Tuesday, February 9, 2010

WMATA v. SEPTA v. Snow



How long does WMATA deserve the benefit of the doubt?

It certainly was an epic storm, and the decision to close above ground service during the peak of the winter blast was certainly prudent, but it has now been almost 72 hours since the snow stopped, and things are still severely hampered.

The front page of the WMATA site says the Red, Yellow, Orange and Green lines are operating at "full" service as of this morning, but when you actually click through, "full" turns out to mean quite limited and, in some cases, smokey. Parts of the above ground Blue Line remain closed.

Today, Metro announced they had 300 buses running routes, when on a normal day, there would be 1,400, a fact omitted from the release.

Metro says they have up to 20 trains "equipped with de-icing equipment to combat snow and ice on the electrified third rail." That's four per line.

Something just doesn't make sense, so we thought we'd check with Philly (love your sports fans!) to see how their mass transit was dealing with snowmaggedoncalypsegasmomg.

We spoke with a very friendly official from Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), the WMATA of the Philadelphia area. Unlike here, public transport in the Philadelphia area was not nearly as impacted (brought to its knees) in the wake of the blizzard of '10, and they even got a little more snow than we did.

When asked about DC's 3-day mass transit virtual lockdown, the official, simply responded with an incredulous "wow," as if to say "you're kidding, right?"

SEPTA did suspend operations during the worst conditions, but today, the SEPTA Web site reports no delays, bus or rail, that appear to be connected to the weekend storm.

But Philly gets a lot more snow than DC, so they're better prepared, right? Not really. According to NOAA, they get about 4 more inches a year.

However, to be fair, comparing WMATA to SEPTA is, in some ways, like comparing apples to oranges--except for the buses. For one, many of SEPTA's regional rails--a large part of the system--use catenary (overhead) lines for power sources, which are less susceptible to the snow than a third rail like Metro. SEPTA's subway uses a third rail for power but runs underground and is protected from the snow. SEPTA does, however have something called the Norristown High Speed Line, which is powered via a third rail and runs above ground. That line, according to a SEPTA official, was affected "somewhat" on Saturday from this most recent snow.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

My patience ended monday.

Anonymous said...

I work at WMATA, and I'll tell you the reason why. A lot of peolep never showed up to work. A snow day is a free day off in many employee's minds.

Sean Robertson said...

@anonymous metro employee - fine, fire their ass. There are lots of other people who could use the job and would probably care a lot more than some current employees. I have no patience for that shit or any union that's blindly protecting people doing it.

Anonymous said...

Why should we give Metro the benefit of the doubt? They lie to us constantly about everything from when the next train is coming to when an escalator is going to be "fixed." But hey, what other public transportation system are you going to take if you don't take Metro?

glcok said...

I think it's more apples to apples than you say. Major urban area, major mass transit system, major snow. One failed, one didn't

That said, SEPTA is no dream transit system by any stretch.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, I have a lot of family in Philly and they by no means got more snow than we did at some of our above-ground locations.

I think this is a good question to be asking, but my parents (for instance) got 12 inches less in their neighborhood (near an outdoor SEPTA regional rail staiton) than we did next to our outdoor Metro station.

fuzzface00 said...

NYC seems to be able to handle snow very well, and they have more above ground track (revenue and yard) with 3rd rail than DC.

Some questions to ask WMATA:

a) Why doesn't WMATA have any snow thrower rail cars?
b) Why doesn't WMATA move cars to the underground when bad weather threatens?
c) Why aren't the yard diesel engines fitted with snow plow equipment?

See http://www.mta.info/news/stories/?story=18

Anonymous said...

Yes, WMATA has not done a good job of cleaning up after the snowfall, but at least partial blame for this has to lie with the DC government's awful snow removal. I grew up in Philly, and following snowfall they always made sure that the bus routes were plowed down to the pavement and out to the full (or close to it) width of the street. This has not happened here yet. If the buses were sent out they would just get stuck on a lot of their routes.

Froggie said...

fuzzface: WMATA actually did #b, which is partially why the underground sections that were open over the weekend were running so slow: much of it was single-tracked because of the car storage underground.

fuzzface00 said...

Froggie: Thanks, I was not aware they had done that. I realize that they are limited in what they can do underground since there are is little in the way of sidings underground, but I think almost anything at this point helps.

The Punk Gourmand said...

Took me 4 hours to go from Bethesda to Silver Spring this afternoon. J2's were running westbound only, stranding 20 passengers at Montgomery Mall. Metro can suck it.

Anonymous said...

Apparently metro's yard can't handle this much snow (dcist quotes WMATA's Doug Karas saying he worries about "digging about 800 trains out of 2-3 feet of snow, clearing the track at the railyards so you can move those cars around and put the trains together.”
http://www.welovedc.com/2010/02/08/metros-decision/

How do other agencies like SEPTA or the NY MTA deal with that?

Can anyone explain what has been happening at Metro's yard since Monday to show why that is really the issue?

littleboy said...

I live in Portland Oregon, a few years ago we had five or six inches of snow and a near majority of drivers called in sick. The transit authority put a stop to that, no more snow days. They will come get you if need be.

Now last winter was a different story when we got 20 inches of snow. Many routes were down for a week, just a major failure, the only city in the region that did worse was Seattle.

