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Forest Glen residents and a state delegate want a MARC station in Forest Glen

Residents of Forest Glen (just north of Silver Spring) are teaming up with Maryland state delegate Al Carr to petition for a new MARC train station in their developing neighborhood.


Base image from Google Maps.

Carr, whose District 18 includes the area, thinks the neighborhood needs this kind of transportation investment in order to grow. "I have long believed that commuter rail has great potential to improve mobility in our region," said Carr. "Between the existing neighborhoods and the recent development that has taken place nearby, restoring the Linden MARC stop makes a lot of sense."

Supporters of the plan hope to convince the Montgomery County Planning Board to add the Linden station to the Lyttonsville Sector Plan. Lyttonsville abuts Forest Glen and borders Rock Creek Park just outside of downtown Silver Spring. The petition emphasizes that a station in Lyttonsville on MARC's Brunswick Line, would serve workers at the Walter Reed research institute and the Naval Medical Research Center as well as residents of the Linden, National Park Seminary and Forest Glen Park neighborhoods.

A MARC station at Lyttonsville would make Forest Glen the only neighborhood in the entire region that had immediate access to a Metro station, I-495, and a MARC train stop. With Governor Hogan's latest announcement on the Purple Line, Forest Glen could become a hub of new development focusing on its proximity to various transportation options.

What makes the timing of this petition interesting is that it comes at a time when the MTA (Maryland Transit Administration) is seeking to add another Montgomery County Station on the Brunswick Line sometime between 2020-2029.


Image from the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The MARC's Growth and Investment Plan projects new growth in suburban Maryland, and it wants to plan for new transportation options accordingly. A stop between Kensington and Silver Spring on the Brunswick Line could serve any additional development prompted by the Purple Line and existing neighborhoods that have expanded in recent times—like the National Park Seminary.

History

Long before there was a Metro station at Forest Glen and before any talk of a Purple Line stop in the neighborhood, Forest Glen had a train station at Lyttonsville.

Built in 1887, the Forest Glen Train Station was primarily built to service the National Seminary Park campus. All that's left are foundations of the platforms and remnants of the station's walls. By the 1950's, the B&O Railroad demolished the station due to a lack of use and the Capital Beltway (I-495) was eventually constructed over the site.


Image from Save our Seminary at Forest Glen.


Image from Save our Seminary at Forest Glen.

With the Forest Glen Metro Station's parking lot ripe for development and further plans to consolidate master plans with nearby Montgomery Hills, adding a MARC station in Forest Glen could spawn even more development and redefine this otherwise not well-known neighborhood.

Metro floats cutting service for the Green, Yellow, Orange, and Silver Lines

Since the debut of "Rush Plus" in 2012, Metro's Blue Line riders have faced longer waits for trains. Now WMATA wants to fix that, but to do it, would cut service to all the other lines (except the Red Line).


View peak service levels: Today   Proposed change

Staff from the agency are proposing the service reduction to the Riders Advisory Council this week. WAMU's Martin di Caro broke the news of the proposal this morning.

Under the plan, the time between trains would increase from six to eight minutes on the Orange, Silver, Green, and Yellow Lines. On the Blue Line, trains would come more frequently, up from every 12 minutes to every eight. The plan would also eliminate Rush Plus Yellow Line service between Franconia and Greenbelt.

Metro spokesperson Sherry Ly told di Caro the proposed changes are an effort to rebalance trains to better meet demand. The issue is that the service cuts to the Blue Line, which Metro did to make room for the Silver Line, drastically lowered capacity on the line, and crowding has been very bad.

But the Blue/Orange/Silver subway between Rosslyn and Stadium/Armory is at capacity. The only way to add more Blue Line trains is to cut service on the Orange or Silver Lines.

WMATA is proposing to do just that. But their proposed cuts are actually deeper than necessary. Each physical track segment can carry 26 trains per hour (TPH). Currently, the east-west subway is divided at rush hour between 11 Orange TPH, 10 Silver, and 5 Blue. Metro's proposal to change all of those lines to 8 minute headways (7.5 TPH each) only adds up to 22.5 TPH.

The cuts to the Green and Yellow Lines make little sense at all. The shared section of the Blue and Yellow Lines in Virginia currently carries 20 TPH, so an increase in Blue Line service is possible without reducing service on Yellow. And, of course, with no change required to the Yellow Line, there's no need to reduce service on the Green Line.

One of the steepest cuts is the elimination of Rush Plus Yellow Line trains. Right now, the section of the Green/Yellow Line between Mount Vernon Square and Greenbelt hosts 15 TPH (roughly every 4 minutes). Under the proposal, that would decline to 7.5 TPH (every 8 minutes). In the growing Mid-City area, especially south of Columbia Heights, that could create crowding. Between Mount Vernon Square and L'Enfant Plaza, service levels would fall from 26 TPH to 15 TPH.

