Thursday, January 7, 2010

Taking it to the Edge

@hostagehoosier hardcore orangeline fail

A bit long today, but bear with us.

The first commuting days of 2010 were unacceptable. The Red Line was a mess on Monday, and then the Orange Line collapsed into a teeming pile of flesh on Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning once again saw the Orange Line in a full frontal fail.

Metro sucked all last year, but the past few days have revealed an entire new realm of suck we thought was only the suck of myth. One rider claimed they had to wait for 7 trains at Court House on Wednesday morning before there was room to get on.

What happened between the end of December, when things were relatively "OK," and Jan. 4? What took run-of-the-mill Metro sucking to lows never thought reachable?

Not to be too conspiratorial here, but today is when the Board is supposed to make a decision about some very big service cuts. A year ago, at roughly this same time, Metro was talking major service cuts as well. Granted, the budget being discussed at the time was the annual budget, not an unexpected shortfall within the operating budget of same fiscal year as is being faced now, but the threats are eerily similar.

Among them were closing Metro at 10 p.m. on weeknights, increasing headways, and eliminating select bus service and closing mezzanines. Sound familiar? This year, they're not threatening to close the system at 10, but they're proposing ditching all 8-car trains and pretty much the rest of the list from last year.

Could these totally sucky commutes to start off the year be a Metro ploy to drum up fear so they can once again kick the brutal cuts down the road or raid another pile of money?

Remember when the Park Service, when faced with cuts, would threaten to close the Washington Monument? It has become known as the Washington Monument Strategy, and it is a common practice among bureaucracies.

When the dust settled last year, the cuts turned out to be rather meager, but as the final decisions were being made, everyone was in a tizzy.

What do you think? Could WMATA be so Machiavellian? Has ANYONE seen an 8-car train this week? Are we guinea pigs in a bureaucratic pissing war? Will they really go through with all the proposed cuts at today's meeting?

It is a fact that Metro's budget picture is not pretty at all, so we may end up with the cuts proposed. If the past few days' rides are any indications the cuts will have Metro playing a very risky game by letting the platforms get this crowded, and if you scroll down beyond the photos, you'll see one reader's idea for a solution to some of the crowding at Gallery Place, a notorious bottleneck.

@JohnDellaporta The GP/Chitown platform, after 2 trains passed by w/o picking people up. #wmata

@marklemunyon Rosslyn is a mess. Never seen it this bad #wmata #metro

From Charles:
It was 9 a.m., Tuesday, January 5.

I was stuck. Not on a train, but on a platform at Gallery Place.

Hundreds of people clogged the platform, making it totally impossible for anybody to move. People who wanted to board a Red Line train to Shady Grove could not. People who wanted to exit a train were stuck. People who wanted to get out of the station were trapped on the platform—cheek by jowl with their fellow man.

A couple of Metro Transit Police officers surveyed the situation from the balcony that overlooks the Red Line tracks. I eventually made my way upstairs and asked the officers who was in charge of this mess.

"A rail supervisor should see this!" explained one officer. I agreed and inquired as to the whereabouts of that supervisor. "We've called for the supervisor," said the officer. He shrugged and walked away.

The officers called, but who was listening? I'm afraid we know the answer.

Hello, John Catoe? Hello, Metro Board of Directors? Why not visit Gallery Place during the height of morning rush hour? Come show us that you care!

Metro has two kinds of problems: Those that will never be solved and those that can be solved—right now, immediately, and for no extra money. The same is true at Gallery Place during morning rush hour.

The unsolvable problem at is the station’s layout. The Green and Yellow Lines meet the Red Line in a T. There will always be gridlock as Green and Yellow Line passengers try to transfer upstairs to the Red Line. Then there are the inevitable delays and breakdowns that cause people to pile up on platforms. These problems are tough, and we will always have them.

The frustrating thing is that Metro could make one easy, cost-neutral decision that would immediately improve this ridiculous situation at Gallery Place.

Ever since the June 22 accident, trains have pulled to the front of every platform to add a margin of safety. This generally makes sense, except for inbound Red Line trains at Gallery Place during morning rush hour.

Simply allowing trains to stop where the people are stacked 15 deep would make a huge difference and would enhance platform safety.

C'mon, John Catoe! Make it happen! Let's score some points for safety and common sense.

Or at least dispatch a rail supervisor to survey the situation.

Unsuck readers may recall my December 17 post titled "Doors Yet Again!" You’ll be relieved to know that nobody from Metro has followed up with me in any way. Of course Unsuck readers more than made up for that by posting a lot of good comments.
Other items:


Michael said...

I rode an 8-car train at 7:20am this morning, leaving from East Falls Church and encountering no delays. I even got a seat.

Mrs. Micah said...

I've had a very strange week metro-wise. Coworkers have all come in with horror stories, I've passed packed platforms and sardine trains on the other side and seen it with my own eyes, but so far it's been normal or surprisingly empty on the trains I've actually taken. I'm hoping my luck continues.

This morning the operator nearly closed the red line doors at Metro Center before people had finished getting off the middle cars, but that's normal.

Anonymous said...

Vote against Jim Graham, Chair of the Board, when he's up for reelection. Support his opponents by donating time and money (I don't even know or care who they are)...we must hold the Board accountable if they won't hold Catoe accountable.

