May 11th, 2016

storyteller doll

Metro Haiku Time, with Bonus SafeTrack Rant!

I have a couple of metro haikus that have been sitting in my notebook for ages, but I don't think I've posted here.

Tourists - please do not
block the escalators by
standing three abreast.

I wonder where they
buy the sound distorters they
use for announcements.


So the big metro news is that they announced plans for something they are calling SafeTrack that will allegedly address the safety problems in the system. That should be a good thing and is certainly necessary, but I have some reservations about the actual plan and a lot of skepticism about it making any sort of difference other than screwing up everybody's commute for at least the next year (and, more likely, given this is WMATA we are talking about, the rest of our natural lives).

First thing is that they will be closing the system at midnight every night, starting at the beginning of June, instead of staying open until 3 a.m. on weekends. There goes the safety argument, since that is likely to hugely increase the number of drunk driving accidents. I base that claim on the condition of a large percentage of the people I see on Metro on Friday or Saturday nights. Let's just say that there are a lot of highly intoxicated George Mason students on the Orange Line.

They are also talking about having maintenance workers start at 8 p.m. on weeknights. That sounds like it requires (unannounced) single tracking, based on the way they've been doing this for the past several years. During which we've experienced horribly inadequate night and weekend service with no apparent improvements as a result of the alleged work. (I say "alleged" because it's rare that one actually sees anybody working when passing through the single tracking zones. And we all know the system has continued to deteriorate.) They typically advertise trains every 20 minutes, but I always seem to be waiting at least 35 for those trains. When I spend twice as long waiting for trains as actually on them, I get annoyed.

But that's the least of it. They're shutting down or single tracking segment by segment. And, of course, my segment (the western end of the Orange Line) gets the longest stretches of single tracking - a total of 89 days, plus another 16 days of 1/3 of normal service for a shutdown at another segment. And the Blue Line parts of my commute will be affected by two shutdowns, one of 18 days and one of 7 days. The most egregious part of their plan for the latter is to run a shuttle bus only between Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery during a shutdown between Pentagon and Rosslyn. On any given day, about a dozen people (and those are largely tourists, so barely count as people) get off the train at Arlington Cemetery, versus the 30,000 who go from Rosslyn to the Pentagon (or further south). Oh, sure, we can go to L'Enfant Plaza and take the Yellow Line, but that doubles the length of my commute, which is already 25% slower than it was just a few years ago.

Okay, but it's necessary. The thing is that this will do absolutely nothing about the real need, which is an additional track through the core of the system. Nor does it do anything about train malfunctions (e.g. doors not working properly) which are the most frequent source of major commute delays.

But most significantly, why the hell should I believe this will be effective when all of the shutdowns and alleged track work of the past several years haven't been?

To be honest, I don't have a better answer. Just expect me to be even grumpier over the next year as I continue to endure commuting. Driving would start to look more appealing, except that the Virginia Department of Transportation hasn't repaved many of our local roads since the days of Thomas Jefferson.

And, oh yes, if you don't live here, please stay away.