Morning Poll: ‘Nightmare’ Orange Line Commute ‘Handled Well?’

by ARLnow.com October 28, 2011 at 9:54 am 3,336 35 Comments

Just before 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, a man was struck by an outbound train at the Clarendon Metro station, throwing the evening commute into chaos.

As rescuers worked to free the man from underneath the train, power was shut off to the third rail and trains were stopped around the station. With almost nowhere else to go, Orange Line trains started offloading passengers at Rosslyn. Soon, the Rosslyn station started filling up with people — so many people that the escalators were shut down so they wouldn’t become overloaded.

Shortly after that, police were called in to help with crowd control. Via police radio, officers expressed concern that the crowds were so heavy on the platforms that people might start falling onto the tracks. Later, a mass casualty medical response was dispatched to the station as people started getting ill while trying to walk up the long escalators.

Many riders that night expressed complaints about a lack of communication and direction from Metro personnel at the Rosslyn station. After a two-week review, however, Metro has concluded that while some mistakes were made, the shutdown was, in fact, handled well.

How would you grade Metro’s overall response on Oct. 11?

  • TryTheTacos

    I understand why they probably thought offloading at Ballston and Rosslyn made sense (because of the bus bays there). However, Rosslyn cannot handle a mass exodus well. They should have utilized Courthouse and Virginia Square if possible. This would have also dramatically reduced the roundtrip distance required for the “Shuttle” bus service they started to handle those trying to get past the incident.

    • CW

      I don’t think they can turn trains around at those points, and that’s why the stopped where they did.

      To the impending Metro haters and flamers, please list what YOU would have done differently given the available resources and time constraints. TryTheTacos surprised me in that comment #1 was actually constructive.

      • JamesE

        Continue running the trains as normal, clean up at night.

      • Mandy

        Close Rosslyn down completely to stop the flow of passengers into the already too crowded station. Make all escalators go up. Station so damn employees at the top of the escalators to tell those trying to get into the station what is going on, and to direct those coming out of the station towards the shuttles so they don’t block those still coming up the escalators. Don’t be so quick to pat yourselves on the back.

        • drax

          Excellent suggestions (except the escalators must be shut off – they still could be all designated as exits though, since nobody should be going in that station).

          Also, they should open all the gates and let people leave without paying so they don’t clog up. Maybe they did that though, I wasn’t there.

          Couldn’t Metro also turn trains around at Rosslyn without unloading them so they can unload somewhere less crowded? And stop loading at stations headed there in the first place?

          • jim

            Why did the escalator need to be shut off?
            And you still needed to allow people to get on at Rosslin to go downtown, although at the overload level they were at, they should have stopped.
            And regardless of where they can turn trains around, they created a majorly unsafe situation in the Rosslin metro.

      • J

        What Metro needs are station-specific contingency plans for every station so that anyone can pick it up and follow a set list of specific instructions. Moreover, these plans probably ought to be easily publicized when enacted. Something that takes the guesswork out of emergency management and provides clear, concise, and non-destructive instructions to Metro managers, employees, and riders. Declaring a certain level of emergency automatically triggers announcements on the webpage, clear instructions on the web, plus enough specific instructions so that local employees can act decisively within a set of specific parameters without needing to consult management for updates.

      • Jason

        The biggest move IMO would be better audible communication. People were shouting different things and pushing in different directions because there was no clear message on what we should do.

        Also they really should have shut down the station and stopped letting people try and go against the massive outflow. This choked at the tunnel entry point and cut in half the number of exit routes while there was clearly a bigger need to get people out of the station than to bring them in. Not to mention it caused a lot of fights and near fights with people pushing folks toward the edge of platform onto the tracks.

  • emp

    As someone stuck on the bottom platform for over an hour without seeing or hearing from a metro employee, I thought it was a disaster. The first thing that should have been done is put an announcement on the PA system of why we were being trapped (no one could get up the escalators, but we weren’t sure why). More information would have kept us calmer. The second thing they should have done was shut the station earlier. It was overcrowded and opening the 2 escalators allowed twice the number of people to get out of the station. Finally, a metro employee should have been at the base of the escalator to encourage the elderly and obese to take the elevator. Many struggled to get up the escalator which put their health at risk and slowed down the ability for the more able bodied to evacuate.

    • Larchmont

      I wonder who types up the “Elevator outage at XXX station, shuttle busses provide from XXX station” that get posted on the signs that tell you how many minutes for the next train, etc… They should have them follow Metro on Twitter.

