Metro of­fers a way to boost its on-time per­for­mance by cut­ting ser­vice

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - ROBERT THOM­SON

Jim Hughes, one of Metro’s top plan­ning of­fi­cials, spent years work­ing on the rail ser­vice pro­gram that made room for the Sil­ver Line trains and added ser­vice to cen­tral Washington, where new neigh­bor­hoods are bloom­ing.

This sum­mer, Hughes is work­ing on a pro­posal that would cur­tail rush-hour ser­vice on the Sil­ver Line and cut the num­ber of trains in the Dis­trict’s north-south cor­ri­dor.

Is this a dra­matic re­trench­ment? A big “Never mind”?

That’s one of sev­eral ways riders may re­act. Oth­ers will see the pro­posal as pit­ting the Blue Line against the Or­ange, Sil­ver, Green and Yel­low. If all their trains are spaced eight min­utes apart, the Blue Line is the only one gain­ing ser­vice.

But this pro­posal is much more com­pli­cated than any of that, and I hope riders will take time to ex­am­ine it.

The fun­da­men­tal ques­tion is this: Would you want to trade the chance of more crowd­ing on your train for a crack at a more re­li­able trip?

Here are five key points in eval­u­at­ing the idea.

Re­li­a­bil­ity and crowd­ing. “We’re try­ing to see if we can pro­vide more re­li­able, con­sis­tent ser­vice,” Hughes said in ex­plain­ing the pro­posal to the Metro Riders’ Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day.

Each of the five lines un­der re­view con­nects with another line. Metro plan­ners think there are too many trains com­pet­ing for space at the junc­tions, and this— along with im­por­tant fac­tors such as the con­di­tion of the tracks and the rail cars— con­trib­utes to de­lays. “The on- time per­for­mance of our rail­road is not up to our goal,” Hughes said in a state­ment that many riders would whole­heart­edly en­dorse.

Plan­ners think that by in­creas­ing the space be­tween trains, Metro is more likely to get you where you’re go­ing on time, be­cause the trains will move more smoothly through the junc­tions.

But: “We will see more crowd­ing,” Hughes said. This would hap­pen even as Metro adds more rail cars to the trains re­main­ing in ser­vice.

The con­nec­tions. “Some­thing that hap­pens on one of our lines af­fects our other lines,” Hughes said. The most fre­quently dis­cussed junction is Ross­lyn, where the new Sil­ver Line com­petes for space with Or­ange and Blue trains. But lines also join up at East Falls Church, Pen­tagon, Sta­dium-Ar­mory, King Street and L’En­fant Plaza.

Hughes de­scribed this

pro­posal as a rel­a­tively short­term strat­egy—“four, five, six years,” he said. Long-term, Metro still ex­pects the rid­er­ship to grow along the Sil­ver Line cor­ri­dor and the north-south cor­ri­dor in the Dis­trict, and those riders will need more ser­vice.

Role of the Sil­ver Line. Metro opened the Sil­ver Line with the hope of mov­ing 26 trains per hour— Sil­ver, Or­ange and Blue — through the Ross­lyn junction. That’s not hap­pen­ing, and the re­sult is er­ratic ser­vice.

Mean­while, rid­er­ship at the new sta­tions on the west side of the Sil­ver Line is be­low es­ti­mates. The end of the line sta­tion at Wiehle-Re­ston East and the Tysons Cor­ner sta­tion near the malls are do­ing very well, but rid­er­ship at other new sta­tions in Tysons is un­likely to pick up un­til more of the planned of­fice and residential de­vel­op­ments open.

Blue Line im­pact. To fit in the Sil­ver Line trains, Metro cut ser­vice on the Blue Line, so trains now are sched­uled to ar­rive ev­ery 12 min­utes. Metro has looked for ways to ad­dress com­plaints about crowd­ing. But the pro­posal was not de­signed specif­i­cally to ben­e­fit the Blue Line at the ex­pense of the oth­ers.

In fact, it’s un­clear whether Blue Line riders will like the ap­proach. Metro es­ti­mates that 30 per­cent of Blue Line riders shifted to the Yel­low Line when the Blue Line was cut back. If Blue Line ser­vice is in­creased and Yel­low Line Rush Plus ser­vice is elim­i­nated, those riders are likely to re­turn to the Blue Line.

Metro es­ti­mates that at rush hour the Blue Line car­ries 106 peo­ple per car. Un­der the pro­posal, Metro es­ti­mates that Blue Line cars will carry an av­er­age of 108 peo­ple.

What’s next. This am­bi­tious un­der­tak­ing could come un­done at many stages. The transit staff plans to present the pro­posal to a Metro board com­mit­tee on Thurs­day. The staff is look­ing for board ap­proval to draw public com­ment. A for­mal plan could be pre­sented to the board this fall.

If the board ap­proves, it still would take months for the staff to set up op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures and change Metro maps, signs, brochures and online sched­ul­ing in­for­ma­tion.

Hughes said it’s pos­si­ble that a plan could be im­ple­mented in the first part of 2016. But the ex­pe­ri­ence in cre­at­ing the Rush Plus sys­tem shows it can take years to plan and im­ple­ment wide­spread changes in rail ser­vice. Dr. Grid­lock also ap­pears Thurs­day in Lo­cal Liv­ing. Com­ments and ques­tions are welcome and may be used in a col­umn, along with the writer’s name and home com­mu­nity. Write Dr. Grid­lock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail dr­grid­lock@wash­post.com.

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