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Nearly a year after Metro’s “SafeTrack” maintenance blitz wrapped up, Arlingtonians still haven’t returned to the transit system, new data show.
An ARLnow analysis of figures compiled by WMATA and released to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission shows that ridership at Arlington’s 11 Metro stations fell by about 4.1 percent in the first three months of 2018 when compared to the same time frame last year.
Back in early 2017, WMATA was right in the midst of SafeTrack, with large sections of Metro lines closed temporarily and substantial headways for passengers, even at rush hour. But the ridership numbers suggest that any Arlington riders dissuaded from hopping on Metro during the heavy maintenance work have yet to embrace the rail service once more.
ARLnow’s analysis also shows Metro ridership in the county has dropped by about 13.4 percent compared to the same time frame in 2016, before SafeTrack work began.
Metro officials and county leaders say they’re not overly disturbed by these numbers, noting that WMATA ridership as a whole only fell by 1 percent when comparing the first three months of this year to 2017. Yet they also acknowledge that other transportation options are steadily luring riders away from Metro, and that these declining ridership numbers may be a symptom of problems in the county beyond WMATA’s woes.
“This really indicates how our transportation network is being disrupted in ways not just associated with Metro,” said Christian Dorsey, the vice chair of the Arlington County Board and a member of the Metro Board of Directors, while adding that “we’re not going to overreact to the numbers we see in one quarter.”
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly wrote in an email that ridership in Arlington generally “reflects the ridership trends systemwide.” She says Metro has broadly found that “peak periods are performing less poorly, however off-peak (especially evening) ridership is down much more steeply,” after SafeTrack.
WMATA leaders “are confident that by providing safe, reliable service, Metro can win back riders who may have changed their travel patterns during SafeTrack,” Ly added. Yet she did acknowledge that a handful of different factors have prompted large ridership drops at several Arlington stations this year.
Metro observed one of the largest declines in riders at the Ballston station in the first three months of the year, with a more than 8 percent decline from the same period last year. Ballston also recorded a nearly 20 percent drop in ridership from 2016 to 2018, the largest of any Arlington station over the same time period.
Ly believes that’s largely due to ridership dropping on weekends, “when service is truncated from Wiehle-Reston East to Ballston for track work,” a frequent occurrence for Silver Line riders.
Along the Blue Line, however, there could be more systemic problems.
Metro’s next SafeTrack “surge” will include a temporary shutdown of the entire Blue Line, starting Saturday.
Blue Line trains will not run at all between Feb. 11-28, according to Metro. Instead, Yellow Line “Rush Plus” trains will run all day between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt. Those trains will run in addition to regular Yellow Line trains between Huntingdon and Mount Vernon Square.
The Arlington Cemetery station will be closed and will be served by buses from the Pentagon during the latest round of maintenance work.
During rush hour, trains are scheduled to arrive every four minutes at stations normally served by both Blue and Yellow Line trains, Metro said. Orange and Silver Line trains will not be affected by the latest track maintenance effort.
Metro originally planned to only run Blue Line trains between the Franconia-Springfield and Reagan National Airport stops. But the transit agency updated that plan on Jan. 27 after concluding the original one wasn’t necessarily “in the interest of minimizing customer impact.”
“The new service plan means that riders from Virginia will experience less crowding and will be able to ride into D.C. without changing trains,” the agency said in a release.
Next month, track work will primarily affect riders heading to and from Alexandria. From March 4-26, Metro trains will share a single track on the Blue and Yellow lines between the Braddock Road and Huntington/Van Dorn Street stations. Blue Line trains will run every 24 minutes during that time, while the Yellow Line between National Airport and Mt. Vernon Square will run every 6-12 minutes, according to Metro.
From March 26 through April 2, only Blue Line Trains will share a single track. Then, from April 3-9, Yellow Line trains are slated for single-tracking.
Later this year, likely around May and June, a portion of the Orange Line between the Minnesota Avenue and New Carrollton stops is also scheduled to undergo maintenance and single tracking. The SafeTrack program is currently slated to wrap up in late June, though the final dates haven’t yet been announced.
Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin
No trains will run on the Blue Line between Rosslyn and the Pentagon between Feb. 11-28, Metro announced earlier today. Blue Line trains will only operate between Franconia-Springfield and Reagan National Airport during the maintenance period.
Orange and Silver Line trains will not be affected by the latest SafeTrack surge, officials said.
Alexandria will bear the brunt of the next round of “surge” work. From March 4 to April 9, Metro trains will share a single track on the Blue and Yellow lines between the Braddock Road and Huntington/Van Dorn Street stations. Blue Line trains will run every 24 minutes during that time, while the Yellow Line between National Airport and Mt. Vernon Square will run every 6-12 minutes, according to Metro.
Later this year — at some point around May and June — a portion of the Orange Line between the Minnesota Avenue and New Carrollton stops is also scheduled to undergo maintenance and single tracking.
Track work was suspended this month due to the inauguration and “the potential for winter weather impacts,” according to Metro. The SafeTrack program is currently slated to wrap up in late June, though the final dates haven’t yet been announced.
SafeTrack is intended to “rehabilitate the Metrorail system to improve safety and reliability.” Two hours after Metro announced the updated SafeTrack schedule, Arlington County firefighters responded to the Rosslyn station for a report of an arcing insulator.
Track inspections did not find any significant smoke or fire, but the emergency response did have some traffic impacts in Rosslyn.
ACFD is responding to the Rosslyn Metro station for a report of an arcing insulator in the tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom
— Arlington News (@ARLnowDOTcom) January 12, 2017
— Rail Transit OPS (@RailTransitOPS) January 12, 2017
— Pete Muntean (@petemuntean) January 12, 2017
Image via Metro
Metro’s fifth SafeTrack maintenance surge will cause a “severe service reduction” on portions of the Orange and Silver lines for 11 days starting tomorrow.
From Wednesday, July 20 until Sunday, July 31, Orange and Silver line trains will continuously single track between the East Falls Church and Ballston stations. This is the same area that was affected during first Metro SafeTrack surge.
On weekdays, Orange Line trains between Vienna and Ballston are expected to operate every 18 minutes. Silver Line trains will run every 18 minutes during the surge, according to Metro.
Additional Orange Line trains will operate between Ballston and New Carrollton during the maintenance period. Trains from Vienna to Ballston and Wiehle-Reston East to Ballston are likely to be extremely crowded, especially during rush-hour, Metro said.
“Customers at Ballston should consider using the additional train service that originates at Ballston and will board on the opposite platform from through-train service,” the agency advised in its latest announcement. “This may lengthen your departure time, but will give you the best opportunity to find space.”
Metro Commuters who have the ability to do so should consider alternate travel options and avoid traveling during rush hour if possible, Metro added.
An Arlington County website has the following information those affected by the latest Metro surge:
Street operations changes
- Temporary changes around Ballston, East Falls Church and Rosslyn Metro stations will accommodate additional Metro and regional buses during rush hours. These changes include removing some street parking and converting some street sections to bus-only, and adjusting traffic signal operations, as needed, to accommodate increased bus service.
- Changes around the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations, for Surges 2 to 4, have been discontinued.
Supplemental local bus service
- Using 40-foot buses for ART 55 (East Falls Church-Lee Highway-Rosslyn) to add capacity along the affected section of the Orange/Silver line.
- Each 40-foot bus has five more seats and room for more standees compared to the 35-foot bus normally used on this route.
- New midday, evening and weekend service for ART 43 (Crystal City-Rosslyn-Courthouse), which started during Surge 2, continues to be available.
- For changes to bus service operated by Metro and other jurisdictions, visit Metro’s website.
Alternate work and travel options
The County is encouraging telework/flex time, ridesharing, biking and walking – options other than driving alone:
- Arlington Transportation Partners is reaching out to employers and building managers to urge them to encourage telework or flex schedules and provide travel option information.
- Arlington’s Commuter Page has travel option resources for residents and businesses – for example, assistance for vanpooling and other car-free options.
- Arlington County Commuter Services Hispanic Marketing offers comprehensive information about each surge in Spanish.