So, the service cuts are not entirely necessary to support increased Blue Line service. But Metro's proposal will also shift railcars around. Some will go toward lengthening trains on the Blue, Silver, and Green lines until 75% of the trains are eight cars.

Overall, the change would reduce the number of cars Metro needs to run rush hour service by approximately 100. Metro's fleet is stretched thin at the moment. The opening of the Silver Line last July increased the number of cars needed by 64. But because of delays in the production of the 7000 series, Metro had to reduce the time cars could spend getting preventative maintenance in order to operate the line.

That was never meant to be permanent, and it's taken a toll. Cars are breaking down more frequently, and Metro recently had to drastically cut the number of eight-car trains.

If WMATA officials move forward, they would then reach out to the public, survey riders, and hold legally required public hearings. The proposal could go to the agency's board by the fall.

The five most frustrating things about Metro's problems

For a few years after the 2009 Fort Totten Red Line crash, public confidence in Metro's safety was growing. But a smoke fatality in January, a scathing federal report, and hearings last week have put safety back into the spotlight.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

I talked about Metro's safety on the Kojo Nnamdi Show last Monday, with guest host Jen Golbeck and Greater Washington Board of Trade head Jim Dinegar. Wednesday, I talked with Mike Coneen on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt after the first day of hearings.

During the first day, details emerged that the operator of the train in the smoky tunnel wanted to pull the train back out, but was told to wait.

A train behind it had already come into the station, and police decided to evacuate that train, which made it impossible to move it out of the way to make room for the train in the tunnel. There didn't seem to be a clear response plan for this kind of situation or someone in charge who could coordinate all of the first responders.

After the Fort Totten crash, it became clear that the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC), a group of safety officials from DC, Maryland, and Virginia tasked with monitoring safety, wasn't functioning well. Reforms supposedly set it up to succeed.

Apparently not, though. We discovered that the TOC wasn't able to issue many recommendations because it had to wait for higher-ups in DC, Maryland, and Virginia to agree, and then when it did, WMATA often didn't follow up.

WMATA and regional governments need to quickly address not only the specific failures of the L'Enfant incident, but also deal with the bigger picture issues. A few things stick out as frustrating for riders.


Smoke in a Metro car during the L'Enfant incident. Photo by Jonathan Rogers on Twitter.

1. Reforms around safety haven't fixed safety.

After the crash, some people argued that the WMATA Board had focused too much on service and neglected safety. Under political pressure, many long-serving board members resigned or were replaced. Instead of elected officials, who'd been more focused on what was frustrating riders, the board got a new crop of transit experts like current chairman Mort Downey and last year's chairman Tom Downs.

They brought in an old friend and old grizzled transit veteran, Rich Sarles, to be general manager. They said his experience should help get WMATA on a solid footing of safety and otherwise maintain a firm hand on the wheel. But it doesn't really look like the safety culture is so solid after all.

WMATA has other issues to deal with, too. Customer service is often pretty poor, and the agency is secretive not just with safety information but a lot more as well. It was pretty clear that Sarles was not the man to reform these aspects of the agency, but arguably getting a rock-solid safety foundation first was most important, and then Sarles' successor could tackle other needs. That's not possible now.


General Manager Richard Sarles testifies on safety in 2010. Image from WMATA.

2. Replacing the board didn't fix financial oversight, either.

WMATA also didn't follow procurement laws properly, which led the Federal Transit Administration to put WMATA in a "penalty box." WMATA now can't get its federal money until after it's spent it, creating a cash crunch.

Transit experts disagree on how much of an immediate crisis this represents—Downey and other insiders say it's just a short-term cash flow problem, while some, like DC CEO Jeffrey DeWitt, warn about WMATA being unable to repay its bonds.

Either way, however, it's maddening that this situation arose at all. As with safety, there was a whole push to get "experts" on the board of directors. Where were they?


Surprise image from Shutterstock.

3. All of these problems came as a surprise.

There were people who knew that these safety issues and financial issues created risks, but the public didn't, and neither apparently did many board members. The Inspector General was sounding the alarm on some of these problems, but IG reports tend to be opaque if they're even public.

This is just like what happened with the Fort Totten crash, where there were people aware the track circuits weren't working, but they didn't share that information widely enough. It's not okay to have a culture of hiding problems from superiors. It's not okay to hide this kind of information from policy-makers and the public, either.

