Tag Archives: rail

Metro weekend work to affect Orange, Blue, Red lines

Judiciary Square station

All stations are scheduled to be open this weekend, but work zones will cause schedule changes on the Orange, Blue and Red lines. The Yellow and Green lines will operate on their normal weekend schedules.

Here are the details on service from 10 p.m. Friday through the rail system’s midnight close on Sunday.

Red Line. Crews will work on preparations for a switch replacement outside Dupont Circle station. They also will work on the third rail between Farragut North and Van Ness, and install safety fencing and lighting between NoMa-Gallaudet and Rhode Island Avenue. Trains will leave the ends of the line at Shady Grove and Glenmont about every 24 minutes. But from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, more trains will be in service between Farragut North and NoMa-Gallaudet stations. In that zone, trains should reach platforms about every 12 minutes.

Orange/Blue lines. Workers will repair the tracks between Federal Center SW and Eastern Market. All along both lines, trains are scheduled to operate every 16 minutes.

Rider concerns
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles answered some riders’ questions about this rebuilding program when he was my guest for an online discussion Monday. (And he took five more that we’ll publish in my Dr. Gridlock column Sunday.)

Here are several that relate to weekend work.

Q. Does he [Richard Sarles] ever ride the trains or the buses? If so, how often on the Red Line in rush hour? What about during weekend construction?
A. Yes, I ride the system six days a week, mostly on the trains, but occasionally buses, as well. I ride the Red Line during rush hours at least once a week, and also practically every weekend.

Q. Why does weekend Yellow Line service frequently run only 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. We turn Yellow Line trains at Mount Vernon Square 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.

This is one that I asked.
Q. Mr. Sarles, one question riders often ask about the rebuilding program is whether this could have been done differently. Did you consider other strategies that might have reached the “state of good repair” more quickly, such as shutting down an entire line or a segment of a line till all work was done?
A. Shutting down a line for an extended period of time has serious consequences for our customers and economic impacts on area businesses. I believe that such a shutdown should only be considered under extreme circumstances where there is no other way of accomplishing the work in a reasonable time. Each city is different; some have express tracks or other transit options nearby. By choosing to use shutdowns on weekends, many riders have other options available because the region’s transportation system is not congested during those periods. I recognize that there are those who are transit-dependent and rely on Metro. That’s why we always provide alternate transit service.

Which way to D.C. works for commuters south of Beltway in Virginia?

The Post tested two routes, one via Metrorail and the other a drive all the way to downtown.

Which way to D.C. works for commuters south of Beltway in Virginia?

We invited travelers to suggest commutes we could test for them, to compare routes or travel modes. On Thursday morning, Post reporter Mark Berman and Robert Thomson, Dr. Gridlock, took up a reader’s suggestion to test routes between the Kingstowne area, south of the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia, and downtown D.C.

As a starting point, we chose a McDonald’s parking lot at the corner of Franconia and Brookland roads. The finish line was the lobby of The Post, at 15th and L streets Northwest. Berman drove all the way. Thomson drove to a Metro garage and took the Blue Line.

We’ll be testing other readers’ suggestions and can add a bike route. Send ideas to ­drgridlock@washpost.com.

Taking the train

7:55 a.m., Franconia Road. Depart McDonald’s parking lot for 3.2-mile trip to Franconia-Springfield Metro station. At Van Dorn Street, I bypass the sign pointing right toward the Van Dorn Street Metro station. That’s only 1.7 miles away, but I worry about parking. (And Mark later tells me I would have encountered a lot more traffic.) I wasted several minutes by mistakenly heading toward Metro parking at the Springfield Mall garage.

8:28 a.m., Franconia-Springfield Metro platform. Blue Line train arrives. Many people on this chilly platform have spent the past nine minutes in a rigid pose, gazing north in search of an incoming train. Metro’s online Trip Planner had told me to expect a train at 8:22, but the 8:28 arrival is the first I see.

