If there’s one lesson to take away from Arlington’s Metro Safety Seminar Wednesday night, it’s don’t evacuate a train until told to do so. Even though a woman died after not being able to evacuate a disabled, smoke-filled train outside of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station earlier this year.
In the case of smoke in a tunnel, Arlington County Fire Department and Metro will work together to figure out the source of the smoke and decide if evacuation is necessary, officials said Wednesday at the seminar in Ballston.
Self-evacuating early often leads to injuries and more trouble, said Robert Joy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority during a panel on Metro safety hosted by the county’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission (EPAC).
There’s also the problem of the third rail, which is a major electrocution hazard, running at more than 700 volts, Joy said.
Joy was joined by ACFD Captain David Santini and ART Director Stephen Yaffee to speak about how to be a safe rider on public transit, including Metrobus, Metro or ART bus. The panel spoke to a small audience, mostly consisting of older Arlington residents, many of whom identified themselves as members of EPAC.
For the most part, audience members were concerned about smoke filling Metro cars, noting the L’Enfant Plaza incident in January.
Smoke in Metro tunnels is not an unusual occurrence, Sanitini said.
“We report to smoke on the Metro several times a month,” he said, adding that most are “minor in nature” usually resulting from trash burning on the rails or small insulator fires.
In the case of smoke filling the cars, passengers should listen to the intercoms, Joy said, as the conductors will tell people when to evacuate.
“Just because the trains stop doesn’t mean it’s an emergency,” he said. “And we’ve had some people self-evacuate a perfectly good train.”
If a train needs to be evacuated, firefighters will come to the train to help passengers evacuate, Santini said. Metro also posts instructions for opening the doors in emergencies and how to evacuate.
Evacuation should be the last resort as walking in the tunnels and jumping from the train can result in injuries, such as broken ankles or legs, he said.
Joy acknowledged that there were problems with understanding the intercoms, which can make emergency situations more stressful. Dust often gets in the speakers, which make them hard to hear.
“We understand that the intercom system isn’t always up to snuff,” Joy said. “I sometimes wonder what they are saying.”
Fixing the intercoms by making sure they are cleaned is an easy step that Metro can do to make riding safer, said John Brown, director of Arlington County Office of Emergency Management.
“I don’t think we can wait for a federal report. There’s low hanging fruit that we know we can fix,” Brown said.
Throughout the discussion, audience members offered suggestions that Metro can implement to improve passenger safety, including more information on car walls. These suggestions will be compiled in a letter and brought before the Arlington County Board, said Board member Libby Garvey.
Garvey and Brown also took a couple of minutes to talk about emergency preparedness in general, telling the audience they should know what to do for everyday emergencies, like weather-related events, or in the case of a decidedly not-everyday emergency: a nuclear attack.
“We really all need to be prepared, not just for these events that happen pretty regularly but also when the unimaginable happens,” Brown said.
In the case of a nuclear attack, people should “shelter in place” and put as much concrete between them and outside, Garvey said.
The last thing people should do is go outside and see what happened, she said. Instead, people should “camp inside” until its safe to go outside.
“We all need to be prepared for camping for three days,” Garvey said.
In 2004, Metro Chief Richard White predicted a “death spiral” for the Metrorail system due to chronic underfunding.
Federal and state budget disputes were preventing Metro from getting the $1.5 billion in maintenance investment it needed, leading White to warn of “a systemic service meltdown.”
Eleven years later, White’s prediction seems to be coming true. And he wasn’t the only one to see it coming.
“Right now, there’s no money for transportation funding in anyone’s budget,” Chris Zimmerman, who at the time served on both the Arlington County Board and the Metro board, told the Washington Post in 2004. “I’ve got a state government that’s happy to let everything fall into the toilet. And we’ve got local governments that have limited means to raise money. We’ve got nothing to work with.”
Zimmerman resigned from the Metro board in 2010, and stepped down from the County Board in 2014. Now serving as Vice President for Economic Development for the group Smart Growth America, Zimmerman shared some thoughts on Metro’s current woes during a phone interview with ARLnow.com.
In 2002, Zimmerman and the Metro Board were actively seeking additional capital funding for Metro from Maryland, Virginia and the federal government — but to little avail. With inadequate funding, Metro wouldn’t be able to afford the track and station maintenance and new trains needed to keep the system running smoothly.
“It was foreseeable and it was foreseen,” he said of Metro’s problems today.
What would it take to fix the chronic system breakdowns that are causing long, frustrating commutes and chasing away riders? Zimmerman said it would take a lot more than that $1.5 billion figure sought in 2004 — and would likely require intervention by the federal government in the form of increased annual funding.
“What would actually make a difference is if [the federal government] would partner with our system… we have federal folks on the board but we don’t really have a federal funding partner,” he said. The feds have been providing funds to Metro for capital improvements, but Zimmerman argues that the level of funding doesn’t reflect Metro’s critical importance in helping the federal workforce in D.C. get to their jobs.
Arlington County is formulating the Pike transit plan as part of its Transit Development Plan (TDP), a state-mandated, ten-year strategy for bus service in the county. The process is expected to conclude by May 2016.
