Friday, April 2, 2010

One Week of Metro: 40 Percent Suck Rate

From CS:

Dear Diary,

The new guy, Sarles, started this week. Can he make a difference? The hopes of hundreds of thousands of us ride with him.

As a scene-setter, I thought I’d keep track of my Metrorail experiences for last week, rather than just focus on a single incident. Unfortunately – but these days, not unexpectedly – it wasn’t a great week.


The good:
  • Train operator pronounced “Judiciary Square” correctly. Regular Red Line riders know how unusual this is.
  • Train operator had somewhat helpful announcements during a dead train incident (see below). Told us the cause of the problem (albeit repeatedly, with no updates), and (after long delay) that we’d be single tracking.
  • Someone actually thinking proactively at WMATA: Signs posted at, and leading away from, Vienna/Fairfax station directing people how to get to nearby Oakton High School, where WMATA budget hearing being held.
The bad:
  • 12-minute interval (12!) between Shady Grove-bound Red Line trains at Metro Center during morning rush. For shame! Someone should be shot. And for this, they’re thinking about a peak-of-the-peak surcharge?
  • Dead train at West Falls Church for the ride home. Big delays, rippling all the way downtown. When we finally get to WFC, they try to move the dead train, and it dies again, only this time blocking the way ahead. Like bad constipation, entire Orange Line is plugged up. In all, trip home nearly doubles.
  • Irony: Orange Line woes delay anyone trying to take Metro to the WMATA budget hearing (where they could rail about poor service).
Overall suckage:
Very high suck

The good:
Unremarkable, one way or the other.
The bad:
  • 12-minute interval in the morning again! Come on, people, if only for pride’s sake!
  • Another meltdown on the way home. Dead train, or something – no one ever said – at Foggy Bottom. (You get the feeling that if bin Laden blew up downtown, the Metro announcements would probably say stations were closed due to a police action.) Delays not as bad as Monday, but it’s only Tuesday, and patience is exhausted. After nearly 12 years on Metro, could I actually be considering driving into the city?
Overall suckage:

High suck


The good:
Very pleasant train operator. Not robotic, angry, mumbling, scolding, bored, copping attitude, uncommunicative, pasting up newspapers to hide self in cab, or otherwise dysfunctional at all. Actually sounded happy to be on the job and interested in riders. (Must not have been union member long.)
The bad:
  • Progress, at least by Metro standards – morning interval on the Red Line at Metro Center down to only 10 minutes.
  • Going home, Orange Line platform at Metro Center jammed, which immediately put suck sensors on high alert. But pleasant surprise – train was crowded, but not unpleasantly so, and things moved OK. Almost like the old days.
Overall suckage:
Mostly unsucked

The good:
No problems. Could get used to this. Noticed, though, that both Orange and Red lines had what appeared to be old series cars in the end position. Same thing happened last week. Not a big deal to me, but thought they weren’t doing that anymore? What’s up? (I’ll say this: if not having to “belly” the old cars in the middle of trains means more reliable, less nauseating service, I’ll take that any day.)
The bad:
No problems for me, but the Ms. had 12- and 8-minute, peak-hour waits for Red and Orange lines on the way home. See previous – inexcusable! Twenty minutes of platform time during rush hour?! Worse than bush league.
Overall suckage:
Unsucked (for me, at least, but dinner was late, due to the Ms.’s delays.)

The good:
  • With usual lighter-than-normal Friday ridership, no problems.
  • Funny: It was raining during the morning commute. At Judiciary Square (as previously noted here in the blog), the escalators have taken to groaning like elephant seals during mating season. The rain, though, evidently temporarily lubed something, for we rose to street level in wet silence.
The bad:
No problems.
Overall suckage:
Oh, dear Diary, how I long for the old days. Sometimes, they seem tauntingly close. But most times, you just kinda shrug and remember how much of a good thing we once had.

On Tuesday, I might have suggested just blowing the whole thing up. By Friday, those feelings had receded to just the ordinary level of Metro despair. Last week, Metro cost me a couple of extra hours of my life that I’ll never get back. But neither did it ruin it. In all, a mixed week, but with a pronounced lean toward suckdom.

Will Mr. Sarles get it? Can he get it without needing a team of consultants to restate the obvious? Dear Diary, I hope so. They say it will take years for Metro to climb out of its hole. The time to start is now.

Also by CS:

Other items:


Anonymous said...

One rider's commute home yesterday on Orange line to New Carrollton:

Bad news: Two trains pull into New Carrollton station at about 5:40 and then 5:41. Naturally am on the second train arriving. Lower level fare exit area looks like a mob scene from a bad sci fi movie. Slowing working down the stairs with a long-shot view, the herd looks like it's milling about mindlessly. Train control center obviously asleep on the job or thinking it a great April Fool's joke on the passengers.