8:47 a.m., Crystal City station. My car, the first on this six-car train, is now very crowded. The last seats have been taken, and the aisles and doorways are full of people standing. At Franconia-Springfield or any station up to Pentagon, I have the option of boarding a Rush Plus Yellow Line train, then transferring at L’Enfant Plaza to complete the trip, but Trip Planner did not recommend that, so I stay with the Blue Line.

9:04 a.m., McPherson Square station.The $5.40 rail trip ends. (But I have yet to pay the $4.50 parking fee back at Franconia-Springfield.) The train trip has been problem-free, with brief pauses before the Rosslyn station and in the Potomac River tunnel. Many riders exited my car at Foggy Bottom, opening up plenty of seats.

9:13 a.m., The Post. I reach the lobby after exiting the Metro station on the 14th Street NW side and walking briskly through McPherson Square to 15th Street. Total commute time: 1 hour 18 minutes.

Driving all the way

7:55 a.m., Franconia Road. Had to wait a minute to make the right turn out of the McDonald’s lot. Had to wait another minute before making the right onto Van Dorn Street. Once on Van Dorn Street, I run right into fairly heavy traffic. I’m sure this is just a momentary thing. It’ll clear up after we pass the Beltway.

8:17 a.m., Duke Street. Nope! I just got onto the Duke Street ramp. It took me 22 minutes from the time I was waiting to leave the parking lot to the time I got to this ramp, most of that time spent sitting in traffic on Van Dorn Street that moved very slowly — when it moved at all. Google Maps says the 2.5 miles from McDonald’s to Duke Street should take about six minutes without traffic. I’m on Duke Street very briefly before merging onto pretty slow traffic on I-395 North.

8:35 a.m., I-395 North. The first chunk of the I-395 trip was fairly congested, which meant plenty of stop-and-go traffic. (We cracked 40 miles per hour at one point, but we were mostly in the 20 to 25 mph range, or inching along.) Now, though, I’m around Exit 8B and traffic has slowed to an utter crawl. From here on through to the 14th Street bridge, it’s nothing but congestion and a seemingly endless line of cars waiting to get into the District.

8:58 a.m., 14th Street bridge. After about 23 minutes spent studying brake lights along the northernmost part of I-395, I cross onto the bridge. Weirdly, traffic flows without interruption while we’re over the water (I’m not sure I can adapt to this form of driving, where you use the gas pedal to accelerate) before promptly grinding almost to a halt again a minute later once we’re near the Jefferson Memorial.

9:19 a.m., The Post. I sat through some slow-moving traffic on 14th Street, with the slowest stretch being between the 14th Street bridge and the Mall. However, it did improve a little once I got to Constitution Avenue and beyond. I finally pull into the garage on 15th Street NW at 9:17 a.m. ($12 for all-day parking). Two minutes later, I enter The Post’s lobby to meet Dr. Gridlock. Total commute time: 1 hour 24 minutes.

Final thoughts

Berman said it was nice not to stand outside on a freezing Metro platform waiting for a train. On the other hand, he spent 45 minutes of his trip barely moving and is worried that everything since has been a pleasant daydream and he’s actually still waiting to get onto the 14th Street bridge.

Thomson noted that results can vary. He might have caught an earlier train and gained some time on Berman. On the other hand, Metrorail was having a pretty good morning Thursday, compared with other days during the cold snap. A problem with a track switch or a train brake can darken the day for thousands of commuters.

Inspectors identify track problem on Metro Red Line

This was my disaster last night!


UPDATE – Thursday – 1/30/2014, 5 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON – Metro has found the root of the problem that caused trains to single track along the Red Line between Shady Grove and Twinbrook.

A misaligned third rail was put back in place near the Twinbrook station, and trains are now running again, says Metro’s Dan Stessel.

EARLIER – Thursday – 1/30/14, 12:33 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON – A new problem on Metro’s Red Line is causing trains to single track between Shady Grove and Twinbrook.

