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Weekend Metro closure may bring unintended improvement

Temporarily closing a segment of the Green Line might ironically improve service for some this weekend. WMATA announced that it will close the Shaw, U Street, and Columbia Heights stations this weekend for scheduled track maintenance.

Green Line closure this weekend.

The stations will close at 10 pm Friday and won't reopen until Tuesday morning's normal opening time (Monday is a holiday). A similar closure will be in place on the Orange Line between East and West Falls Church stations as Metro works to connect the new Silver Line.

In the meantime, Metro will operate free shuttles along the route to ferry passengers through this service gap. Ironically, these shuttles may sometimes operate more frequently than the rail service would on a typical weekend.

Metro instituted a similar closure along a section of the Red Line on Labor Day weekend. On that weekend, I went to have brunch at a friend's house in the Brookland neighborhood. During that time, Metro shuttles were running down his street every 2 minutes. Many of the buses were nearly empty, but for a moment I was jealous at the thought of transit service every 2 minutes.

Likewise, if WMATA keeps similarly short headways for the shuttles this weekend, the agency might actually enhance mobility between the Convention Center, Shaw, U Street, Columbia Heights, and Petworth.

One of Metro's main shortcomings is that riding during non-rush periods, especially on weekends or at night, can entail waiting on platforms for as much as 24 minutes. This is an unacceptably low level of service, but our region lacks the political leadership to set a minimum level of transit service the way we do for utilities.

In DC, where 37% of households lack a car, the mayor and council chairman drive luxury cars at taxpayer expense, and other councilmembers receive free parking in front of the Wilson Building.

In the abstract, our leaders may appreciate the importance of frequent service, but nothing drives home the point like waiting on a Metro platform with 100 other people only to watch a packed train arrive half an hour later.

Though buses can't match the speed and comfort of rail service, the frequency of bus shuttles this weekend might prove to be a significant, though temporary, transit improvement.

Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 


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On a related note, with the ongoing work at the Telegraph Rd bridge, which occasionally requires weekend closures of the Blue Line, I benefit on those weekends because they route the Blue Line trains to Huntington when they shut it down between King St and Van Dorn.

by Froggie on Oct 6, 2011 3:01 pm • linkreport

Fun fact: If WMATA would go driverless – which shouldn't be that hard considering that the system was designed for automatic operation from the start – then minimum headways on weekends and evenings could conceivably drop to close to 5 minutes. The biggest marginal cost when it comes to off-peak headways is labor (as opposed to peak service, where it's number of vehicles), and by eliminating on-board labor, you can do wonderful things with off-peak headways.

But of course, they've actually regressed and are now operating in manual mode. It's not a matter of money – it's a matter of competence. Running trains on automatic would actually save money in the medium- and long-term.

by Stephen Smith on Oct 6, 2011 3:33 pm • linkreport

…oh, not to mention that it would do wonders for single-tracking efficiency. Computers are much better at doing the complex calculations necessary to run two trains on one track than humans.

by Stephen Smith on Oct 6, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

It's the WORST on the Red Line, because the downtown portions don't benefit from interlining like the other lines do.

A few months ago, Metro ran some NY Ave to Van Ness trains to compensate for singletracking on the outer stretches, and it was by far the best weekend service I've ever seen on the Red Line. I'd love to see them take up this practice again in the future.

Although it sure is nice that the suburbs have frequent Metro service 7 days a week (name another US city that does this), it's silly that we're continuing to prop those services up when it's coming at the expense of the downtown core.

The Park & Ride stations are particularly egregious; if you're going to be driving to Vienna before hopping on Metro, it's not terribly painful to get yourself over to East Falls Church. You could reduce service to these stations or replace rail service with bus service, and things would get better for almost everyone.

(I kind of wish that the Orange Line stations had been built with some kind of BRT platforms that would have allowed buses to pull straight up to the station from the highway. That'd have been a pretty slick solution for bus-to-rail transfers and bus substitution that wouldn't have cost much if it'd been incorporated into the original design)

by andrew on Oct 6, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

Actually, you're wrong. The downtown sections of the Red Line are interlined.

There are essentially 2 Red Lines. One runs from Shady Grove to Glenmont. The second runs from Grosvenor to Silver Spring.

On the weekend you mention, the NY Ave - Van Ness trains were actually just the Silver Spring - Grosvenor trains. Except they were truncated due to trackwork on both suburban ends of the line.

And they do this almost every weekend that there is work on the Red Line. If you go to the Disruption Calendar, and click on weekend Red Line work events, generally it says something like, "every other train will run between Silver Spring and Dupont Circle" or something like that.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 6, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

@Stephen Smith:
Metro's trains were never designed to be driverless. Nor was the train control system. Unlike (for example) Vancouver's system, which was designed that way from the start.

It would take a significant capital upgrade to do anything of this sort. And by significant, I mean a complete rebuilding of all the hardware and software systemwide.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 6, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

If Metro really wants to keep the weekend feel of that stretch track intact, a significant percentage of the shuttles should circle past the Convention Center stop and head northbound with only a "No Passengers" sign on board.

by phil on Oct 6, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

The current running of trains in manual mode is a result of the track circuit malfunction/Red Line crash not due to any operational inability to run in automatic mode. And the work that is prompting the closure along the green line will have the effect that trains will eventually resume being allowed to run in automatic mode.

by DCster on Oct 6, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

The one wildcard to the bus replacement service - from what I've heard this is Howard University's Homecoming weekend, so traffic along portions of the shuttle bus route may not be moving so freely.

by Adam on Oct 6, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Adam, I think HU homecoming starts next week and extends until the following week, which is when most people will be in town. So they are probably right to focus on doing the green line this week as opposed to any other this month.

by HogWash on Oct 6, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport


Not that it will ever happen, but I would argue that driverless train operation could be implemented solely with onboard changes. All you have to do is wait for the train to be berthed (which can be determined from the TWC bits), open the doors, dwell, close the doors (and re-cycle them until they actually close), and push the ATO start button, then repeat. I can't see any reason that the wayside equipment would know the difference between a train operator taking those actions and a computer taking those actions. Though I doubt it would ever pass any sort of safety certification, even the existing rolling stock could be modified for driverless operation.

Driverless train operation doesn't require CBTC, although most (if not all) driverless systems in operation today use CBTC; when NYCTA experimented with automating the Times Square Shuttle in the early 1960s, it was driverless:

by Kurt Raschke on Oct 6, 2011 6:20 pm • linkreport


Fine. It's interlined, but not during off-peak hours, which is really when this issue is most noticeable.

by andrew on Oct 7, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

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