Tag Archives: Broken Down

Instead of talking about improved performance, we’re left with “improved” notifications about worse performance.

Metro crowding
With big crowds and trains tightly spaced, even a small delay can have a big impact on rush hour. (Susan Biddle for The Washington Post)

The transit staff plans to update Metro board members on how it manages severe delays on Metrorail and communicates with riders caught up in them. But most items in this progress report involve behind-the-scenes actions that passengers would have a tough time noticing.

Here are a few of the more visible developments cited in the staff report:

  • Electronic display screens have been installed above the kiosks at station entrances to warn riders of delays before they go through the fare gates.
  • More than 75,000 riders are signed up to receive Metro’s electronic alerts about delays and serious incidents.
  • The latest version of Metro’s mobile Web site has a breaking news bar on every page to highlight incidents that may cause severe delays.

Given the great frustration riders voice during severe delays, that list isn’t going to wow them. If Metro had a way to routinely allow riders to exit the fare gates without paying during a serious incident, that would get their attention. The red and blue kiosk signs are a partial solution to this problem, as long as riders remember to look at them before going through the gates.


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.

In test, 79 percent of Metrorail announcements unclear or worse


A WUSA9 analysis found 79% of 115 Metrorail announcments tested were either unclear or very unclear.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) – A WUSA9 analysis found 79% of 115 Metrorail announcements tested were either unclear or very unclear.

The numbers are in stark contrast to The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s first response to our inquiry.

“That is diametrically opposite our experience with PA (speakers),” said WMATA Spokesman Dan Stessel. “Three or four cars per month fail PA (speaker) tests.”

Metro and WUSA9 test differently.

WUSA9 rode through DC, into Virginia, and Maryland recording announcements from every line in the system.

Four WUSA9 investigative staffers listened to recordings of 115 announcements, giving each one a grade of clear, unclear, or very unclear.

“We do testing empirically here.” WMATA’s Stessel said. “A mystery rider program, which is done through a vendor.”

Metro also challenged WUSA9 tweets on the subject.

WMATA’s denials, tweets, and refusals to do an interview sparked a social media call for a Metro Intervention which WUSA9 held at Farragut North Metro Monday.

Metro acknowledges speaker trouble

Metro remained unresponsive to inquiries on the subject except for one statement that acknowledge speaker troubles significantly larger than the three or four per month Stessel initially claimed.

“In the most recent quarter, mystery riders found that announcements were understandable 85 percent of the time,” said Metro Spokeswoman Caroline Laurin. “Metro uses a third-party “mystery rider” contractor to monitor the quality of train announcements, as well as other aspects of service.”

Laurin nor Stessel would provide a copy of the report or explain the methods used to determine which announcements were understandable.

Metro GM says speakers replaced by end of decade

After the WUSA9 Metro Intervention, Metro’s general manager, Richard Sarles, addressed the speaker issue in an online chat with the Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock.

Sarles said, pending funding, the issue will be addressed by the new 7000 series cars with automated announcements.

He estimated half the fleet would be in place by the end of the decade.

How WUSA9 graded Metro’s announcements

In the WUSA9 analysis, each staff member graded the announcements independently.

WUSA9 tested 115 announcements.

In order to qualify as “clear,” three of the four WUSA9 testers would have had to graded the announcement as clear.

21% of Metro announcements were graded as clear in our test.

Only when all four WUSA9 testers rated an announcement as “very unclear” was the audio listed as “very unclear.”

Of the 79% rated unclear or worst, our analysis found 36% very unclear and 43% somewhat unclear.

See the results yourself

In the link below, you’ll see under the analysis tab (far left) the final rating for each announcement.

You’ll note, in the four categories to the right, that often testers disagreed, which is why the analysis might say clear, while one of the testers found it unclear, or it could be labeled unclear when two testers found it clear, but two testers found it unclear.

Only when all testers found it very unclear was it rated as very unclear.

See our Full study here: http://on.wusa9.com/1d4fEly

Metro general manager responds to riders’ complaints about WMATA service

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles answered two dozen questions from riders duringmy online discussion Monday, but there were scores more we didn’t get to. After the chat, I picked out five that are among the most frequently asked.

