decisions, but station managers certainly don’t seem interested in suggestions for improvement.”

This question is frequently asked, so I can tell you what Metro’s game plan is: The transit authority puts a priority on getting people off the platforms and out of the stations. During the evening rush, you may find two of three escalators between street and mezzanine going up and only one going down. Transit officials refer to this as “metering” the crowd, and the theory is similar to the highway “ramp metering” we discussed during the chat. Another form of metering is to stop an escalator and make people use it as a down staircase, because it slows their entry to the station. Fans leaving Nationals Park or Verizon Center may have experienced this.

Having experienced some dangerously crowded transit platforms in other cities, I have to agree with this safety measure. But there are other issues, as well. You know how delicate Metro escalators are. The transit authority doesn’t like to reverse direction frequently, because that might bust the escalator.

On that other theme concerning ramp metering in Interstate 66: I’m asking the Virginia Department of Transportation for some information on what drivers say is an extra long red light at the Lee Highway ramp to westbound I-66.

MetroAccess riders fear impact of fare increases

Riders who have disabilities and use the MetroAccess paratransit service are worried about the impact that impending rail and bus fare increases will have on their own costs.

The transit authority has not proposed any changes in the formula that sets their rates. But in Metro hearings over the past week, many MetroAccess riders have said they would prefer that the formula did change.

MetroAccess users either can’t or can’t easily travel on the regular bus or rail service. Specialized vehicles get them from their homes to their destinations, including doctors’ appointments, physical therapy sessions, shopping or work.

Calculating Metrorail fares can be complicated, but train rides don’t have to deal with this MetroAccess formula: “Customers may take trips that begin and end less than 3/4 of a mile from the nearest bus stop or Metrorail station and will be charged two times the fastest fixed-route equivalent fare, paying no more than $7 per one-way trip.”

What’s clear to the MetroAccess riders is that if the fare goes up for bus and rail riders, it will have a bigger effect on the cost of the paratransit rides.

Regina Lee, a member of Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, a citizens’ panel, urged Metro board members at the Tuesday night hearing in Rockville to consider changes in the formula that would reduce the impact on people with disabilities.

The Metro board could reduce the fare multiplier to something less than double the equivalent fixed-route fare.

Also, Lee said, the board could set a maximum fare for MetroAccess that is less than the current maximum of $7. (The proposed maximum peak fare for Metrorail is $6, or 25 cents higher than it is now.)

Before the hearings began, most public attention was focused on the proposed increases in bus and rail fares. But it’s the MetroAccess customers, rather than the Metrobus and Metrorail riders, who have been making the strongest case for attention at the hearings so far.

One exception was the testimony from Junette Wilson at the Rockville hearing. Wilson, 21, of Gaithersburg is a student at Trinity College. She calculates her current transit cost at $685 per semester. And she’s one of the rail riders who waits at the station of the lower, off-peak fares to kick in. The rail fares are “starting to be unaffordable for a lot of us,” she told board members Tuesday.

After the public hearings are done, the board can’t increase the fares beyond the proposed rates announced before the hearings started. But it can reduce the proposed increases to lessen the impact on riders. And it also can fiddle with the formula governing how the fares are applied to MetroAccess riders.

Two hearings remain:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 5: Arlington Central Library, 1015 North Quincy St., Arlington.
  • Thursday, Feb. 6: Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW in the District.