TJoselow said...

All three long escalators at Bethesda (and those are not insignificant escalators) have been broken for the last two days. In ten years of rail commuting, I've never seen it this bad. Can metro qualify for a bailout?

Lt. Cccyxx said...

I can't remember the last time I saw an 8-car train on the Red Line, so their threatening to eliminate them makes me laugh.

csdc said...

I wouldn't put it past Metro one bit to run nothing but six car trains for the first few days of the year.

I think in the end, they'll move stuff around, WMATA style, and we'll end up to normal sucking.

The numbers don't lie though, and there will be a steady decline in service over the coming years, drastic cut now or not.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why they would need to call for anyone to survey the platform. There should be CCTV monitoring of all the stations. I actually thought this always existed, how could you run a system without CCTV?

Anonymous said...

God yes! Please have redline trains quit pulling to the front at Gallery Place! Maybe they could paint a line on the platform so the drivers could know where to stop.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Graham likes horror metro evening failures given that it helps the cab industry that tried to pay him off to restrict competition in the cab industry.

Anonymous said...

There are already markers on the platforms telling the trains where to stop. If you look beneath the platform you can see signs indicating where certain length trains should stop. This system worked really well for decades until they got around to those 8-car trains (that for all intents and purposes don't exist) and the operators couldn't remember that they were driving 8-car trains. This meant they were constantly opening the doors of the last car while it was still in the tunnel. Metro thought big signs in the operator cab would fix this but that wasn't the case...their operators really are that stupid!

Of course none of this would be an issue if the trains ran completely automatically like they should be. The operator should be there only to monitor things and ensure that doors don't close on someone or that the train runs into anything unexpected. Aren't you glad that some of these operators are paid over $150K a year?!?


Anonymous said...

I was at Court House at 9am on Tuesday and wasn't able to get on to an 8 car train. I ended up getting jammed in pretty tight on the next, 6-car one.

It really emptied out at Rosslyn. I think that the Metro needs to look into providing alternate/more direct routes to alleviate these points of congestion.

bradlby said...

This week started pretty horribly on the Red line, but there has been noticable improvement since Monday night. I haven't seen an eight car train in a long time, and the train I was on that was labeled as "Shady Grove" decided to stop at Grosvenor for some reason, but at least nothing broke and I didn't have to let trains go by without boarding. Writing this makes me realize just how low my expectations have dropped though.

Anonymous said...

I had a fat, no obese, woman block my entering a Metro car today at Silver Spring. Why she chose to place her fat ass in the door so no one could board through that door is beyond me.

Then a "schedule adjustment" on the next train.

Then overcrowding down the entire length into Metro Center.

And then a 5 minute wait for a train coming from Rosslyn.

Metro thanks for the worst commute in three months.

Anonymous said...

What I don't get is how Metro saves money by not running 8 car trains? I mean it's not like they need more operators to run an 8 car and cleaning costs should be negligible. The only benefit could be maintenance but those cars should be part of a train at some point so again how is this supposed to save money?

Anonymous said...

I saw an 8 car train on the green line during evening rush hour -- not sure why the green line really needs 8 car trains at all?!? My thoughts are orange, blue, and red really could use them.

Mainland said...

@ Anonymous 10:07

The savings are in electrical costs. It's been noted elsewhere that 8 car trains cost 33% more than 6 cars.

Anonymous said...

Let's do something Metro never does and think outside the box. Instead of DECREASING the number of 8-car trains, we should INCREASE it. Radical, I know, but stay with me here.

Mainland claims that the amount of electricity needed to run an 8-car train is proportionate to what it takes to run a 6-car train (33% difference in the number of cars, 33% difference in electricity). So, the real savings factor here is labor.

Right now, Metro states that the Red Line runs 44 trains (11 of them 8 car) in both directions at rush hour at 3-6 minute headways (the math on this does not add, up, BTW). Soooo...if we made 22 instead of 11 of those trains 8 car trains, it would take 6 trains out of service to add the cars to the other trains. That equals a total headway increase of 18-36 minutes - the real number should probably be 27 given the Silver Spring-Grovesnor loop. Divide that 27 minutes by the 38 trains in service and you get a little under a minute increase in headway for each train, or approximately 4 to 7 minutes...not bad. Sure, same electricity, but more time to futz with too long offload/load stops and other issues, and 6 operators not clocking hours, with little disruption to riders' days. Running only the 16 6-car trains during non-peak weekday hours should result in a headway of approximately 8-9 minutes during off-peak hours. Of course, you can run fewer than the 16 6-car trains, but no need to keep 8-car trains in during non-peak hours was my point.

Was this that hard?

Anonymous said...

Hey now - that might be considered "higher math" which Metro may not yet have added to employee training manuals. ;-D

(It sounds well worth trying to this ole rider!)

Anonymous said...

This morning was another nightmare at Gallery Place. I spoke with the kiosk personnel who said that "Transit does crowd control," and she would call them. Interesting that Charles spoke with Transit personnel who claimed that they had called a rail supervisor. More pass-the-buck?

Anonymous said...

Must be that transformation improving things on us every day.

Unknown said...

Update: Two transit cops were on the platform at Gallery Place this morning providing crowd control for inbound Red Line trains. I thanked them for their serivce.

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