Crews are inspecting two trains that went down back-to back-near the Shady Grove Metro stop Thursday morning.

The 15 passengers on the first train and 18 passengers on the second have made their way to their destinations, but meanwhile Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says crews are working to figure out what happened.

It may be a crack in the third electrified rail, he says. A number of collector shoes, which are attached to each car and run along the third rail to power the cars, have fallen off, he says.

Inspectors are walking the line, collecting the shoes, which are designed to fall off if they catch anything, he says. They are looking for the root problem that’s causing the shoes to separate from the cars.

Multiple cars along the Red Line are out of service because they’ve lost their collecter shoes, Stessel says.

Metro has called in inspectors from other lines to assist on finding the problem and attaching the shoes, so the trains can be up and running by the Thursday afternoon rush hour.

They can’t rule out that cold temperatures played a role in the issue, Stessel says.

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Options on I-66: Toll lanes, extending Metro discussed at meeting


VIENNA, Va. – At the first of two public meetings to update commuters on I-66, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) told drivers about options such as adding general-purpose lanes, adding toll lanes and transit options such as extending Metro, VRE or light rail.

Late last year, 19 companies responded to a VDOT request for information on how to ease congestion on I-66, and each touted the benefits that toll lanes would bring to the corridor from the Beltway out to Haymarket.

The 495 Express Lanes were the first major experiment in Northern Virginia into the toll-lanes concept, with more such lanes opening in early 2015 on I-95 between Stafford and Alexandria.

“Whether we have managed (toll) lanes has not been determined. We have 10 concepts (rail and road) and we will look at all of them. We realize not one concept in and of itself will be the answer. It has to be a combination of many modes of transportation,” says Rene’e Hamilton, Deputy District Administrator for VDOT in Northern Virginia.

But she admitted that she thinks the 495 Express Lanes have been a success at offering drivers and bus riders a convenient and predictable option to avoid traffic for a fee.

“When the I-95 Express Lanes come onboard, we’ll start to see a network of managed lane projects that connect together. Will I-66 complement that? We don’t know at this time, but that will be figured into our study. As we look into each option, the connections between these interstates will be taken into consideration,” Hamilton says.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity is a strong supporter of toll lanes to I-66.

“An express-lanes concept is absolutely what we need on I-66. It provides a corridor for express bus and other mass transit. It maintains free carpooling and it offers congestion relief,” he says.

“It offers guaranteed speeds. If you don’t want to pay the toll and get to work, you’ll still get less-congested roads in the regular lanes too. So we’re not forcing people to pay the toll. The average person gets that choice every day.”

But drivers coming out to the public meeting weren’t sold on the toll lanes as a solution.

“It puts people who cannot afford the lanes at a disadvantage,” says Leigh Kennedy, who commutes from Fairfax to Falls Church. “People with higher-paying jobs get to avoid the traffic and other people don’t. I think that’s an unfair system.”

Other drivers worry tolls on I-66 will constantly go up, like on the Dulles Toll Road or the Dulles Greenway.

“Let’s face it — once toll lanes are there, they can always finds ways to raise it, making the tolls higher and higher, and give whatever reason they want,” says Judy Perich, citing the Dulles Toll Road drivers paying for Phase II of the Silver Line.

She’s also worried drivers would avoid the toll lanes, similar to how drivers avoid the Dulles Greenway. Del. David Ramadan sued the owners of the Greenway to get the tolls lowered, but lost the first round of the fight on Wednesday. The decision over Greenway tolls will likely head to the Virginia Supreme Court later this year.

On I-66, most commuters seemed to agree that better mass transit options, such as extending Metro’s Orange Line, would have a huge effect on traffic.

“If they made it really convenient for [commuters] to park out in Gainesville or Manassas, then people, rather than putting up with the traffic, they would get on public transportation,” says Jim Lynch.