      Since they are not, they should have added to their tweet, “Pssst…Pass this on to the unfortunate soul stranded next to you.”.

  • Valerie

    As usual, Metro is blaming the passengers who did not get information via Metro tweets.

    Of course, station announcements could have been made at earlier stops that Metro would be off loaded at Rosslyn thereby giving passengers other options.

    However, as well as escalator failure, the elevator at Rosslyn had been out for 2 days previously. No haste to repair and several people had to be treated by EMS after attempting to climb the escalators.

    When escalators collapsed at L’Enfant, injuring people, Metro blamed the passengers for “overloading: Later it was determined that brakes had failed due to poor maintenance.

    When escalators all failed at GW, Metro produced photos of 3 maimed flip flops, again, maintenance issues led to that debacle.

    Stop blaming Metro riders for Metro issues.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    We can Monday Morning Quarterback what happened all we want to no avail. What I’d like to see from Metro is a comprehensive evacuation plan for each station, especially the major ones like Rosslyn, Metro Center, etc… The plan should focus on:

    1. Getting riders out of the station quickly and safely.
    2. Give emergency responders fast access into the station.
    3. Continue to move riders, bypassing the affected station, until the system is restored.
    4. Assume a worst-case scenario where external communication systems are not available (ie, tweets).

  • jslanger

    I don’t usually ride the Metro, but I have been through Rosslyn at rush hour, and its ALREADY a disaster area…I am always surprised people aren’t being pushed off the platforms onto the tracks just by how crowded it gets at evening rush hour. Add an emergency and I can’t imagine how terrible it’d be down there.

    Metro saying that people should sign up for tweets–really? I personally don’t even use twitter, though I do have a smartphone…but how many people have old style dumb phones and can’t get tweets? Although I commend Metro for using new communication routes, you can’t rely on it alone.

    For a system with a PA system that repeatedly sends out announcements overhead, that should have been much better utilized in telling people what was going on, directing traffic, etc.

    And, of course, I think that riders need to help make sure that other less-able riders are helped to elevators instead of taking them themselves (which I assume happened because I see it happen all the time under normal circumstances).

    And I agree with Smoke…evacuation plans need to be ready for each (major) station. What if it were something worse happened than someone hit by a train? 2 hours to get people out of the station? Thats pretty poor results, and could have much worse outcomes given different circumstances…

    Anyway, thats my $0.02.

  • dcbarlington

    I’m surprised that WMATA holds their Twitter communication strategy in such high esteem. Sure, it’s great to check before leaving the house, but once in the system, I am mostly underground and therefore without a cell signal (except for in a few stations that have the underground service – which is fantastic, BTW).

    I was stuck at Rosslyn that evening, and even though I can usually get a signal there, too many people were using their phones, so the signal was jammed for most people. We heard no communication in the station itself. What little info we had came from passing trains and people yelling.

    I understand that bad things sometimes happen, and sometimes they happen in rush hour. That sucks. But if you don’t have a way to safely and quickly evacuate us (which you definitely need) at the very least communicate with us. Verbally. In the station. Repeatedly. It would help immensely.

  • veeta

    I am not a transportation official, so I am not responsible for telling them what to do. I am just fortunate that I was able to walk to my destination and home that day.
    1) Not everyone has a smart phone, so multiple communication strategies are needed.
    2) When the worst case scenario occurs, I shudder to think of what will happen.
    3) The lack of media coverage of this has been ludicrous.

  • JimPB

    It would be most helpful to have access to Metro’s review.

    Does Metro’s report identify the problems that commuters experienced and the police and others observed/anticipated?

    Were Metro’s responses accurately informed? If there was confusion about what happened/needs, why? When was accuracy obtained?

    as timely as possible? If not, why not?


    as effective as possible under the circumstances?

  • dave schutz

    Opinions! I got em! The below is an opinionate email I sent to Mary Hynes (who is Arlington’s rep to Metro) after the event (and I got a nice reply, saying she would ask people to think about these points):

    I was in the mess at Rosslyn after the Clarendon suicide-by-Metro attempt this past week. I think I have some ideas which might have made it less awful. You had a staggering number of people getting off trains at Rosslyn, who swamped the capacity of the station to get them off the platform – would have even had the escalators been running. Suggestions:

    1. Metro should have communicated the gravity of what was going on in its public address/sign board announcements. In a future similar situation, suggest that people who could get home by alternate methods (38 bus, 22A bus, Yellow line to Pentagon City, cab from the District, etc) should consider doing so. In a situation like this, everyone you can persuade to leave the system voluntarily, and not at Rosslyn, helps the situation.

