Having a Plan B saved me 90 minutes on Metro yesterday
Yesterday evening, a derailment snarled the Green Line. A colleague and I both commute from Silver Spring to Greenbelt. His trip took 2.5 hours, mine took 52 minutes. What was the difference?
Part of the difference was simply luck, but most of the difference was due to having a Plan B.
My colleague and I both work in Downtown Silver Spring and connect to a (different) bus at Greenbelt station. Normally, we walk to the Silver Spring station, take the Red Line to Fort Totten, change to the Green, and ride the train to Greenbelt.
My coworker left the office at about 5:00. At this point, the Green Line had been blocked by the derailed train for 15 minutes already, though neither of us knew that.
The news of the derailment, apparently broken by the Prince George's County Fire Department over Twitter, was first reported at about 5:08, probably about the time my colleague (we'll call him "B") was getting on the Red Line.
Slightly earlier, at 5:00, Metro tweeted that passengers on the Green Line would experience "significant delays" due to a disabled train near West Hyattsville. Following along on Twitter, it was not immediately clear to me that this was a different event from the single-tracking around a disabled train at Fort Totten (the next stop south of West Hyattsville).
Metro sent out an email to Metro Alerts announcing the derailment at 5:25, 40 minutes after the derailment. I don't know what announcements they were making in the stations. But by then, B was probably amidst a sea of unhappy, ill-informed riders at Fort Totten.
According to Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel, the first shuttle bus arrived at 5:20, but bus bridges take time to set up. By 8 pm, Metro was using over 40 buses in the shuttle operation.
By this time, it was probably apparent to everyone at Fort Totten that the commute was not going to be a smooth one. My coworker, B, stayed with the mob of passengers, hoping for a shuttle bus toward Greenbelt.
I was stuck at the office. I had to finish working on a few things before I could leave, but I was monitoring the Metro situation. I knew that my commute was going to be rough.
Finally, I finished my tasks, checked Metro's trip planner, and left the office at 6:43, 1 hour and 43 minutes after B. I walked down to the nearest Metrobus stop on route F4, and caught a bus bound for New Carrollton.
The bus was crowded, though based on trips I've taken in the past, not by a whole lot more than usual. At Prince George's Plaza, I hopped off and headed for the train platform.
A train was sitting on the platform normally used for Greenbelt trains, but WMATA workers were directing everyone over to the Branch Avenue platform. The transit police officers on the Branch Avenue platform didn't know why we were all being directed there, but eventually discovered that another Greenbelt train would be arriving there shortly.
Risking it, I rushed back up to the mezzanine and then down to the Greenbelt platform, I managed to cram myself onto the first train just before the doors closed, and we headed off to Greenbelt.
I arrived at Greenbelt at 7:35, only 52 minutes after I'd left my office. While waiting on the 7:40 bus to my apartment, I saw B walking by. He'd just gotten off the same shuttle train I'd been on. He stopped for a moment to chat, and recounted that he'd been commuting since 5:00, and still wasn't home.
My trip from the office to Greenbelt took 1 hour 43 minutes less than his. What was the difference? I took a regularly scheduled bus instead of fighting for a spot on a shuttle.
In fairness to B, he was already at Fort Totten before he discovered the snafu playing out a few miles up the Green Line. But what it suggests is that if he'd gotten back on the Red Line and ridden to Silver Spring, he could have caught the F4 (it runs about every 20 minutes) and gotten to Greenbelt much earlier than he did.
In my experience, waiting on the bus bridge is almost never faster than finding an alternate, regularly scheduled service.
But it's not always that simple. The F6 bus runs from Fort Totten to Prince George's Plaza. But because of the mass of desperate commuters at Fort Totten, it would have likely been swamped, too.
The real trick is to go to a station not full of displaced riders. Know the alternatives for getting to your destination, not from wherever you got offloaded. It may be faster to get back on the train and head to a different station.
For example, you can get to Greenbelt station on Metrobus routes C2 (from Wheaton), R12 (Deanwood), G12, G14, and G16 (New Carrollton), and also on TheBus routes 15X and 16 from New Carrollton.
For me, the F4 proved to be a huge time saver. I saved over an hour and a half simply by having a Plan B.
No matter how hard Metro tries, something will go wrong sometime; it's inevitable. If you take a few minutes right now to figure out some alternate routes home, you may save yourself a lot of pain one day in the future.
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