Bumper to Bumper: Last week was a reminder of why Metro is essential
Old cars relocated to middle of trains
The death toll and injuries aside, last week's Metro crash on the Red Line highlighted the importance of the transit system for the region and why the Purple Line is needed, transportation experts said.
"It shows you how dependent we are on Metro," said transit advocate Ben Ross, president of the Action Committee for Transit.
Even people who drive to work faced longer commutes because many Metro riders got back in their vehicles, snarling already crowded highways, said Thomas H. Jacobs, director of the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The center's tools to monitor traffic volume showed heavier than usual congestion on the Inner Loop of the Beltway in the days after the crash, Jacobs said. The crash June 22 killed nine and injured 76 riders.
"It's a logical conclusion that if the Red Line is shut down, we're getting more traffic on Georgia Avenue," Jacobs said last week. "Something like that on the Red Line has major impacts on the arterials and highways."
If Metro's long-planned Purple Line had been in place, riders could have used it to bypass the closed section of the Red Line, Jacobs said. Even though their ride would have been longer, they would not have been forced onto the roads, he said.
"The Purple Line could have helped," Jacobs said. "It was not a good day if you're a transit user."
The Metro crash and the subsequent problems on the Beltway show that better coordination is needed among Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to keep traffic moving, he said.
"It's a constant," he said. "You can't sit still. You have to learn from these things, yet you've got to constantly keep working on them."
A 2008 National Safety Council study showed that subways and commuter railroads were the safest forms of transportation. There were 0.05 fatalities per 100 million passenger miles on trains compared with 0.71 fatalities in road vehicles.
Series 1000 cars still
at the front and back
Crash investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board had recommended the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority replace the fleet's oldest cars five years ago or retrofit it to better protect passengers in the event of a crash. The southbound train that crashed into the stopped train on the Red Line near Fort Totten station consisted of six of the Series 1000 cars, the oldest models of subway cars operated by Metro.
"We recommended to either retrofit those cars or to phase them out of the fleet," said NTSB member Deborah Hersman at a press conference last week. Metro officials "have not been able to do that, and our recommendation was not addressed. So, it has been an unacceptable status."
Metro has about 300 of the subway cars — roughly one-fourth of its fleet, said Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates. Removing the oldest cars would reduce the number of cars per train, increasing commute times, she said.
Metro officials plan to move the cars into the center of the train, using newer cars with higher crash safety ratings at the front and back of the trains, Gates said.
While a few of the trains already have seen the cars moved into the middle, the rearranging of all Series 1000 cars will take considerable logistical planning, Gates said. It could take a week to move all of the Series 1000 cars to the middle of trains because the work would have to be done when the system is shut down, she said.
Takoma Park station
closed again tonight
The Takoma Metro station will be closed early again today, at 10 p.m., as part of the continuing investigation into the cause of last week's crash.
The station is expected to reopen as normal on Thursday morning. Metro also closed the station early on Monday and Tuesday nights. It normally closes at midnight.
Shuttle buses took riders from Fort Totten to the Takoma and Silver Spring Metro stations during the closings.
E-ZPass rate goes up today
The Maryland Transportation Authority will increase several tolls as well as new E-ZPass account fees, effective today, to raise money for road and bridge maintenance.
MTA is adding a new $1.50 monthly fee for the use of electronic devices that allow motorists to bypass the tollbooths.
Other toll increases, depending on the number of axles on a vehicle, are:
-$2 to $5 per trip on the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels;
-$4-$5.50 per trip at the Bay Bridge;
-$5-$13 per trip at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway and Hatem Bridge;
-$3 per trip at the Nice Bridge.
The new fees are expected to raise $60 million annually for MTA.
AAA of the Mid-Atlantic said some users of the electronic toll system will cancel instead of paying the monthly fees.
"This would be counterproductive at a time when we need drivers to utilize electronic toll collections and should be encouraging more drivers to take advantage of E-ZPass to expedite the flow of traffic," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella in a statement.
No MARC service Friday
Commuter rail MARC is not operating on Friday because of the Fourth of July holiday and will have an amended schedule for Thursday.
No changes will be in effect for the Penn Line on Thursday, but Brunswick Line's Train 871, which normally operates Fridays, will run on Thursday instead.
The Camden Line's Train 852, which departs at 5:51 p.m. from Union Station, will not operate Thursday. However, a special train on the Camden Line will depart at 2 p.m. Thursday from Union Station and make all the stops on the line.