- For teleworkers who can’t work at home, Arlington Public Libraries offer wifi, office equipment, design stations with Adobe software, and small meeting rooms.
For those who bike, these changes are continued from prior surges:
- New Capital Bikeshare station at the East Falls Church Metrorail station, and additional capacity at Bikeshare stations at the Ballston and Rosslyn Metrorail stations.
- Additional temporary bike parking capacity at Ballston and Rosslyn Metrorail stations.
- Enhanced wayfinding along trails and commuter routes for bicyclists – Bike Routes – Orange/Silver Line direction
- Custom Bike Trains arranged for County residents upon request – contact [email protected].
Video via Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
The third stage will begin at 8 p.m. on July 5, continuing until July 11 and it will involve the Blue and Yellow lines being completely shut down between National Airport and Braddock Road, in Alexandria.
Blue Line trains will run every 15 minutes between Franconia-Springfield and Braddock Road and every 12 minutes between National Airport and Largo Town Center.
Yellow Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Huntington and Braddock Road and every 12 minutes between National Airport and Greenbelt.
Riders will be able to take Metroway BRT buses for free, between Pentagon City and Braddock Road, to bypass the closure. For airport customers coming from stations below Braddock Road, shuttle bus service will run between the station and the airport.
The fourth SafeTrack stage will run from July 12-18 and the same lines will be shut down between National Airport and Pentagon City. That includes a closure of the busy Crystal City station.
Blue Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Franconia-Springfield and National Airport and every 12 minutes between Pentagon City and Largo Town Center.
Yellow Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Huntington and Braddock Road and every 12 minutes between Pentagon City and Greenbelt.
Shuttle bus service will run to National Airport from Braddock Road and Pentagon City. Metroway shuttle service will also be available for free during this stage.
For its part, Arlington County will continue to run the expanded bus service implemented for SafeTrack’s second stage. That includes expanded midday, evening and weekend service on the ART 43 between Rosslyn and Crystal City and additional 4o-foot buses to increase capacity on the ART 42, which runs from Ballston to Pentagon.
Arlington County is encouraging alternative commute options during the surge, such as teleworking, ridesharing, biking and walking if possible.
Video Courtesy WMATA
The second round of closures related to Metro’s yearlong SafeTrack maintenance plan is slated to take effect today, with big impacts to Blue Line service in Arlington.
Maintenance crews will work on portions of the Orange, Silver and Blue lines until July 3, according to a service advisory.
On the Orange Line, trains will not run between Eastern Market and Minnesota Ave/Benning Road. Orange and Silver line trains will run every 10 minutes between Vienna/Wiehle-Reston and Eastern Market.
On the Blue Line, trains will not run between between Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn. Trains will, however, run between Franconia-Springfield and Arlington Cemetery each weekday until 10 p.m. Yellow Line trains will run on a Rush+ schedule all day on weekdays to compensate for the loss of Blue Line service.
Metro will provide shuttle service for riders traveling to and from affected stations. Arlington County has also expanded ART 43 service, which runs between Rosslyn and Crystal City, on middays, evenings and weekends until Aug. 20.
Trains may be extremely crowded, especially during rush hour, Metro officials said. Regular riders are encouraged to use commuting alternatives such as carpooling or telecommuting.
Video Courtesy WMATA
At the end of the day Monday, 96 percent of the planned work had been completed, with three days remaining in the schedule, Wiedefeld said. Continuous single-tracking on the Orange and Silver lines is still slated to wrap up tomorrow (Thursday), as originally planned.
“Given the importance of quickly getting into this intensive track rehab program, I am pleased with the work getting done in Surge #1, and want to thank the entire region for their support over the last twelve days,” said Wiedefeld. “While the immediate benefit for any surge is safety, as we conclude the surges, customers should see an improvement in track reliability and overall ride quality along this area of the Orange and Silver lines.”
The work done included rail tie replacement, insulator renewal, fastener renewal and leak repairs, as detailed in a report released by Metro.