Here are those five questions and Sarles’s answers.

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.

Q. Why run escalators at closed stations? A few weekends ago, Dupont Circle station was closed because of Red Line track work. Somebody had barricaded the station entrances but decided to keep the escalators running and running all weekend to a closed station. Does Metro now have unlimited resources to keep closed escalators wastefully running, not to mention the unnecessary wear and tear?

A. While Dupont Circle station may have been closed for passengers, inside the station was a beehive of activity, with several dozen workers installing new lighting, upgrading station equipment, cleaning and performing maintenance. The majority of the station escalators were turned off during this time; however, at least two of the long escalators at each entrance were kept in operation to facilitate the movement of workers to and from the station.

Q. Weekend track work. I have been a regular weekend rider of the Red Line but have had a much harder time justifying it ever since the massive off-peak fare increase that brought it in line with the peak fare structure. I wouldn’t mind paying the higher fares for normal weekend service (e.g., Red Line trains every six minutes on Saturdays and every eight minutes on Sundays), but I cannot justify paying so much more for trains that run every 24 to 30 minutes.

I think the best idea would be to have two separate off-peak fare structures, one for normal off-peak service, and one for the greatly reduced service levels when trains are running less than half of normal frequency. This is the only way I can see Metro retaining any customer loyalty through this long but necessary period of intense track work.

A. Working intensively on weekends is the only feasible way for us to catch up on the backlog that developed over many years of inadequate maintenance, and I recognize that longer waits are a burden shared by our riders. Metro is no longer a new system. While the intensity of work and its impact on riders will diminish as we advance Metro Forward [the transit rebuilding program], weekend work — although less intense — is a fact of life from here on out, for as long as there is a Metro system. Off-peak fares are intended to take into account the reduced frequency of trains, including times when track work is in effect.

Q. Refund on delay. If I enter a station , for example, West Falls Church, and upon paying my entrance fare notice a significant delay that’s not posted on the board, why can’t I just exit the station and get a refund? Having to pay for services not even rendered is unfortunate.

A. Metro’s current fare system, which is based on 1990s technology, does not allow for this. To learn about delays before entering the gate, it’s important to sign up for MetroAlerts atwmata.com or check the digital screens at all station entrances that turn red when there is a delay message.

Also, we recently awarded a contract for a new fare payment system, including the eventual replacement of our current fare gates and vending machines. The new system will give riders additional payment options, including using chip-based credit cards, key fobs, smartphones and federal ID cards. It will also give us the flexibility to consider new fare rules in the future.

Q. Parking on weekends. Have you considered charging for Metro parking on weekends? I think casual users (instead of commuters) should pay for parking, too. Why should we take the brunt of all the increases?

A. I am not aware of any local jurisdictions that have considered this. My personal belief is that offering free parking on weekends is a good way to keep Metro competitive with driving at times when traffic is lighter and street parking might be easier to come by.

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 .

Pothole causes problems on Clara Barton Parkway

tire pothole (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON – Drivers Monday morning encountered what they didn’t expect in the rain — a huge pothole on the Clara Barton Parkway near Glen Echo, Md.

At least seven drivers ended up with flat tires as they hit the pothole, which is close to the pump station, just north of the Maryland-D.C. line.

Drivers described the pothole as “huge” to WTOP.

One cab driver, who was taking a passenger to Georgetown University Hospital, said he couldn’t see the pothole. He gave up waiting on a tow truck and opted to change his tire in the pouring rain.

The pothole was about 1 1/2 feet wide, 15 feet long and 6 inches deep, according to WTOP’s Kathy Stewart, who was on the scene.

Police have blocked off the pothole with a police cruiser and a cone.

Drivers are urged to use caution along the Clara Barton Parkway.

Sarles addresses questions on Metrorail service

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles took questions from travelers on Monday about a wide range of concerns about current and future transit service. I’ve picked out a few that are frequently asked questions about Metrorail service. See the full transcript of the Sarles Q and A here.