He suggests the crunch of people coming from Gainesville and Manassas to Vienna, Dunn Loring and East/West Falls Church could be eased if with Metro extends west. While the Silver Line will take away some of the volume from the Orange Line, riders who live along I-66 will likely stay put.

“When somebody says ‘go into D.C.,’ I cringe because of I-66 traffic. I think the Orange Line was meant to go out west. They have the roadway set up there. I would go [to D.C.] a lot more often if I had Metro as an option,” says Perich.

“Either extension of Metro, some type of light-rail or bus rapid transit, ideally Metro would be preferably, but any improvements would help,” says Kennedy.

Others think certain spot improvements would make huge improvements and save lots of money.

“The one critical bridge that needs to be replaced is the 123 overpass at I-66. It’s the only 1960s-era still left in this region. If that were totally replaced, it would solve a critical problem we have with traffic in the morning and afternoons,” says Doug Francis, of Vienna.

He says there are too many accidents after the Vienna Metro station and bottlenecks are too common and could be fixed with a new bridge.

VDOT hopes to narrow down the list of options and begin a more specific study before the end of 2014. It hopes to get bids in 2015 and move quickly towards construction shortly thereafter, which could take at least 18 months.

VDOT will hold one more meeting next Wednesday evening at the Wyndham Garden Hotel at 10800 Vandor Ln. in Manassas.

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Congress members call on Maryland to ‘reevaluate’ Purple Line bidder


Two members of Congress have asked Maryland transportation officials to “reevaluate” a firm bidding on a contract to build and operate the light-rail Purple Line because its majority owner once transported prisoners to Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) wrote to Maryland Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr. on Jan. 27, asking for the review.

The company in question, Keolis, is a member of one of four consortiums recently chosen by Maryland transportation officials to bid on a public-private partnership to design, build, operate, maintain and help finance a 16-mile Purple Line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), which owns 70 percent of Keolis, was paid to transport 76,000 prisoners to Nazi death camps in World War II, according to historians.

State officials have said they expect to choose a private partner on the $2.2-billion transit proposal by early 2015. The partnership likely would be a 35-year contract that could be valued at more than $6-billion, one of the largest contracts ever in Maryland. State officials also are seeking $900-million in federal grants and a low-interest federal loan as part of the public-private plan.

“If awarded, the State of Maryland’s contract with SNCF for the Purple Line may be paid out of the very pockets of taxpayers who the company once willingly transported to the death camps,” the letter said. “While we look forward to the innovative Purple Line, we do not believe that it should be done through the partnership of Keolis as an entity of SNCF until its victims are awarded their long overdue justice.”

The letter asks Smith “to take into consideration the relationship between Keolis and SNCF as it reviews finalists for the Purple Line.”

Keolis officials have said the company, which was founded in the late 1990s, had nothing to do with the Holocaust. SNCF officials have said the French government has paid billions in reparations to Holocaust victims and their families for deportations that occurred under the Nazi-backed Vichy government during World War II.

SNCF’s chairman issued a formal apology to Holocaust victims in 2011.

“I understand their feelings, and I respect their feelings,” ­Alain Leray, president of SNCF America in Rockville, has said of Holocaust survivors. “It’s a highly emotional issue. . . . If it’s a historical issue, let’s deal with it. If it’s a commercial issue, let’s deal with it. But mixing one with the other doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

Keolis first drew scrutiny in the Washington region in 2010, when a Holocaust survivors group protested its winning of an $85 million contract to operate Virginia Railway Express trains, its first U.S. rail contract. Earlier this month, Keolis won a $2.68 billion contract to operate its second U.S. system, Boston’s commuter rail. SNCF has no U.S. rail contracts, Leray said.

2011 Maryland law that requires companies bidding on state commuter rail (MARC) contracts to disclose any ties to the Holocaust targeted a Keolis bid to operate two MARC lines. That contract went to a lower bidder.

Last year, Maloney and Ros-Lehtinen introduced legislation that would allow Holocaust victims and their families to seek damages against SNCF in U.S. courts.