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Posts Tagged ‘Metro’

We Regret the Inconvenience- DC’s Broken Subway System

February 26, 2015 2 comments

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What’s going on with the second largest subway system in the United States is stunning and dangerous. It isn’t really working anymore and the mood of the average Metro subway rider in Washington, D.C. is getting increasingly dark and angry. It is palpable and widespread and worse than it has ever been.  So, of course,  Metro is considering holding public hearings on possible fare increases and service cutbacks next week.

We subway riders do occasionally talk to one another and a common concern these days is that you never know what you will confront on an average weekday morning or evening commute. There’s no confidence of arriving to work on time. There’s no sure thing about when you get home. Increasingly, there is concern you may not get to work or home at all.  Paying more for the honor and the risk seems rather outrageous.

January 12th

Surely, when 61 year-old federal contractor, Carol Glover, woke up Monday morning, January 12th in her Alexandria, Virginia home, she had no reason to suspect it would be her final day. Twenty four hours later the cause of her death would be established; acute respiratory failure due to smoke exposure after being stranded on a Metro train outside the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station later that afternoon.

More than 80 others would end up hospitalized that day, some 200 evaluated by medics. A friend of mine from work was on that train. He self-evacuated. He was following the lead of two military guys on his subway car who were initially patient as they waited for instructions. But as 15, 20, 30 minutes went by and the situation just got worse and worse and smoke was now getting into the subway cars- they had all had enough. They managed to open one of the sets of doors, identified where the electrified 3rd rail was to stay far clear of it and walked a few hundred feet to the station platform. They were actually surprised at how close they were to the station and shuddered to think of the dozens and dozens of their fellow riders who continued to wait for help while Metro officials managed to turn the event from an “incident” into a near catastrophe.

On Tuesday, February 10th, the National Transportation Safety Board sent letters to Metro officials explaining what they saw as the cause of the problem that day along with an urgent plea to have Metro correct a major flaw: it has no way of knowing where smoke might be in their tunnels. And because they didn’t know that an electrical arc had caused the smoke or where- Metro officials miles from the L’Enfant Plaza station took steps that only made matters worse- much, much worse.

On February 11th, the NTSB made the letters public. From the Washington Post that day:

Metro botched the operation of ventilation fans in and near the L’Enfant Plaza station during a fatal smoke emergency last month, causing a mass of noxious fumes to move hundreds of feet toward a train in a tunnel and then linger around it while scores of riders gasped for air, federal investigators said Wednesday.

In its most detailed revelations yet about the Jan. 12 incident, the National Transportation Safety Board outlined a sequence of missteps in which Metro controllers, 11 miles from the scene, activated two sets of giant fans at cross-purposes with devastating consequences.

The two sets of fans, on opposite ends of the train, were both pulling the smoke instead of one set pushing while the other pulled, the NTSB said. As a result, the mass of fumes settled over the stationary train and stayed there.

And there’s more. While his bosses back at Metro headquarters were accidently ensuring the smoke in the tunnel would go toward and eventually envelope the train, the subway operator forgot to shut off the ventilation system in the cars so all the smoke outside the trains went inside the cars. You could have actively tried to injure people and not had as much success as Metro bosses and the train operator had that day trying to help.

Just this past weekend, there were at least three other “smoking” incidents in the Metro subway system- two at the Foggy Bottom station near George Washington University and one at the Woodley Park station near the National Zoo. The explanations range from smoke caused by the train’s brake systems to smoke caused by a “maintenance” problem.

Thank You for Riding Metro- We Hate You

But noxious smoke is not the extent of the trials and tribulations for Metro’s beleaguered riders. There is rarely a day that there is not a major delay or its cousin, the infamous “residual delay,” that Metro apologizes for constantly. I cannot even count the number of times such delays have caused dangerously crowded platforms.

This is usually when train operators are at their surliest. A funny thing happens when trains stop running for, say, 30 to 45 minutes…they get crowded. Cue the internal intercom system that only works sporadically. “Passengers, I REPEAT, stop leaning on the doors. We will be going nowhere if you are leaning on the doors. I will NOT hesitate to offload this train.”   The trains are late, the platforms and the subway cars get crowded and the operators yell at the passengers. Nice.

Realistically, of course, on most trains, the operator’s disdain for us would have sounded more like this:

“[unintelligible feedback noises]…assengers…stop lean…[unintelligible feedback noises]…nowhere…[unintelligible feedback noises]…offload…”

Obey Metro’s Commands at Your Own Risk

One of my favorite incidents that I personally witnessed was the time a mechanical malfunction had occurred on the yellow line and the trains had to single-track through the Pentagon City station. At one point, the station manager ordered the 1,500 or so people I estimate were stacked up on the platform, to go up the escalators and go to the other side of the tracks- that a train headed to D.C. would be operating on what was ordinarily the track headed away from the city.

So we all made our way to the other side. Then came the announcement, “Passengers, we regret the inconvenience, could you please move back to the original platform?” And so we issued a large group groan and then trudged back up and down the escalators. The voice, I presume from Metro headquarters, continued- a special little message to the station manager that we could all hear. “Could you please stop communicating with the passengers until you hear from Metro Central Control?”

Money Will Help- Good Management Would be Good Too

Metro is asking for more money from each of the jurisdictions in the Washington area. It is asking Congress to restore the full tax benefit for subway commuting that was drastically cut back last year and resulted in ridership losses. Failing at these efforts, Metro will consider upping fares and cutting back on service again.

I don’t think these Metro folks understand the fury that is out there. Too many people regularly arrive to work late or have been stuck on a train or a platform when they just wanted to get home to their families. Too many people have to put up daily with broken escalators, elevators, and turnstiles. But more importantly, too many people have been killed or injured.