    2. Shuttle buses will be full, and buses and crowds will exceed the capacity of the street at Rosslyn. Encourage riders to go on to Arlington Cemetery or get off early at Foggy Bottom, and run some shuttle buses from there. Maybe run the shuttle buses from the Cemetery to EFC, to lessen the load at Ballston.

    3. Consider changing all westbound Orange Line trains to Blue Line trains, and use the public address system to encourage riders to shuttle from the cemetery, or to take 16-family buses from Pentagon City towards Ballston. Announce a route change for some or all 16 buses, that they will go to Ballston or East Falls Church at the end of their run, for the period of the problem.

    4. How did it happen that all escalators at Rosslyn were out? That’s a bad situation in any event, in this situation it was pretty much an emergency. As I climbed, I went past some people who were really winded. Is there anything which can be done to make it less likely in future that they will all go out at once?

    In related events – why does it take so long to deal with sick transit user problems? Can stretchers be bought which can be taken up the escalators and get the patient quickly out of the system, to let the commute go on for others?

    • Arl Anon

      Yes, yes, yes. If station managers can be trained and Metro makes this a part of their jobs, Metro could radically improve emergency communications with a minimal capital investment. Forget sporadic, unrecognizable announcements that may or may not be heard before riders get into the system. Buy a couple of signboards for every Metro entrance and some writing implements. Heck, you could have them preprinted with the words “Warning! Major Disruption on ____ Line at _____ Station. Seek Alternatives.”

      Metro will always be limited in its capacity to bypass disruptions with buses, particularly at rush hour, and even to funnel a large number of passengers out of the system on a limited number of escalators at any disruption point or chokepoint. Emergency planning simply MUST involve winnowing down the stream of passengers flowing into the system when there is a disruption.

      • jim

        MEtro wont even put out of order signs on the damned turnstiles. I have been told by a station manager that the supervisors will pull them off.

        Think about it, ever seen an out of order sign on a turnstyle?

        • Josh S


  • RS

    Metro should also take a look at revising how to report a crime or emergency within the system. During a moment of panic who is going to remember their 10 digit Metro Police phone number?

  • Sgt. Hartman

    Metro’s short-tempered and irritable staff didn’t improve the overcrowding situation at Rosslyn that evening. I clearly recall an utterly condescending and aggravating Metro employee barking out instructions over the station’s PA system as if the stranded passengers had purposefully interrupted her early evening catnap.

  • Joe

    Metro has the absolute best public relations staff in the business, bar none. To turn what would seem to be Metro’s failures into the commuters’ failure to use Twitter is the height of brilliance. It doesn’t quite match getting John Catoe to Orlando to accept the 2009 Manager of the Year award 4 months AFTER the derailments, but it’s close.

    I regularly walk past the aforementioned catnapping employees, as well as past closed off escalators and erroneous message board updates. I’m regularly jerked about in the train by sudden stops and starts, and marvel at the chimes ringing just as the crush of people finish exiting the train in front of the crush waiting to ENTER the train.

    Yet in the midst of this, I smile. Why? I see the “Metro Forward” displays with glossy pictures of happy commuters telling us all we didn’t know about Metro’s future excellence. I realize that my eyes, my ears, my upset stomach and my headache are all lying to me. Metro is a wonderfully-run system, because their public relations arm tells me so. To paraphrase Barry Switzer, let’s put together a Metro transit system that the Public Relations department can be proud of.

  • FW

    There was also dangerous overcrowding after the earthquake. Because the trains were only going 10-15 miles per hour, they could not keep up with the rush of people leaving work all at once.

  • Michelle

    I don’t think it’s far to put 100% of blame on the WMATA or its employees. With the exception of those who were disabled or elderly at the time of unloading, all persons should have been able to walk up the escelators. If you are too fat and have a heart condition and stroke out, well, that’s a Darwinism for you… sorry you made poor life choices and now can’t walk up flights of stairs.

    Everyone’s suggestions all seem to make sense about where and how passangers should have been off loaded from the metro so I get that, and that’s why most of the blame does fall on WMATA for poor choices.

    Harsh, I know.

    • Sabby

      Yes, because all health problems are 100% related to lifestyle choices.
      DIAF, Michelle

      • JimPB

        Sorry, bad things happen to good people in the form of diseases/conditions/disorders.

