Metro to Commuters: ‘Whatever You Did Today, Do Tomorrow' As SafeTrack Starts

SafeTrack under way with 13 straight days of single-tracking on OR, SV Lines

What to Know

  • Ridership was only down overall about 1 percent from a typical Monday morning for this time of year.
  • More Metro personnel will be at the Ballston-MU Station to help riders get to their trains.
  • Problems during the AM rush had a big effect on a commute. which riders had already been bracing.

Riders coping with the first rush hour commute of Metro's massive SafeTrack repair plan Monday morning found themselves dealing with additional delays because of a switch problem and a train with a malfunctioning door.

Monday afternoon, Metro leaders felt confident about the way the day progressed despite the issues. They said ridership was only down overall about 1 percent from a typical Monday morning for this time of year.

"I want to urge everyone, whatever you did today, do tomorrow, do Wednesday do for the duration of this surge," said Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans. "Because it worked OK today."

Metro's general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, said riders will only have to deal with major SafeTrack maintenance during the time allotted for work, and nothing more.

"We've scheduled this, basically, to get in and do the core of what we need to do in those windows," Wiedefeld said.

Metro personnel were assigned at some stations to assist riders in finding their train. But some platforms, particularly the Ballston-MU Station, were more confusing than others, causing riders to miss their trains.

"I just missed three trains in the last five minutes," said Metro rider Amy Fleischer.

"I don't know where to go right now," said Metro rider Bruce Burns. "I don't see anybody (to help). All I see is passengers and not transportation people."

Wiedefeld said more Metro personnel will be at the Ballston-MU Station to help riders. They said stations to the west of Ballston saw 26 percent lower ridership.

While many riders early Monday morning reported a slightly slower but still acceptable commute, Metro told Orange and Silver line commuters about 8 a.m. to "expect additional delays" after a switch problem outside the East Falls Church station. 

After that, delays stacked up for the remainder of rush hour.

"Has now been 1hr since I stepped onto Wiehle-Reston East platform," a rider named Allison tweeted. "My train just departed East Falls Church." Those stations are normally about 22 minutes apart.

Orange and Silver line riders found packed trains and the option of shuttle buses during the first commute of Metro’s new SafeTrack plan. News4’s Kristin Wright reports.

In addition, an Orange Line train offloaded after several riders reported on Twitter that the train stopped between Dunn-Loring and West Falls Church due to an open door signal. One rider tweeted that the train operator was asking passengers to look for an open door. 

"THIS is going to be the worst part about #safetracks: regular equipment failure on top of reduced #safetrack work," a Twitter user named Anna wrote.

The extra problems had a big effect on a commute for which riders had already been bracing. Before the switch problem, some Metro riders had reported delays and crowded trains Monday morning, while many others said their trips were relatively easy during the first commute of SafeTrack, Metrorail's aggressive, unprecedented overhaul.

The plan's impact is expected to ripple across the entire D.C. area over the next year -- but the first big test was Monday.

"I'm close to retirement and this could put me over the edge," a rider named Eric said of SafeTrack.

Many riders are planning ahead for their first commutes during Metro’s massive safety overhaul, said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. News4’s Molette Green reports.

Nearly 150 people bought single-trip Capital Bikeshare passes Monday before noon, a spokesman said. More than 260 people took advantage of Capital Bikeshare Corral Service, which lets riders drop off bikes at certain locations even if station docks are full.

During the first of Metro's "safety surges," Orange and Silver Line trains are single-tracking for 13 straight days between Ballston and East Falls Church, and running less frequently along much of those lines.

Monday morning, many commuters planned ahead. One man said he shifted his work schedule an hour earlier, while another rider, Wayne Klopsenstein, was outside the East Falls Church station shortly before 5:15 a.m.

Klopsenstein said he'd headed out an hour earlier than usual. 

"I expect long delays," he said. "Not so much crowded trains at this time, perhaps, but definitely the delays."

WMATA warned that Orange and Silver line trains may be very crowded, especially during rush hour, and riders should expect significantly longer wait times at multiple stations in Northern Virginia.

As expected, some riders expressed frustration. Ana Fernandez said she has no alternative to Metro, calling SafeTrack "poor planning" and "inconsiderate."

Alain Sellier said he waited 20 minutes for a Silver Line train. "They could've prevented this by having ongoing maintenance at night like other cities," he said.

Metro says its 10-month SafeTrack plan is needed to make up for years of maintenance that had been deferred or delayed, and that evening track work simply didn't give it enough time to catch up with the projects.

Addy Kennedy said there simply weren't enough buses to handle the demand Monday. "Not enough buses for the 5A from Dulles/[H]erndon," she tweeted.

While some riders reported slowdowns and crowded trains, other riders said their commutes weren't that bad. When asked to rate their commutes on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least disruptive, many gave their commutes a 3 or 4.

"Just pretty slow," said rider Valerie Ehimhen, who rated her commute a 3.

But Sellier, the man who said he'd waited 20 minutes for a Silver Train train, ranked his an 8, much closer to the disruptive end of the scale.

Other commuters opted out of Metrorail entirely.

"Took 2 buses to work to avoid #SafeTrack delays and got to work in half the time as my normal commute," Cassie Fadeley ‏tweeted.

Rob M tweeted, "A busy W&OD trail tells me a ton of people started biking to work today to dodge #SafeTrack."

But it didn't work for everyone.

Meredith Asbury tweeted that her attempt at avoiding Metrorail by trying to take a bus "resulted in a full bus speeding past us waiting..."