Riders aren't so stupid that they can't be trusted to know about the various safety efforts underway. People know about the risks of roads and still drive. It's worse for the agency's reputation to have kept safety and financial pitfalls a secret and more disturbing when they then come to light.

4. Underfunding is a problem, but it's hard to fix now.

These management problems are infurating, but mismananagement is only half of the problem. Underfunding is the other half. WMATA didn't get enough money over decades to keep up with repairs, and now has to contend with a huge backlog.

The radios weren't working during the L'Enfant incident, which is inexcusable, but it would be a lot easier to criticize the agency for not fixing its radio systems if it hadn't been trying to fix the track circuits and a zillion other pieces, all of which work well enough day-to-day but might contribute to a safety problem at some point.

Unfortunately, it's even harder to get that funding when the news is so bad. Congress is planning to cut in half the money it promised for repairs after the 2009 crash. A lot of this might just be ideological opposition to transit from conservative members, but all of these problems, and the lack of honesty in the past, sure don't help.


A crowded train. Photo by philliefan99 on Flickr.

5. We need Metro to not only thrive, but grow.

Metro ridership has stopped growing, but it'll pick up again, and we need to be planning now to deal with the capacity crunches. Metro needs 8-car trains, but now the region won't buy enough railcars to make it possible, let alone upgrade power systems and add yard space.

Metro needs to solve the bottleneck at Rosslyn which now limits the number of Blue Line trains and will only get worse in the future.

Two years ago, we were talking about the Momentum plan to deal with Metro's needs first for 2025 and then beyond. Today, sadly, there isn't much momentum at all.

Which is sad, because Metro still is a very valuable transportation system. Our region depends on it—there isn't enough road space, or parking space, for all of the commuters otherwise. And it's actually quite a speedy way to get around, when it works and when you're going somewhere near a station.

We can't afford to let Metro stagnate or decay. Sadly, it turns out we didn't make nearly as much progress over the last six years as we thought.

You can listen to the Kojo segment here and watch the NewsTalk video below:

By 2019 it will have taken 34 years to build the Silver Line

Given how much Metrorail can transform a community, it's not surprising a lot of people want it to reach where they live. But planning and building new Metro lines is so politically and technically complex that it takes decades. Consider the Silver Line:


Image from WMATA.

This slide showing a timeline of Silver Line planning and construction comes from a presentation WMATA planners Allison Davis and Kristen Haldeman gave at StreetsCamp this past Saturday.

The timeline begins in 1985, when the idea of a Metro line to Dulles Airport went from vague concept to serious planning initiative following a study that determined it would be feasible.

Planning (yellow on the timeline) and environmental work (green) took the next 21 years, until 2006. It took another 3 years for officials to finalize funding (blue) before construction (purple) could begin in 2009.

By the time the last segments open in 2019, it will have been 34 years.

Worth the wait, no doubt. But there's bad news for other communities:

Plopping a rail line down the middle of a gargantuan suburban highway with a capacious median is easy compared to putting one virtually anywhere else. Almost any other potential Metrorail expansion imaginable will be harder to plan, fund, and build.

That doesn't mean it's not worth doing. But it's definitely going to be hard.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Ask GGW: What are good gifts for budding young railfans?

Did you enjoy playing with trainsets as a kid? Were you excited when you rode a train for the first time?


Photo by Thomas's Pics on Flickr.

This week, our own David Alpert looked to us to see what he could get for his young nephew who's a budding railfan.

My young nephew, who lives in suburbia, visited DC recently and loved the Metro. He was fascinated by the map and said he wanted to ride one of he lines from one end to the other. I thought that sounded like a budding railfan, and want to encourage him.

His birthday is coming up. What could I get him? There's the book "Transit Maps of the World." What other ideas are there?

If you're looking for toys and gifts, Ashley Robbins has a few great suggestions:

Melissa and Doug, a specialty store with a variety of products for children of all ages, make some great passenger train and light rail toys, and the Del Ray variety store in Alexandria normally carries them.

For a younger child, you could get the Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Trolley figure. And don't forget about the collection of Dinosaur Train toys as well as the usual Thomas the Tank Engine, Chuggington, and Lego toys, although they are on the expensive side.

Locomotive by Brian Floca is a Caldecott winning book that our 3-year old loves," says Jacques Arsenault. "But is probably good up until about age seven or eight." Another book option is Steam Train, Dream Train.