        There are many health problems not related, or with only a minimal relation to life style of the person with the disease/condition/disorder.
        Start with almost all diseases/conditions/disorders of the fetus, the infant and toddler, …. For an extensive elaboration, check out the etiology section in NIH material on diseases/conditions/disorders.

        That said, life style is quite important, beginning with the use of tobacco. Lung cancer is almost entirely (but definitely completely) a result of smoking. Obesity is a major risk factor for Type II diabetes, and most (but not all) Type II diabetes can be cured by diet and exercise, if these life style changes are made early on and are enduring changes. And on. A prime resource: the web site of the National Cancer Institute for authoritative information on the major role of life style in the onset of various cancers.

    • Valerie

      Aging is not a “life choice”. It is life!

      Again, elevator had been out for at least two days.

  • John Fontain

    First, the postive: I was waiting on an orange line train in Metro center for a long while. Unlike the past when you’d never hear an announcement about what was going on (or if you did, the announcement would be as vague as possible), this time they were great with announcements. They were specific in saying a person had been struck at Clarendon. They were specific in telling us what they expected to happen (the train was supposed to go to Arlington Cemetery and skip Rosslyn). The announcements were frequent and clear. Kudos for that.

    My train ended up not going to Arlington Cemetary and it also skipped Rosslyn and went directly to Courthouse. Kudos for that.

    The negative: Rosslyn’s situation was clearly mishandled. While I wasn’t there to witness it, it sounds like it could have been made much better by simply:

    1. Positioning someone at the top of the escalators to stop new customers from coming down into the station AND to tell people coming up the escalators to clear away from the entrance.

    2. Have people wait for shuttle buses around the block so people don’t clog up the entrance.

    3. Position someone at the base of the escalators and instruct people to (a) step onto the escalators one at a time, (b) to stand to the right, AND (c) to not walk. While this would have halved the number of people on the escalators, it likely would have kept them operational (which in the long run would have allowed for a faster exit overall for the masses).

  • Chris

    That day, I was put off a train at Foggy Bottom without any instruction.Had to wait for three trains to able to get to Rossyln. Was stuck on the platforms for almost an hour. Had to walk up the escalator. Yes, I am fat but I did it. But what Metro is not addressing is the secondary incidents at Rossyln that was caused by the issue at Clarendon. Fire Department’s from Arlington, Alexandria, the Airport and Maybe Ft. Myer responded to issues at Rossyln which as I could see, was one maybe two people having problems. It added chaos on the platform and on the street where the shuttle buses where supposed to be. They shouldn’t have closed the Metro at Clarendon, whomever made that call, be it Fire or Metro. They should have single tracked around the problem, and taken care of it quickly and without fanfare, Like they would have done in NYC, London, Toronto or any other major public transit system.

  • Carmen

    Luckily I was off that day or would have been caught up in the mess. A couple of days after that there was smoke or something at Union Station (where I commute to every day) and metro stopped servicing Union Station for a while. I got off at Judiciary Square and it took a very long time to get out of that station too since so many people got off at the same time. If it took that long with a lot less people I can only imagine the horror of the Rosslyn station that day. I am not sure what can be done differently.

  • novasteve

    For those phyiscally able to, if there’s any problem, like an earthquake, or a massive problem on metro, just get out and walk, especially if you are only going as far as Ballston, which I realize many go futher, but just walk to ballston, then grab a bus.

  • jinushaun

    Thanks to Twitter, I avoided the whole disaster. Twitter was seriously all over this the moment it happened–from the official WMATA Twitter account to regular riders. If there are still people out there that don’t understand the value of Twitter, this is a great example. It’s not just for following Justin Bieber tweets.

  • BallstonDweller

    Metro excels at one thing–patting itself on the back.

    They just need to fire everyone there and start over. And I am someone generally supportive of public employees.

    I would take a few knowledgeable employees and a good PA system over twitter any day of the week.

  • Jillian

    Metro should give stranded riders an OPTION. Deploy Metro Buses that could transport riders to stations that ARE in service. I was on an orange line train that was let out at Arlington Cemetery which isn’t even an orange line stop. The very minimum should’ve been for metro employees to let people know WHICH DIRECTION TO WALK to get to the trains that were running in Ballston. Nobody knew where to go and people had to walk 3 miles from the Cemetery to Ballston. The worst part? I had to PAY money to get on a crowded train, stuck underground with the doors closed for over 45 minutes and then dropped off 2 miles from home! Ohhhh metro.


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