Big Changes on Orange, Silver Lines

The first of Metro's 15 "safety surges" began Saturday, with 13 straight days of single-tracking on the Orange and Silver lines between Ballston and East Falls Church -- yes, even during rush hour -- through June 16. That means reduced service on those lines, and a severe impact at and west of Ballston. (View map of impact.)

On weekdays: 

  • Orange Line: before 10 p.m., trains run every 18 minutes between Vienna and New Carrollton, with more frequent trains between Ballston and New Carrollton:
    • every six minutes during rush hours
    • every 10 minutes during midday and evening
  • Silver Line: before 10 p.m., trains run every 18 minutes between Wiehle and Largo Town Center
  • Both Orange and Silver lines: from 10 p.m. to midnight, trains run every 20 minutes

On weekends, trains run every 18 minutes before 10 p.m., and every 20 minutes from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Tens of thousands of Prince George’s County residents use Metro every day. And some are concerned the county isn’t prepared for the impact of SafeTrack. But as bureau chief Tracee Wilkins reports, the county says it does have a plan to help you get to work.

Riders should expect significantly longer wait times at multiple stations, WMATA said. The affected stations are:

  • Wiehle-Reston East (Silver Line)
  • Spring Hill (Silver Line)
  • Greensboro (Silver Line)
  • Tysons Corner (Silver Line)
  • McLean (Silver Line)
  • Vienna (Orange Line)
  • Dunn Loring (Orange Line)
  • West Falls Church (Orange Line)
  • East Falls Church (Orange/Silver lines)
  • Ballston (Orange/Silver lines) -- Trains headed east through Ballston may be especially crowded, WMATA said. Riders arriving Ballston should consider using the extra train service that originates at Ballston and will board on the opposite platform. This may make your trip longer, but will likely provide riders with less-crowded trains.

Limited shuttle bus service is available between Ballston and East Falls Church, and Ballston and West Falls Church.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld holds press conference before SafeTrack begins this weekend, which is expected to cause major disruptions for commuters on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines.

Another 14 safety surges will have major impacts around the region for an entire year. See the entire SafeTrack schedule here.

Metrobus & Fairfax Connector Enhance Service

WMATA is encouraging riders to try to use buses as much as possible. To find a bus-only trip, use WMATA's online trip planner and choose the "bus only" option. See Metrobus timetables here

Metrobus is offering extra rush hour service in areas affected by the first safety surge (stay tuned for info on the next surge):

Regular Metrobus fares are $1.75, and 85 cents for seniors and people with disabilities. Express bus fares and airport express routes cost more. Bus-to-bus transfers are free if you're using your SmarTrip card.

Fairfax County's Fairfax Connector bus is also beefing up its rush hour service.

  • Herndon to/from Pentagon: Route 599 (PDF) will have extra trips between Herndon and the Pentagon.
  • Vienna to/from Pentagon: A new route will be created between Vienna and Pentagon; see the schedule here.

Other Ways to Avoid Metrorail

In addition to taking the bus, here are more options for getting around without Metrorail:

  • Biking: The Washington Area Biking Association (@WABA) previously tweeted this Google map of D.C.-area trails, bike lanes and bike-friendly roads. Find Fairfax County's bike map here. If you need to tune up your biking skills, check out WABA's classes on learning to ride and urban cycling online here. Need to rent a bike? Capital Bikeshare stations are located throughout the area; you can see rates or sign up here.
  • Car2Go or Zipcar: Get a short-term rental car from Car2Go or Zipcar.
  • Carpooling/Slugging: Fairfax County recommends commuters call or visit Commuter Connections to find potential carpool riders in their areas. Drivers can use the I-95 and I-495 Express Lanes for free with three people in the car (but you'll need an Express Lanes E-ZPass Flex transponder). VDOT also recommends checking out if you're interested in slugging ("casual" carpooling to meet HOV requirements).
  • Circulator: D.C.'s Circulator buses run every 10 minutes during these hours; most routes start at 7 a.m. on weekdays, although some start at 6 a.m. In addition, D.C. Muriel Bowser said the District is considering extending the Circulator's service hours. See the current schedule here, and click or tap the name of any of the bus routes to see exact pickup spots.
  • Driving: Drivers should expect increased traffic. If you must drive, leave yourself plenty of extra time to get around. Try to carpool if possible (see Commuter Connections info above). In addition, D.C. is beefing up parking restrictions during SafeTrack (see the map here), and will have more traffic control officers on the streets.
  • Lyft and/or Uber: You might want to download a ride-hailing app like Lyft or Uber now. Find the Lyft app here for either iPhone or Android, and the Uber app on iTunes here or on Google Play here. Lyft said it will offer Metro riders discounted rides throughout SafeTrack's phases; see discount zones and info here. Uber says UberPOOL, in which passengers share cars, will be available across the entire D.C. area through the year of SafeTrack. 
  • Other regional buses: Check the schedules for Arlington County's ART bus, Alexandria's DASH bus or Prince George's County's The Bus.
  • Streetcar: The new D.C. Streetcar system runs from Union Station along H Street NE. Fares are currently free. Streetcars run about every 10-15 minutes. Learn more on how to ride here, or see the system map here.
  • Taxi: You can, of course, hail a cab on the street, but you can also order one online or by phone. has a list of District taxi companies online here. Arlington County has seven authorized taxi companies; find them here. In Fairfax County, five cab companies are authorized to operate; find their contact info here.

Emmanuel Ayisi, Ellie Hartleb, Dystany Muse and Brooke Wivagg contributed to this report.

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