Emulating real life train systems

Julie Lawson says her young son is all about the real stuff:

Metro sells a branded version of the Melissa & Doug construction worker costume so you can be a track maintenance tech. He loves that. He also likes collecting free maps from the racks at stations and tourist sites and studying them. Even a package of those would blow his mind.
Many regional transit agencies have gift stores where you can find plenty of transit merchandise such as maps, toy train cars, and other memorabilia. Metro's own gift store sells current system maps as well as area maps for each Metro station that are also framed. Philadelphia and Chicago's gift stores also sell an array of collections, posters, and prints. A personal favorite of mine is the New York Transit Museum Store, which has an amazing selection of items for budding railfans and veterans alike if you're a fan of the New York City subway.

Museums and rides let kids experience trains

"Simply taking a child on a train will do wonders," says Canaan Merchant. "We've obviously got Metro and commuter rail, but maybe take him on a trip on Amtrak, or go out to Cumberland, Maryland to ride the Western Maryland scenic railroad."

Matt Johnson offers a host of options that he remembers from his days as, in his words, a "baby ferroequinologist:"

Locally, railroad museums include the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum at the Mount Clare Shops west of Downtown Baltimore and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. At Strasburg, the museum offers daily excursions. For transit, the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum also offer exhibits and rides. The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington (near Pittsburgh) is also an excellent facility, and offers rides on a rebuilt section of the Washington and Pittsburgh interurban.

For excursions, the Western Maryland has trips between Cumberland and Frostburg. The Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia (across the mountain from Staunton) can also be a fun trip. For watching trains, there's a viewing platform alongside the Northeast Corridor in Old Bowie. A bit further afield, near Altoona, an incline takes railfans to the midpoint of the Horseshoe Curve, where people can watch Norfolk Southern freight traffic on the busy 3-track main line (and the twice-daily Amtrak Pennsylvanian).

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll pose a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

Hogan will build the Purple Line, not the Red Line

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced today the state will build the Purple Line, but cancel the Baltimore Red Line.


Photo from the State of Maryland.

Hogan announced his decision to build the light rail line at a press conference at 2:30 this afternoon.

To reduce costs, trains on the Purple Line will come every seven and half minutes rather than every six. The state will not change the alignment, nor the number or location of stations.

The longer headways mean there need to be fewer trains, saving money, and also cutting out the need for one staging area. Hogan also announced that the state would now pay only $168 million, rather than, he said, the original $700 million (but the state's future contribution had only been $333 million). Montgomery and Prince George's would have to pay more, though the exact amount, and whether they can do so, was not yet clear.

The Purple Line has been on the books for decades, and enjoys wide support in Maryland's urban and suburban communities surrounding DC. It was primed to begin construction this year, but Hogan has been threatening to cut it since entering office.

Our neighbors in Baltimore are not so lucky. At the same presser, Hogan announced the Baltimore Red Line will not move forward as currently conceived. Hogan said the line is not cost-effective, and specifically singled out the $1 billion tunnel through downtown. He said the administration is still considering ways to change the project and left the door open to building some sort of transit in Baltimore in the future.

The savings will instead go toward nearly $2 billion in road and bridge projects all across the state, including widening Route 404 on the Eastern Shore, some unspecified "congestion reduction" on I-270, and new ramps to and from the Greeenbelt Metro to accommodate a future FBI headquarters.

This post has been updated and expanded.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 56

On Tuesday, we posted our fifty-sixth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 40 guesses. Only three of you managed to get all five correct, though. Great work, transport., Peter K, Mr. Johnson, and FN!


Image 1: Wiehle Avenue

The first image shows the northern bus loop at Wiehle Avenue station. This part of the station is underground, beneath the plaza and transit-oriented development where the north station entrance bridge lands. In addition to the unique design, one of the clues is the Fairfax Connector bus visible on the far side.

Thirty-five knew this one.


Image 2: Eastern Market

The next image shows the entrance to Eastern Market station. The row of houses in the distance is fairly distinctive. However, a second clue is the triangle of grass in the foreground, which is a part of the Eastern Market Metro Plaza, and sets this entrance apart from other possible contenders.

Thirty-one got this one right.


Image 3: East Falls Church

The third picture shows the platform at East Falls Church. The roof type here is general peak, but the ceilings at East Falls Church and Dunn Loring have a unique feature: the roof extends all the way over to the full-height walls across the tracks. A line of slits run along the walls letting in light.

The mezzanine at East Falls Church is under the platform, whereas at Dunn Loring it's above the tracks and at one end. Since you can see the escalators descending here, this has to be East Falls Church.

Thirty-five figured this one out.


Image 4: Franconia-Springfield

This image proved to be the hardest. It's a picture of signage at Franconia-Springfield. The reason for calling out "MetroRail Mezzanine Level" is because this sign is above the entrance to the station from the VRE platforms.

Several of you surmised that much, guessing stations with commuter rail connections. Seven were able to solve this puzzle.


