Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Inside a Metro Meltdown

We've been on trains that suddenly went out of service, but we've never had the pleasure of being rescued from a crippled train. Over the past week, we've gotten two great stories about passengers having to be helped out of a sucked up situation of Metro's making. That sucks, Metro. Come on!
First, there was Addison's tightrope walking escape through an emergency exit, and today we have an Orange Line rider, who was lucky enough to be on the train that caused yesterday's suck-o-rama on the Orange and Blue lines. Here's their story:

I'm the reason you were late for work yesterday morning. Well, OK, not me personally, but I was on the train that clogged up the Orange and Blue lines for an hour or more, inconveniencing thousands. So, I'm sorry. As penance, I'd like to offer this insider's look into what happens when you're stuck in a packed train under the Potomac and how Metro employees react.
I was on an Orange Line train, heading toward Farragut West. We left Rosslyn station in the normal fashion, but then somewhere under the Potomac, the train came to an abrupt halt. After making a few abortive attempts at forward motion, the operator announced that due to mechanical difficulties we were going to need another train to push us to the next station for offloading. We settled in for the long haul, and those who were standing commenced the traditional shifting of the weight uncomfortably from one leg to the other. Metro was up to its old tricks again, and we just had to take it.
The operator came to our car, squeezed through the crowd and told a whole group of people to stand up. She then unlatched the center pod of seats and lifted it up, trapdoor style, exposing machinery beneath! (Who knew?) I couldn't see what she did down there, but she soon slammed the seats back down and continued on to the next car. Some time later, a thump was heard as the "rescue train" presumably came into contact with ours.
Another Metro employee shoved his way into our car and ejected the "priority seating" folks from their seats so he could get at the access panels behind them. After unscrewing them with his keys and twisting a knob, he radioed that he'd "cut out the trucks" on our train's car, meaning, I would guess, that the brakes and motors from our sick train were no longer connected to the wheels. Not really sure.
He then began to make his way back through the crowd towards the head of the train, but he didn't make it very far before we felt another bump and briefly jerked forward. The employee turned around and yelled, "CLEAR THE AISLE!!" He barreled through the passengers, took the access panel off again and "cut the truck back in," all while bellowing into his radio. He was visibly panicked.
What followed was a veritable perfect storm of chaotic of miscommunication between him and "central," during which he repeatedly tried using radio and phone to determine why the rescue train had started pushing our train before they were securely coupled to one another.
At the time, I couldn't figure out why he was so freaked out, but later on I realized that if our train had no braking ability and wasn't coupled to the rescuer, it could effectively become a runaway train when pushed. I'm actually kind of glad I didn't make it through this whole thought process while actually in my seat.
When he was finally satisfied that things were securely fastened, he turned the knob again, closed the panel and left the car. We all stared at each other, some grinning, others exasperated. Through a series of nausea-inducing lurches, our new 16-car (?) train began moving toward Foggy Bottom.
By the time we got there, an acrid odor like that of dental drilling permeated the train and station. This smoke, combined with the tightly-packed throng of peeved riders on the platform, made up my mind: I'd walk the rest of the way to work.

WaPo's version of this story.

Photo disclaimer: The dogs depicted in this picture are fictitious. Any similarity to any train conductor living or dead is merely coincidental.

Other news:
NY's problems sound eerily familiar (NY Times)
Should the Feds fund mass transit operating expenses? (National Journal)
WTOP picks up on video game story and doesn't give credit a la DCist.

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Anonymous said...

wow! interesting! Now if we could get a first person POV of the sick passenger scenario.

Unknown said...

That's a great story. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

That acrid odor is part of why I quit riding. The smell at Rosslyn most days is unbearable. They used to ventilate the stations better, but I'm sure it was a cost-cutting measure.

Vonni Media Mogul - Javonni Brustow said...

That is pretty scary...I actually read this at the edge of my seat...SERIOUSLY! Why on earth there was a "dead spot" and Metro operators could not reach each other is beyond me. These are things thatt should never occur. There should be full communications available at all times.

Congratulations #wmatafail
Javonni Brustow

Anonymous said...

As a Metro employee (but not a bus or train operator) I am glad to see a zero tolerance policy regarding "electronic devices" and books, magazines etc.

But I have to wonder why this same policy is in effect when working in a Metro Repair Facility sitting at our desk, when equipment, personal and passenger safety is not at risk.

Just as a thought, when you institute this type of rule, moral decreases and less production ensues.

Ben Schumin said...

Just FYI: there will never be a 16-car recovery operation in most situations. The reason is because eight-car trains have enough motors to where if a pair goes down, it can recover itself with the remaining cars. The most you would have for a recovery is 14 cars, where an eight-car train recovers a six-car train.

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