Anonymous said...

As a former SEPTA employee who keeps in touch up there, SEPTA may not be a dream transit authority by any stretch, but WMATA makes SEPTA look like a well oiled machine.

Anonymous said...

The bus stops are not being cleared. In fact most have not been cleared from the last snow. In some instances, thoughtless Metro bus drivers force riders to alight at an insurmountable snow bank. I am 5,4 and a working senior who has to ride metro rail and but to get to work in Alexandria. I am in pretty good shape, but being put in danger by this situation is very disturbing. Also most sidewalks have not been cleared from the last snow. Just try walking on Rt.1 or any other of the main streets that have uncleared sidewalks. And when you reach an intersection, trying to get across the street is a life-threatening task.

Anonymous said...

Why was metro charging RUSH hour fare yesterday afternoon? My wait time for the blue line to King Street was 18 mins.

Anonymous said...

As an Arlington, VA native who grew up riding WMATA and spent 6 years in college riding SEPTA I can say that SEPTA was much worse than WMATA. Service was often spotty, especially on weekends when whole sections of the Market-Frankford EL and Broad Street Subway were replaced with buses. Even on weekdays, service was spotty, because trains would get stuck behind one another, trains were often operated with broken doors that either wouldn't open or wouldn't close properly while moving.

Is it inappropriate to say that WMATA and SEPTA are comparable because they are transit agencies. Most of the SEPTA's revenue comes from Regional Rail, which works really really well, and as mentioned has catenary lines and not third rail power, which makes a huge difference in heavy snowfall. Secondly, regional rail cars are taller and the distance between the top of the rail and undercarriage of the car is much greater than Metrorail cars, with very little undercarriage components to be damaged by snow between the rails. Regional rail also functions more like MARC, VRE, Metro North, LIRR, than like an urban subway system.

Metrorail was designed to take advantage of freight rail rights-of-way and highway medians to reduce the construction cost of the system, making space an issue for expansion and snow removal. Metrorail was also designed to complement the car, many commuters drive to an above ground station, park and ride Metrorail into the District, making above ground stations crucial for effectiveness.

Lastly, the Washington Metro region does not get consistent average yearly snowfall, significant snowfall to disrupt WMATA (like this blizzard) occurs about every 6 to 7 years, so investments in specialized snow clearing equipment unjustifiable.

Anonymous said...

SEPTA-Urban mass transit in a major metro area
WMATA-Urban mass transit in a major metro area

Snow cripples one, not the other.

That's all the comparison I need.

Anonymous said...

Oh, for God's sake. Please do not compare SEPTA to WMATA until you have traveled both systems extensively. Saying that both are "urban mass transit in a major metro area" does not even begin to cover it. WMATA trumps SEPTA in EVERY possible aspect. The fact that SEPTA was operating on schedule before WMATA is the only time that I have seen where SEPTA has done something better than WMATA, and that is a true rarity.

Anonymous said...

Why compare SEPTA and WMATA? It's not logical. They are in different parts of the country, serve different clients, and probably have different volumes to handle. Not only these things, but if you want to compare the two companies, start with their web sites. From what little I've seen SEPTA is far superior to WMMATA. Whether SEPTA doesn't work on time has no factor when it comes to safety and WMATA doing nothing to improve its poor operations in the interest of safety, except crying for federal funds. Not only that but WMATA is asking viewers a ridiculous question such as how much they are willing to pay to travel safety on Metro? That is absurd. The fees include safety. When is DOT going to recommend that the federal government take over Metro management so travelers and workers are not killed? This company needs to be managed and operated by a group with positive morals and the intent to comply with OSHA and other federal laws requiring safe operation.

Anonymous said...

impacted is not a word.

Anonymous said...

I use Metrorail all week for years. It's really simple: snow fell, DC/VA/MA sucks @ snow removal, people here use any excuse to avoid work, & work very poorly when asked. I can say this because you learn things from watching patterns occur. I'm originally from the northeast coast, we know how to remove snow quickly & properly, & we're not lazy. End of story.

Anonymous said...

Metro used to run in snow when it was possible. There were several big snows where Metro kept running.

The big problem was icing on the 3rd rail. That has been resolved with heater tape on the rail at selected locations and with installation of open coverboards on the 3rd rail. The original coverboards were closed and trapped the snow on the rail.

Metro also has "pickle cars" running at the ends of revenue trains, spreading de-icing fluid on the 3rd rail. Yes, it is a pain to have the end cars blocked on a few trains but it beats some other options.

One year there was a big snow and Metro shut down because they were concerned they would suffer traction motor failures. They did not have the money to replace a lot of them.

The next day New York reported on the number of cars taken out of service due to traction motor failures in the storm. They also reported that crews worked all night to repair them, and that a large percentage of them (I forget the number) were back on the line in the morning. That is an entirely different attitude.

So, Metro has the capability to run in most snow storms. They have 3rd rail heaters and pickle cars. If the keep trains moving all night the rails should remain open.

It would seem far less expensive to pay overtime to run trains all night than to pay a LOT of overtime to plow out the tracks that are snowed in from lack of use. That does not take into account the lost revenue and the loss of public confidence, what little there is remaining.

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