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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just Another Day At Metro Center Station

July 21, 2011 9:02 AM

This will be the worst year for DC MetroRail riders. Two factors are converging to create headaches and backaches. First, the entire system is older than it ever has been (35 years in most places.) Second, they have so many Elevators and escalators shut down to overhaul them. This premier subway system has never gone through a major overhaul in its short history. New York, Boston and Chicago and many similar systems have been built over a period of 100 years or longer. They have seen the ups and downs of service quality while never having to have the entire system be the same old age.

The center escalator was barricaded for imminent repair work. The one on the left was a "down" and the one on the right was stopped. The plaza was packed with hundreds of morning commuters.

Today's Commuter Hero

A bold commuter pushed aside the barricade and ran up the center unit. A flood of delayed commuters quickly followed him up .

In a few minutes everyone was gone. The Station Manager tried to restart the stopped unit without success. Just another day in the live of a DC commuter. When did commuting become an adventure?
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Author's Note: The book cover images in the side margins of this blog are my own publications of eBooks available at both Amazon and B&N. Please take a moment and go to the sites and read about them. Then if you like it, buy one or two.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ironies Metro Fubar

The Weather Personalities on TV were warning us all of the Killer Heatwave that was moving eastward across the nation in Mid-July. DC had not yet seen the peak temperatures that were to reach over 100 degrees. That notwithstanding the rail infrastructure in the region was already being stressed beyond it abilities to operate reliably.

MetroRail operations had suffered several single-tracking events due to rail misalignment and other systems failures. HVAC in some rail cars had failed and the summer tourists were making the cars extra crowded. MARC service had already experienced three 1-hour long afternoon delays on its Penn Line in July by the 20th.

MetroRail stations have been severely impacted by a major effort to overhaul its hundreds of aging escalators and elevators. At many locations where one escalator is being torn apart and rebuilt, passengers must walk the other stationary unit in both directions at the same time. Few people realize it, but they have the transit accessibility standards to thank for 40-inch wide escalators whet to people can actually pass each other in opposite directions. Just look at most private building escalators to see that most are only 24-inches wide. Those people who are unable to navigate the stationary steps with their bags, their baby strollers, bad knees and hips can thank the radicals who protested and sued WMATA to have elevators in every station not just the originally planned 1-in-3 scenario.

July 20th my afternoon commute started out relatively ordinary. I already knew to avoid the Metro Center West Entrance because the platform escalator would most assuredly be stopped. My daily commute requires the use of escalators while using a wheelchair. I freaks out some people but they have no idea that I have been doing that ride nearly every day for 16 years. The number of time I use a Metro escalator now tops 12,000 times.

My irritation with the state of MetroRail station hardware is more oriented with the escalators not working than with elevators not working. After all there is only one elevator at most stations to get anywhere. There are usually two or more escalators that all have to be stopped in order to reach the fubar status: You can't get there from here.

This particular afternoon the humidity was 100% and the temperature hovering around 95. I got to the Union Station train platform to find a barricade across the elevator door. The adjacent escalator to the left was one of the one that was being rebuilt. The one to the right was the two-way path that had a hundred foot queue waiting to get up. Even the people who were merely reluctant to walk the steps were doing so.

I turned around to go the far end of the station. The pair of escalators there were both stopped. The single one beyond them was also stopped. The only way out of the station was by rail car. The Station Manager told me I had to go to New York Avenue to get the shuttle back. I boarded the next train outbound to New York Ave. When there, that Station Manager knew nothing about the Union Station elevator outage or a planned shuttle bus. His call to Operations yielded the instruction that Judiciary Square was where they were going to stage the "bus bridge" back to Union Station.

I went back up to the platform to wait for the train. The Station Manager came up and said I had to look for the D6 bus because they hadn't gotten the shuttle set up yet.

I arrived on the street across from the National Building Museum just in time to miss the current D6 bus. But now the butterfly effect was setting in. The irony of fubars was about to kick into high gear. All I wanted to do was get up from the platform to the mezzanine of the station, a mere 25 feet of elevation and catch my accustomed 5:20 MARC train back to Baltimore.

Another Metro rider using a power wheelchair also needed to get back to Union Station. She was looking for the special shuttle. I knew the D6 bus would do the trick. We both boarded the bus after the driver clears the securement seating areas for our wheelchairs.

In a few minutes the bus was sitting across from Union Station ready to discharge passengers and the two of us. They who wanted to get off did and the driver began to deploy the lift. It stopped and stuck in the nearly down position and would not budge. He tried over and over to make it go. It didn't. He even tried the Microsoft Approach and shut off the bus and started it up again. Still nothing. He tugged it. He pushed it. He lifted it and tried again and again.

When the next D6 pulled up behind us the rest of the passengers abandoned ship. The driver called in to Operations for a maintenance truck. Soon he was calling again and got the, "we know your situation." We had to wait. At least the AC worked even though the door could not be closed. I had my Car 5 Gang buddies with which to send text messages with such that they were not holding a flip up seat open for me. Mike and Trish spread the word about my absence. What a great gang.

My fellow "detainee" was anxious to catch the next MARC Brunswick train at 7:15 because it was the last of the day for her. I could get trains as late as 11:00 if necessary. At 6:09 a supervisor and maintenance truck arrived. Out wait had been 40 minutes. She was already checking on hotel rooms for the night in necessary.

The driver and supervisor talked for a minute or so then the supervisor climbed into the bus and sat down. He fiddled with the buttons and switches for a minute and the lift started to run. In another minute the woman was out the door and on her way across the street to Union Station. On my descent, the lift failed again. "Do the laying-on-of-hands again and get this thing working," I said. He laughed.

The driver stood there looking a bit embarrassed. "What did you do," he asked the supervisor?

"I prayed on the way in," he said. I added that he laid on hands and drove the lift demon out. The driver and I crossed the circle together because he needed to use the restroom. "I really needed to go but couldn't leave you on the bus. There would have been hell to pay, if I had."

He left me with a parting thought. "You know, I choose that bus over another one today because the AC on the other one didn't work."

This entire episode was precipitated because every escalator in Union Station was stopped at the same time and the elevator failed. All the people who had already been on that bus were also delayed by the same equipment failure in the rail station.

Post Script: When I mentioned this misadventure to a colleague, he was puzzled because he said all the D6 buses are 'low-floor' and have fold out ramps. I said, this one didn't. So now I realize that the bus I was on was a spare that was not up to current standards.