Fi­nal SafeTrack phase for Vir­ginia lines be­gins

Work will af­fect rid­ers on Blue Line un­til April 1, Yel­low Line un­til April 9

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY FAIZ SIDDIQUI

Metro Blue Line rid­ers re­lieved to see their trains back in ser­vice af­ter 18 days of SafeTrack re­pairs last month: Don’t get too com­fort­able. Ditto for those who switched to the Yel­low Line to get through the last surge.

SafeTrack rum­bles back through North­ern Vir­ginia for the fi­nal time this month, with 36 days of round-the-clock sin­gle­track­ing, caus­ing slow­downs and headaches in the city of Alexan­dria and Ar­ling­ton and Fairfax coun­ties — and po­ten­tially snarling com­mutes in other parts of the sys­tem. This time around, the track work, which started Satur­day, will be per­formed in two phases: the first on the Blue and Yel­low lines through April 1, and then shift­ing ex­clu­sively to the Yel­low Line, April 2-9.

The ini­tial work zone stretches from the Brad­dock Road sta­tion to the Van Dorn Street sta­tion on the Blue Line and to the Hunt­ing­ton sta­tion on the Yel­low Line. For that phase, Yel­low Line trains will run ev­ery 24 min­utes from Hunt­ing­ton to Mount Ver­non Square — even dur­ing rush hours — and Blue Line trains will run at

that same fre­quency sys­temwide, in­clud­ing rush hours. Yel­low Line Rush Plus ser­vice, which nor­mally pro­vides Blue Line pas­sen­gers an al­ter­na­tive route to the District, will be halted. Though ser­vice will be more fre­quent from Rea­gan Na­tional Air­port north­ward, rid­ers on both lines are be­ing urged to seek al­ter­na­tives.

“What ap­pears to be at first blush a fairly lo­cal­ized im­pact has re­ver­ber­a­tions all through­out the sys­tem,” said Metro board mem­ber Chris­tian Dorsey, who rep­re­sents Ar­ling­ton. “Look­ing at al­ter­na­tives will be es­sen­tial to get you from where you are to where you need to be with a min­i­mum of dis­rup­tion and a min­i­mum of frus­tra­tion.”

South of Na­tional Air­port, ser­vice will be skele­tal, with a fourth as many trains as nor­mal through April 1. For rid­ers north of the air­port, it won’t be smooth sailing either. Half the usual num­ber of trains will serve sta­tions up to Ross­lyn and L’En­fant Plaza. With those lev­els of ser­vice, any un­ex­pected dis­rup­tion could cause wide­spread crowd­ing and de­lays. Metro says it is stag­ing ad­di­tional em­ploy­ees and trains within the sys­tem in case of a break­down.

Of­fi­cials, mean­while, urged rid­ers to stay away from the work zone if pos­si­ble.

“I want to re­it­er­ate the im­por­tance of us­ing al­ter­nate modes of trans­porta­tion dur­ing this pe­riod of time so that we make sure that we are free­ing up space on our roads as well as al­low­ing for re­pairs to be made to our Metro sys­tem,” said Sharon Bulova (D), chair of the Fairfax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors.

With the lat­est surge, how­ever, there’s a sil­ver lin­ing: If all goes to plan, it will be Vir­ginia’s last taste of the year-long re­pair pro­gram, which has dis­rupted travel across the re­gion and driven rid­ers away from Metro at his­toric rates, caus­ing the agency fi­nan­cial dis­tress.

“For those rid­ers in Vir­ginia who have long ex­pe­ri­enced is­sues on the Blue Line, whether it’s re­duced ser­vice, un­re­li­able ser­vice and then, the pre­vi­ous surge and the cur­rent surge, I have a mes­sage,” said Dorsey. “The light is at the end of the tun­nel. We’re al­most done. April 9 we should get some­thing more closely re­sem­bling the ser­vice that we want to pro­vide on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.”

For Blue Line rid­ers, who have been dealt their fair share of SafeTrack-re­lated pain, re­lief will come soon­est, with re­pairs con­clud­ing on April Fools’ Day — per­haps an un­for­tu­nate omen.