Here’s a list:  That’s 11 dead and 94 injured in Metro collisions that occurred in 1982, 1996, 2004, and three in 2009.  Derailments have killed 3 and injured over 40.  In fact, during a 20-month period starting in January of 2003, there were a total of 8 Metro derailments.  This is all in addition to January 12th of this year.

I don’t think this is just a money issue.  All the money from all the jurisdictions in the DC metro area will not fix what appear to be incompetent management and a culture in which the users meant to be served by this subway system are actually treated like annoyances and unwelcome cargo.  Metro seems to be simply overwhelmed.

And what remains unsaid but is surely on the minds of Metro’s hundreds of thousands of commuters and their families- is what happens on that awful day when someone or some group purposely tries to inflict harm on the residents of the nation’s capital by attacking its subway system. Will there be anyone at Metro who will have a clue about what to do to save our lives?

I suspect we will be totally and completely on our own.

Washington Gets its Mojo

June 9, 2010 1 comment


A special night all around in the nation’s capital. On Half Street in Southeast, a 21 year-old pitching phenom brought down the house and captivated the nation; down in Chinatown at the Verizon center, two performers who’ve written one anthem after another for an entire generation, touched hearts and made some of us old guys feel young again.

Baseball

There really are no words to describe what occurred at National’s Park. Stephen Strasburg, the “can’t miss” pitching phenom from southern California, didn’t miss.

With that much pressure, that much hype, and a national television audience, the rookie fanned 14 and made fools of professional major league hitters. After giving up a 2-run homer in the 4th he apparently got a little peeved because he then retired his final 10 hitters, the last 7 of them by strike-out.

The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell writes that National’s pitchers who were gathered in the bullpen couldn’t stop themselves from laughing at what Strasburg was doing to those poor Pittsburgh Pirate hitters. He got his 10th strike-out on a 101 mph fastball, one of four times during the night one of his pitches was clocked at over 100 mph.

Every 5th day this kid pitches will be a sell-out for the rest of the season in whatever park he is performing. He is potentially as dominant a pitcher as Sandy Koufax; the kind of pitcher who could do something amazing with every appearance; a no-hitter, a perfect game, a 20 strike-out masterpiece. My God- he is 21 years old.

James Taylor and Carole King

While I taped the ball game for later viewing, I took my son to see the “Troubadours” at Verizon Center and as we took our seats he said he’d never quite witnessed a concert scene like this one; so many OLD people. It did seem sort of like a gigantic 35 or 40-year High School reunion. We’ve lost a few hairs and added a few pounds since the days we first heard Fire and Rain and I Feel the Earth Move but it was a very sweet and nostalgic three hours.

You don’t often get two people together who between them have probably authored 40 hit songs. Say what they will about us baby-boomers when we’re gone, but we did provide the world some kick-ass tunes. Carole King sounds wonderful, by the way- her voice is holding up strong. JT is as charming, funny and talented as ever with the absolute cleanest sounding acoustic guitar playing you’ve ever heard.

The Future

DC looks like a helluva place to hang over the next few years. You’ve got your mass transit finally being expanded into Northern Virginia along the Dulles corridor. Southeast will soon develop into the same kind of boisterous and energetic place Chinatown has become with the stadium/arena effect drawing development and patrons.

And of course, there will be major stars for each of the city’s sports franchises. The Nats will have Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The Caps have Alexander Ovechkin, the best hockey player in the NHL. The Skins have Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan. The Wizards are about to get the best point guard in the nation in John Wall with their #1 NBA pick.

We may not be Title Town anytime soon but we do have enough shining stars to provide pretty much year-round memorable moments. It’s a fun and exciting time for ol’ DC.

My Embarassing Metro Subway Moment

March 3, 2010 2 comments

(This is the subway door beckoning me just before it tried to kill me)

You know how sometimes you just want to disappear when something extaordinarily embarassing happens?  On the face of it, it was not a capital offense.  But did the engineer have to single me out?

So, you’re approaching an elevator and the doors start closing.  Folks have their different techniques but mine is the “elevator karate chop.”  Just before the doors close you swing your arm up and down, sensors detect there’s some life form there and the doors open back up.

Karate chops do not work on the Metro subway system.  I had rushed down the escalator to catch the train and I had almost made it and the doors started closing.  I tried to dart in.  The doors closed on a bag I was holding in front of me.  Some very nice guy tried to rescue me and the bag.  After a few seconds that seemed considerably longer, the subway doors finally unleashed their grip, reopened and I got in.   Ok- lesson learned.

But , no.  The subway driver gets on the intercom and says something to this effect—for the whole train to hear.  “Yo.  The guy in the green baseball cap, the blue jacket and blue jeans with the brown sneakers.  Metro doors do not work like elevator doors.  There was another train coming in 4 minutes.  You didn’t have to do that.”  He might have said some other stuff, but by then, I’m going….wait a second…I meet this description.  Holy Moly…he’s talking about me. 

People in the car are looking.  I turned to an elderly African-American woman on the train and smiled my best charming smile.  “Guess, I’m in trouble, huh?”  She flashed a quick grin then promptly returned to the usual stone-faced “Metro-look” most people have on the subway. 

Besides potentially losing an arm and a gift bag, I am afraid I may have also committed a subway etiquette faux pax.   Doing that sort of thing delays the train and makes the passengers quite unhappy.  As well as the driver.  Appropriately chastened, I hereby publicly pledge that I will wait until the next train in the future.   And when somebody does what I did, I will give them a vaguely dirty glance before returning to my stoney “Metro-look.”

Does this officialy make me a Washingtonian again?