Friday, January 09, 2009

Metro Is The Weak Link

It's Friday night, I got home from work a couple hours ago. I live in Rockville, take the Metro to DC. Like everybody, I grumble. The prices ... I pay nine bucks a day to get to work and back. That adds up. The broken escalators. The stops and starts. Off-loading. Feedback on the intercom. Moldy-smelling cars, theft in the parking lots -- and have you ever dealt with Metro lost and found? See something, say something.

In a little more than a week, they're saying there could be four million people going downtown for the inauguration. Repeat, four million. They're closing down roads into the city and within the city, blocking bridges, so anybody going to the celebration just about has to take Metro. This week, Metro has been practicing "eight-car stops," they call them, the train doesn't stop where you think it's going to, it stops where it would if it had eight cars, as they will during the festivities. That's cool, good for them for planning ahead, I don't mind running to the other end of the station while the bells are chiming and the disembodied female voice says, "Door closing."

This morning, going into the city from Twinbrook, our Red Line train stopped before it got to Grosvenor. We sat there. The operator got on the intercom and said there was something wrong with the switch, or something - c'mon, it wasn't even eight in the morning yet, I wasn't taking notes. So we sat there. Eventually he told us we would be moving, and then we waited some more. I was sitting next to a Middle Eastern lady with a head scarf on, who said "I hope it doesn't do this during the inauguration. Anyway, I wouldn't go to that." I asked, "Why not?" She looked at me as if the answer were obvious, and said "I'm afraid of all the terrorists." "You can't live in fear," I said. I'm not going to go, but not because I'm afraid of all the terrorists. I'd love to see the inauguration but it just seems a little too crazy for me. I like crowds, I like parties, but that's too many people for me. Eventually the train dislodged and we chugged ahead, I got to work twenty minutes late.

I left work tonight late, on a Friday most people had already left work by then. But when I went down into Union Station, well, guess what -- the place was jam-packed. A train was sitting there, but it was clear it had been there a long time, people kept trying to squeeze onto it, but there really wasn't any room. There was barely enough room on the platform for people to stand and wait.

It would be nice if they told you the trains weren't running before you put your money into the turnstile. I believe it costs a dollar just to go down and come back up without going anywhere.

On an ordinary day, I worry about security in some of the larger stations -- I'm more worried about a fire than a terrorist attack. You might have five hundred people down there underground, maybe a thousand, and an escalator at each end to evacuate them two abreast if something happened. When I go to work in the morning I stand in a line that's probably a hundred fifty people, shuffling along, our hair still wet, starting our day like cattle headed to slaughter, but mooing less. With four million people in town ... I hate to think what would happen if there were a panic.

This afternoon coming home, there was a cracked rail near Woodly Park-Zoo, and trains had to single-track between Dupont and Van Ness. My ride home took twice as long as usual, I'm not kidding. I fell asleep and can't tell you about every bit of it, but I would like to send a shout-out to the loudmouth on the cell phone who was telling somebody to pick him up at Dupont "because they're kicking us off the train there and we'll have to take a bus to Van Ness." He was yelling into his phone that there was a two hour delay. People sitting in their seats hear that and they might think you know what you're talking about, Smart Guy, thanks a lot. It wasn't two hours, and there was no bus. It was a good hour, by which I mean not a very good hour.

Washington DC has staked everything on Metro to move a gigantic number of people, more than we've ever seen before. Remember the Million Man March? This is four of those. I'm going to watch it on TV.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
Because so much is closed to private vehicles, Metro is also running special buses on some routes- I may take a chance that tourists won't know that and take a bus instead of Metro- at least to get downtown. And terrorists- hey, I drive the Beltway and 95-that is real terror.

January 10, 2009 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a bus from my neighborhood to the Washington Monument. We may take that.

January 11, 2009 8:12 AM  

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