Image 5: Benning Road

The final image required some knowledge of the station layouts of Capitol Heights and Benning Road. Those are the only two stations shared by only the Blue and Silver Lines that are underground with a waffle-style vault.

While the pair of stations are essentially identical, they're mirrors of each other. At Benning Road, the mezzanine is at the eastern end, while it's at the western end at Capitol Heights. That means that, as pictured, at Benning Road, inbound trains are to the right, while Largo-bound trains are on the left.

Twenty-eight got this one right.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next week.

MARC fares may go up more than they have to

Candidate, now Governor, Larry Hogan said he opposed higher fees and taxes. Yet the Maryland Transit Administration is increasing MARC fares by more than the state law seems to require. This coincides with large cuts to tolls for drivers, raising more questions about the Hogan administration's support for transportation that runs on rails.


Photo by Austin Cross on Flickr.

The fare increase raises the one-way fare for each zone by $1, for a percent increase for Maryland riders ranging from 9% to 25%. For example, the fare for a one-zone trip, such as Union Station-Seabrook, Union Station-College Park, or Union Station-Kensington, will go up from $4 to $5 (+25%).

The fares for weekly (seven-day) tickets will increase by 45-67% for Maryland riders. For example, one-zone weekly fares will increase from $30 to $50. And the fares for monthly (good for the whole month) tickets will increase by 17-35% for Maryland riders, with one-zone monthlies increasing from $100 to $135.

These increases reflect both the one-way fare increase and a change in the formula for calculating weekly/monthly fares, from 7.5 times to 10 times the one-way fare for weeklies and 25 times to 27 times the one-way fare for monthlies.

Fares have to go up, but not this much

The Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 requires MTA to increase MARC one-way zone fares and weekly/monthly passes in fiscal year 2015 by at least the same percentage as the 2009-2013 increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all urban consumers, to the nearest dollar. The CPI increase was about 10%.

But there is nothing in the language of the law about changing the formula for calculating the weekly/monthly fares. And the change in formula accounts for a meaningful part of the fare increase.

For example, the statutory increase in one-way fares alone would raise the price of a one-zone monthly ticket from $100 to $125 (+25%). But under MARC's fare increase, thanks to the change in formula, the ticket will cost $135, or $10 per month (8%) more.

Also, while MTA does not have to hold public hearings for fare increases required by the 2013 act, state law does require MTA to hold public hearings for other MARC fare increases.

The MARC Riders Advisory Council (MRAC) has called on Governor Hogan to delay the fare increases and hold public hearings about them because it believes that the increases are greater than state law requires. (Disclosure: I am a member of the MRAC.)

Maryland says the law requires the fare increase

MTA maintains that the fare increase is mandated by law. MTA and Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials at last week's MRAC meeting gave two reasons for changing the formulas.

The first was that people with weekly/monthly passes can now use them seven days a week. This thinking doesn't account for the whole picture, though, because only the Penn Line offers the weekend service. Trains on the Camden and Brunswick Lines continue to run Monday-Friday only.

The second was that the average number of trips on a weekly/monthly ticket has gone up and that the law requires MTA to adjust the formula based on current ridership data. The ridership data here consists of MARC conductors' daily tallies of monthly, weekly, and one-way tickets. However, MTA officials agreed with MARC riders that these data are unreliable. Also, the data say nothing about the average number of trips an average rider makes on a weekly/monthly pass. Most importantly, the text of the act says nothing about adjusting the formula for weekly/monthly tickets based on ridership data.

Responding to the MRAC's objections, MTA Administrator Paul Comfort announced a new five-day pass, with a price calculated according to the original formula (7.5 times the one-way zone fare). This is welcome news for regular MARC riders. But he also said that MTA will keep the increased new formula for monthly passes and will not hold public hearings on the resulting fare increase.

After the meeting, the MRAC again called for public hearings, specifically citing the questionable data MTA used to calculate the new formula for monthly passes.

Cut tolls, increase MARC fares

As several MRAC members pointed out at the meeting, the greater-than-minimum fare increase for monthly passes looks bad for MTA and the Hogan administration. Hogan opposed taxes, fees, and tolls as a major part of his campaign. A campaign ad from the Republican Governors Association, showing a picture of a MARC train, blamed then-governor Martin O'Malley and lieutenant governor Anthony Brown for a transit fare increase.

On May 7, the Hogan administration claimed to deliver on his "promise to...put money back in the pockets of hard-working Maryland families" with a cut in tolls for drivers. Less than three weeks later, the administration announced a MARC fare increase that is bigger than the law seems to require.

What is the Hogan administration trying to tell us? Aren't MARC riders hard-working Marylanders too?

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