The county will be holding a series of workshops on the TDP starting Tuesday, Oct. 27. Input from the public is “critical to the success of future bus service in Arlington,” says the county’s TDP webpage, which has the full schedule of all four workshops.
This winter, following months of community outreach, the county expects to release preliminary recommendations for transit service improvements. The county will then gather more community feedback and make more tweaks before the plan is presented to the County Board next spring.
Eric Balliet, a county spokesman, said that officials have already gathered input from 3,300 survey respondents. Via email:
We’ve made significant progress on preparing the TDP update since the consultant team came on board in July. The consultants have been compiling and analyzing a large array of data to evaluate how existing ART and Metrobus services in the County are performing, including on-time performance, ridership and productivity. The input received from over 3,300 survey respondents, as part of the first phase of TDP outreach conducted this spring, was also reviewed and incorporated into the service assessment.
We are coordinating with our regional partners including Fairfax County, City of Alexandria and the District of Columbia to obtain their input, as well as WMATA staff related to the evaluation of transit services on Columbia Pike and in Pentagon City and Crystal City. We remain on track to prepare the TDP update by May 2016, when it is due to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
Following the streetcar’s cancellation last November, residents and business owners who were looking forward to the economic development the streetcar promised to bring to the Pike asked “what’s next?” Streetcar opponents said enhanced bus service would take the place of the streetcar and provide many of the same benefits.
“People need to understand that we will get a bus rapid transit system going,” County Board member Libby Garvey said on the day the streetcar was cancelled. “It will do everything the streetcar could and more. They’re going to be just fine.”
Nearly a year later, with little public discussion about transit save an online survey, some have expressed frustration that the Pike is still clogged with the usual buses and traffic, with no viable streetcar alternative in sight. A number of residents have even taken it upon themselves to propose exotic transit solutions, no matter how infeasible.
In May, County Board member John Vihstadt, who helped lead the charge against the streetcar, floated the idea of “Circulator-type buses” on the Pike. That was greeted with a collective groan from the pro-transit crowd at Greater Greater Washington.
“It’s sad that in a couple years, Arlington’s sense of itself and its national reputation for excellence, innovation, and forward thinking in transportation planning has degraded so much,” wrote Richard Layman, in the comments.
Construction on the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway will continue through the fall after being delayed by construction conflicts.
“Unforeseen utility conflicts, poor soil conditions and underground obstructions slowed work at several station locations,” the county said on the project’s website.
Arlington County is currently working with contractors to set a new completion date for the project, said county spokesman Eric Balliet, adding that the county will update the community once a schedule has been set.
The county is also holding a public meeting next week to give an update on transitway. The meeting on Oct. 8 will be held at the Residence Inn (2800 S. Potomac Avenue) from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Currently, the county is working on new transitway lanes and on three of the new stations, Balliet said. Crystal Drive, S. Clark Street and S. Bell Street are affected by the road construction, he added.
“New dedicated transit lanes in Potomac Yard are nearing completion,” Balliet said. “Traffic signs and station signage are being installed, and we’ve started testing LED signs and other technologies that will support the transitway. Our contractor recently resumed construction at several station locations where utility conflicts, poor soils and underground obstructions had slowed work.”
Once completed, the Crystal City Potomac Yard transitway will provide better bus service along the Route 1 corridor, especially during rush hour, the county said.
“The new 4.5-mile Transitway between the Crystal City and Braddock Road Metrorail stations will provide faster, more reliable bus service along the congested Route 1 corridor, with amenities designed to attract new riders,” the county said.
The transitway project broke ground in July 2014 and was originally slated to take 10 months.
Photo via Arlington County
Metro said that an inbound Orange Line train offloaded at East Falls Church just before 8:30 a.m. due to a brake problem.
That, coupled with reduced rush hour service on the two lines due to power issues around the Stadium-Armory station following last week’s transformer fire, has caused big delays.
Via Twitter, riders are reporting longer-than-usual waits between Orange and Silver Line trains. Trains that are arriving at Arlington stations are full, causing overcrowding at the stations as riders continue to wait for trains.
I've been in Clarendon metro for 40 minutes now. About 5 cars have arrived that were packed. Stem-to-stern. Fml https://t.co/md5kbILKzA
— Rachel Joy Larris (@RachelLarris) September 28, 2015
— Courtney Fogwell (@CourtneyFogwell) September 28, 2015
— David Buzby (@buzbyindc) September 28, 2015
Metro says that repairs on its nine-megawatt power substation near Stadium-Armory are expected to drag out over the next six months or so. During that time, speed restrictions will be in place around the station, and Orange and Silver Line trains will run less frequently during rush hour while skipping the station entirely — a strategy intended to reduce congestion while coping with the lack of track power around Stadium Armory.
“On Friday, Metro began running Orange and Silver line trains every 8 minutes during rush hours, rather than every 6 minutes, to reduce the number of trains in service at any one time,” the transit agency said in a press release. “Metro is also increasing the number of 8-car trains on the Orange and Blue lines to provide additional capacity.”