Although early indications suggested that SafeTrack was causing delays for most commuters, the din of complaints on social media largely faded as the work continued. Riders who spoke to ARLnow.com outside the Ballston Metro station last Thursday (see video, below) said their commutes weren’t overly affected by the changes — fears of major overcrowding and delays did not materialize, at least in their experience.
Stage two of SafeTrack will begin on Saturday with shuttle buses replacing trains between Eastern Market and Minnesota Ave/Benning Road on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines. Blue Line trains will only run between Franconia-Springfield and Arlington Cemetery in both directions. The work is scheduled to wrap up by July 3.
Photo by Jackie Friedman. Video by Omar DeBrew.
Working on the railroad is hard work.
That was in evidence this morning when a Metro contractor who was on the team performing “SafeTrack” maintenance work on the tracks near the East Falls Church station reportedly passed out from dehydration.
Firefighters and paramedics responded to the section of track along I-66 and transported the worker to a local hospital for evaluation.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency is taking steps to make sure its workers are well hydrated.
“Obviously, this is hard, physical labor on a hot and cloudless day,” Stessel told ARLnow.com. “We are providing water and sports drinks to all workers on site, and requiring frequent breaks — but the lack of shade is really the issue.”
Today is the first weekday of Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance surge.
Via Twitter there are reports of crowded trains and long waits at stations, although Metro says early indications were that everything was going according to plan. Via Google Maps, traffic appears to be heavier than usual, with lots of red on the traffic map.
Whether you commute via Metro, car or otherwise, we want to know: was your commute slower than usual today?
Nearly two weeks of continuous single tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston, on the Orange and Silver Metro lines, begins tomorrow (Saturday) morning.
Major travel disruptions are expected during Metro’s maintenance “surge,” dubbed “SafeTrack.” WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, along with Arlington County Board members Libby Garvey and Christian Dorsey, held a press conference this afternoon at the East Falls Church Metro Station to discuss preparations.
“We are going to make this work, it is a team effort,” said Garvey, touting Arlington’s plans to assist commuters and ease congestion. “We’re all working together.”
Metro riders can seek commuting alternatives such as carpooling or telecommuting. Free shuttle buses between Ballston and East Falls Church and Ballston and West Falls Church will be offered during the project. Additional Capital Bikeshare stations are being installed at the East Falls Church station in preparation for the work.
The single tracking will last for 13 days, ending on Thursday, June 16.
According to Wiedefeld, the worst impacts on the Orange and Silver lines will be west of Ballston. Orange Line trains will run only every 18 minutes between Vienna and Ballston, while Silver Line trains will run every 18 minutes. Additional trains will be placed in service east of Ballston.
The biggest effects will be felt during rush hour — riders are being told to expect “extreme crowding and delays” in each direction.
“Remember, the reason we are doing this is to make the system more reliable and safer,” said Wiedefeld.
The track work is just the first of numerous SafeTrack projects planned over the next year, many of which will impact Arlington riders.
Arlington County streamed a video of the press conference on Facebook, and yesterday released a video discussing SafeTrack (below).
With Metro’s SafeTrack plan beginning June 4, Arlington County has released its response to the planned service cuts.
The first stage of SafeTrack involves single tracking on the Orange and Silver lines between Ballston and East Falls Church. Trains will run every 18 minutes, with additional Orange Line trains running from Ballston to New Carrolton.
In response, Arlington County will supplement WMATA’s efforts to assist travelers with its own. ART routes 55 (Rosslyn-East Falls Church) and 52 (Virginia Hospital-Ballston-East Falls Church) will use 40-foot buses instead of the usual 35-foot buses to add capacity during the surge. The county is also considering adding a bus lane on Lee Highway to speed up 55 buses during rush hour.
Capital Bikeshare will also be expanded, with capacity increases at the Ballston and Rosslyn stations along with a new Bikeshare station being installed at the East Falls Church station. For new or inexperienced riders, “bike trains” — bicyclists riding as a group — will be run between Rosslyn and East Falls Church, stopping at each Metro station along the route.
Along with the transportation additions, the county will make changes on the streets around the main Metro hubs, removing some street parking and converting streets to bus-only during rush hours.
Metro has released the following YouTube video to explain the SafeTrack surge.