Q, Blue Line cutbacks
After the Rush Plus cutbacks, the Blue Line is often dangerously crowded during the morning and afternoon rush, which will only get worse when the Silver Line opens. For many of us, the Yellow Line isn’t a reasonable alternative (such as for the many Pentagon to Rosslyn/Foggy Bottom/Farragut West commuters, like myself). Will there actually be 8-car Blue Line trains (not perfect, but better than nothing)? How can you justify charging us for peak service when there is actually no difference in train frequency between rush hour and not?

A. Richard Sarles
First, it is important to note that we are executing on a plan that was developed when the Silver Line was approved for design/construction more than a decade ago. That plan called for base train frequencies of seven minutes during rush hours on Orange, Yellow, Green and Silver (instead of 6 minutes today), and Blue Line trains every 14 minutes. We have worked hard to improve upon this original plan by now running the Silver Line out to Largo Town Center. By doing this, we are able to keep Orange/Yellow/Green/Silver Line trains at every six minutes, and Blue will be a consistent every 12 minutes. We will make every effort to provide additional eight-car trains on Blue to accommodate riders, and we will continue to encourage those who can consider Yellow to do so.

We will need to advance power improvements (currently called for under Metro’s 2025 plan) in order to provide all eight-car trains on the Blue line.

Q. Eight-car trains
Why aren’t all of the Orange and Blue Line trains in rush hour eight-car? Often in Rosslyn you have to wait for two-three trains to go by before you can get on in the morning. It’s going to get worse when the Silver Line starts and Orange service is cut.

A. Richard Sarles
We would like to operate all eight-car trains during rush hour, and that’s the goal we’ve set for ourselves under the Metro 2025 plan. It requires more than just additional train cars, but also upgrades to the power system and additional storage space and maintenance facilities. Funding is key to advance this project. More info is available atwmata.com/momentum

Q. Rush-hour trains that turn around
As a Farragut North to Shady Grove rider, the rush-hour trains that turn around at Grosvenor are a major pain. I really wish this practice would end.

A. Richard Sarles
Metro 2025 calls for all eight-car trains during rush hours, with all Red Line trains running the full length of the line, from Shady Grove to Glenmont. No more turnbacks at Grosvenor or Silver Spring. This requires funding for additional rail cars, power upgrades and yard storage and maintenance.

Q. Weekend service
Why does weekend Yellow Line service frequently only run to Mount Vernon Square? With weekend headways [the gaps between trains], it can’t be THAT hard to set the schedule to allow for turning the trains around at Fort Totten.

A. Richard Sarles
We turn Yellow Line trains at Mt Vernon Sq on weekends only when there is work on either the Yellow or Green line that necessitates it. For example, if the Green Line is single-tracking between Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza, Yellow Line service has to turn back at Mount Vernon. This weekend, Yellow Line will operate to Fort Totten.

Q. Green Line
I transfer at L’Enfant Plaza daily. Often two-three Yellow Line trains whiz by, followed by one extremely packed Green Line train. Why the imbalance in train frequency and length when ridership is so heavy on the Green Line? Is there a fix in sight?

A. Richard Sarles
There has been an increase in the number of Yellow Line trains. These are former Blue Line trains that have to be rerouted over the [Potomac River] bridge in anticipation of the arrival of Silver Line. During rush hours, the southbound frequency should be: Green to Branch Ave every six minutes, Yellow to Huntington every six minutes, and Yellow to Franconia-Springfield every 20 minutes (will be every 12 minutes once Silver Line opens).


A little rain and a mess of a Metro commute!!

Ahhhhh, another day, more issues. Lets see.

1. Shady Grove’s Escalators (The outside and one of the inside units) are down. The outside one make it 5 days and its back down.

Inside Shady Grove Station escalator down.
Inside Shady Grove Station escalator down.
Outside escalator broken (Again) made it a week, back down
Outside escalator broken (Again) made it a week, back down

2. Slippery tiles. Almost bust my a_s

 No picture… 

3. Train said it was 5 minutes till boarding?? But no train.

Says 5 minutes till train leaving but there is no train?
Says 5 minutes till train leaving but there is no train?

4. The train I was in was leaking like there was a hole in the roof of the train car!!

Puddles of water in train.
Puddles of water in train.

Total mess.