Good news: 2 attendants were hoping round those exit gates like pro shortstops after the winning ball. Once in the crowd, it was apparent the herd was actually moving steadily and smoothly forward. Both attendants were watching every gate and as soon as even an inkling of hesitation or trouble on an exit, they were "there" keeping the herd flowing. Surprising smooth and efficient exist from the gate in the midst of a huge half-tourist herd. Go attendants! (Especially as I would have been terrified to be 'front and center' with such a mass moving right at me.) Train control central - ppphthhttthht to you!

Anonymous said...

Dear C.S.,
Don't let today's crowd fool you as many ppl. have taken off for Good Friday and will be back next week as well as the students who had Spring Break will be back as well!

Anonymous said...

I suffered through last Monday and Tuesday....I was ON the train that was messed up between F. West and Foggy Bottom...we sat for half an hour with barely an announcement to let us know what was going on. After being dumped off at Foggy Bottom....I had to let at least 6-8 trains go by before I could even attempt to get on. I too was ready to call it a day and start driving to work.

Anonymous said...

Ooops! That should be "lack of" crowd.

Matt' said...

Two things:

Re: Newspapers:
I'm not denying that some train operators might try and hide their cab activities from the view of passengers, but there *is* a legitimate reason for putting newspapers up. Because the passenger compartment is lit (usually) the lights shining through the door create a glare on the driver's cab window which makes it difficult to see forward when underground or at night.

Many trains have curtains over the door, but some are missing it. If the glare is a problem and the curtain is not present, the operator will sometimes use whatever is handy to reduce the glare (newspaper, advertisement). This improves your safety, because it increases the operators ability to see out the front of the train.

Re: Old Cars:
I don't deny that you could have seen 1000-series cars at the front or rear of the consist. I have personally not seen any in a very long time, but it is within the realm of possibility. Personally, I'm of the opinion that they should go back to single-series consists, but that's just me.

You might, however, have seen 4000-series cars at either end. Only the 1ks and 4ks have the orange/yellow interior, so sometimes people confuse the 4ks for 1ks.

One way to tell the difference, from the outside, is the presence of a black oval the width of a window (and just above it) which has an exterior speaker. The 1000-series cars originally had two destination signs on each side. One of these was replaced per car on each side with a speaker.

It's much more difficult to tell them apart from the inside, but there will be a 4-digit number on the end door on either end of the car and also on the exterior either above or below the operator's side window. If it starts with "1" it's a 1000-series, if it starts with "4", it's a 4000-series.

Anonymous said...

My commute home Thursday:

4:00pm, L'Enfant Plaza -- Just got off the Green Line headed down to Orange... a guy feels he is going to be so late that he RUNS down the UP Escalator. I still beat him to the bottom standing on the Right of the down escalator. Fail.

There is an Orange train to Vienna sitting there, people running to make it -- look up at the PIDS, all conditions normal - Franconia 2, Vienna 5. Walk into a 1k series car - hit with a Heat blast of over 100° easily. Stymied, I remarked "It's f*ing hot in here!!" The people sitting there with beads of sweat on their foreheads and noticeable stains on their shirts chuckled and agreed. I quickly exited the metro sauna...and then the operator took the train out of service. Well, at least they recognized there was an issue, right? Good.
Bad news - platform crowded with Tourons waiting to go one stop to "The Smithsonian." Damn. Oh, but wait! Here comes that empty blue train to Franconia. Tourouns - release! They all rushed onto the always empty blue trains in this neighborhood, allowing us Orange-Liners to get on the next train 2 mins later. No over-crowding, all systems go. It may have sucked for about 4 minutes, but all was better very soon. :-)

Anonymous said...

Ya know Matt, you make a good point about glare. Heaven knows I do not want my train operator having ANY kind of vision trouble while moving along. However, I never once saw newspaper plastering until AFTER operators got caught texting while driving. Doesn't help their case much... ;)

Anonymous said...

1. What is sad is that a lot of people were off or away this week. Easter holidays, Passover, and Spring Break (MontCo's at least)....most of my (government) office took most or all of this week off. Yes, there were lots of tourists around but I think the rush hours were lighter. Suck rate should be curved to calculate the lower ridership.

2. I ride through Judiciary Sq. twice a day...can someone clarify the mispronunciation? Usually, I just hear static...or on good days, mumbling through the speakers.

Anonymous said...

How most metro operators pronounce it: joo-dish-yoo-wary

How it should be pronounced: joo-dish-ee-er-ee

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