Af­ter the first round of re­pairs con­cludes April 1, track work will shift ex­clu­sively to the Yel­low Line while the Blue Line re­turns to its nor­mal 12-minute waits. Round-the-clock sin­gle-track­ing will take place be­tween the King St.-Old Town and Hunt­ing­ton sta­tions, keep­ing slow­downs in place, in­clud­ing dur­ing rush hour. Like be­fore, trains from Hunt­ing­ton to Mount Ver­non Square will run ev­ery 24 min­utes, with ad­di­tional ser­vice from Na­tional Air­port to down­town.

In all, the surge is ex­pected to af­fect 43,000 trips each week­day. At a news con­fer­ence on the re­pairs, of­fi­cials urged rid­ers to find dif­fer­ent ways of get­ting to and from work over the next month.

“Please re­think your com­mute and try al­ter­nate travel op­tions such as walk­ing, bik­ing, us­ing our DASH bus sys­tem or Metrobus, car­pool­ing or us­ing Am­trak, [Vir­ginia Rail­way Ex­press] or telecom­mut­ing,” said Alexan­dria Mayor Al­li­son Sil­ber­berg (D).

Free shut­tle buses will ferry pas­sen­gers be­tween the Franconia-Spring­field and Pen­tagon sta­tions. Al­ter­na­tive bus routes in­clude the 10A, from Alexan­dria to Pen­tagon, the 11Y, from Mount Ver­non to down­town Wash­ing­ton, and Metroway, the bus rapid tran­sit ser­vice from Brad­dock Road to the Pen­tagon City Metro sta­tion. VRE is an­other op­tion: Of­fi­cials rec­om­mend the Fred­er­icks­burg Line for an al­ter­na­tive be­tween Franconia-Spring­field, King St.-Old Town or Crys­tal City, and the District. Fairfax Con­nec­tor Route 394 will run more fre­quent ser­vice from the Saratoga Park-and-Ride to the Pen­tagon.

Cap­i­tal Bike­share, which en­acted a $2 sin­gle trip fare for SafeTrack, was pitched as an­other op­tion. And slug­ging, the in­for­mal car­pool­ing sys­tem pop­u­lar in North­ern Vir­ginia, was hailed as yet an­other.

Metro Gen­eral Man­ager Paul J. Wiede­feld pointed out that Surge 13 is ex­pected to be the last with sig­nif­i­cant im­pact across the sys­tem.

“The good news is, this is our last ma­jor one,” Wiede­feld said. “The re­main­ing tend to be at the end of the sys­tem so they don’t have a ma­jor im­pact on ser­vice.”

Surges 14 and 15 en­com­pass re­pair work on the Green and Or­ange lines, the first stretch­ing from the Col­lege Park sta­tion to the Green­belt sta­tion be­gin­ning in mid-April and the lat­ter from the Min­nesota Av­enue sta­tion to the New Car­roll­ton sta­tion later on. A sub­se­quent surge is planned for the Red Line from Twin­brook to Shady Grove.

The pro­gram is ex­pected to con­clude in June.

Wiede­feld lauded the pro­gram’s progress over eight months of re­pairs, de­spite the im­pact on rid­er­ship.

“We’ve achieved quite a bit,” he said, point­ing out that 53 miles of track have been cov­ered, rep­re­sent­ing 23 per­cent of the sys­tem. “If you just think of the crossties and the fas­ten­ing sys­tem that holds the rail down we’ve done the equiv­a­lent of the Sil­ver Line ex­ten­sion.”

Bulova urged pa­tience as the sys­tem con­tin­ues to un­dergo much-needed re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

“Please help with this process in let­ting our em­ploy­ees use tele­work and flex­i­ble time so that we are giv­ing peo­ple the abil­ity to be off the roads dur­ing peak hour,” she said.

The surge is just the lat­est test for users of the be­lea­guered sys­tem and the re­gion’s trans­porta­tion net­work. But Metro Board mem­ber Cathy Hud­gins, who rep­re­sents Fairfax County, said it’s man­age­able if rid­ers take the ap­pro­pri­ate pre­cau­tions.

“Don’t just hop in your car,” she said. “Plan your ride, de­cide where you need to go, when you need to get there, and I think we’ll get through this one as well.”

LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Train ser­vice on the Blue and Yel­low lines will be half the nor­mal num­ber from Rea­gan Na­tional Air­port to L’En­fant Plaza, above, through April 1. Rid­ers on both lines are be­ing urged to seek al­ter­na­tive modes of trans­porta­tion.

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