Hat tip to @unsuckdcmetro
Update at 5:00 p.m. — Service has been restored through the Stadium-Armory station, but residual delays are expected and trains will proceed through the station as a slow speed.
Update at 3:55 p.m. — The problems on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines will continue through the evening rush hour, Metro says.
Earlier: Those commuting to D.C. via the Blue, Orange and Silver lines are having a slow and sometimes chaotic go of it this morning due to a fire in the District.
A fire at a Metro-owned power substation near RFK Stadium was reported around 7:30 a.m. That fire has closed the Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue stations.
Metro says service is suspended between Eastern Market and Minnesota Avenue, with buses replacing trains. Riders are advised to expect delays on all three lines as a result.
Also, inbound Blue Line trains are running between Franconia and Rosslyn, but are forcing passengers off at Rosslyn to transfer to continue their trip. Overcrowding at Rosslyn has been reported. In some cases, Metro says, Blue Line trains are letting off at the Pentagon station.
Adding to the misery, traffic is very slow for those driving from Virginia to D.C. As of 9:30 a.m., delays extended the entire length of eastbound I-395 and started near Cherrydale and Lee Highway on eastbound I-66. Parts of Washington Blvd, Route 50 and the GW Parkway are also jammed.
The problems come a day before the Pope arrives in D.C., prompting mass road closures and an expected reliance on Metrorail for transportation.
— ClinicEscort (@ClinicEscort) September 21, 2015
File photo by BrianMKA
Update at 6:15 p.m. — The disabled train has been cleared and trains are no longer single tracking past the station, Metro says.
Earlier: A large scale fire department response has been dispatched to the East Falls Church Metro station for a report of smoke on a train.
Metro says that a Largo-bound Silver Line train has offloaded at the station after suffering a brake problem. Trains are now single tracking past the station.
Light smoke reportedly filled at least one of the train cars, according to scanner traffic.
Largo Town Center bound Silver Line train offloading at East Falls Church, brake problem. Trains holding behind. 547pm #wmata
— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) September 15, 2015
Orange/Silver Line: Single tracking through East Falls Church due to a disabled train at East Falls Church. Delays in both directions.
— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) September 15, 2015
Org/Sil Line: No longer single tracking. Residual delays continue in both directions due to an earlier train malfunction at E. Falls Church.
— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) September 15, 2015
Metro is describing the incident as a “medical emergency.” A Twitter user said a woman walked off the platform and onto the tracks.
“Lady just walked smooth off the platform onto the tracks at Ballston station right in front of me,” said @Durrrius.
Fire department radio traffic indicates that the patient has been removed from the tracks and is now being treated by medics.
Metro says that trains are again moving through the station, with residual delays in both directions.
Metro Transit Police responded to the Pentagon City Metro station around the beginning of the evening rush hour for a “report of [a] suspicious package,” Metro said via Twitter.
According to Metro spokesman Mike Tolbert, a “suspicious note” was found on a train. The note was similar to another note — a bomb threat — that caused delays on the Blue, Silver and Orange lines this morning, Tolbert said.
Trains single tracked between the Pentagon City and National Airport stations for about a half hour as a result of the investigation. Metro said officers determined that the threat was “unfounded” and an all clear was given. Full service resumed, though with significant residual delays.
The incident even caused delays on the Green Line in D.C. “due to earlier congestion from delayed Yellow Line trains.”
WMATA says it has placed a speed restriction on the bridge, limiting trains to just 15 miles per hour. The restriction is “part of Metro’s aggressive campaign to fix track conditions identified following inspections after the derailment of a non-passenger train in early August,” the transit agency said online.
Replacement of metal fasteners on the Yellow Line bridge is currently underway, Metro said, but may take 6-8 weeks.
“While it may seem like slow-going, we do not expect significant delays,” the agency said. “However, if there is another issue such as a disabled train, switch problem or medical emergency, the speed restriction may result in congestion prior to the speed restriction area.”
Additional 15 mph restrictions are in place on the Orange, Silver and Blue lines between Foggy Bottom and Farragut West, and in three sections on the Red Line. Readers and an ARLnow.com reporter have also observed trains running slowly in a portion of the tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom.
In addition to the slow restrictions, Metro says it has also placed “medium restrictions” of up to 40 mph in certain parts of the Metrorail system.
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) September 1, 2015
The Columbia Heights Civic Association will meet next month to discuss the possibility of a pod transit system on Columbia Pike.
Such a system could help ease congestion on the Pike, which is currently choked with tightly spaced and frequently stopping buses, particularly during the morning and evening rush hours.
The Columbia Pike streetcar was supposed to be a solution to that problem, but many Arlington residents objected to the system’s cost and the fact that it ran in mixed traffic. Ultimately, the project was canceled.
While a cost-effective, monorail-like transit system that runs above traffic seems ideal in theory, there are questions about the system’s real-world feasibility, cost and the trustworthiness of the company that’s proposing it.
(The system, as conceived, would be built with private funds and would be privately owned.)
Overall, what do you think of the pod transit idea that the civic association will be proposing?
(Updated on Aug. 27 at 10:50 a.m.) Might a monorail-like system be the solution to Columbia Pike’s transit woes?
The Columbia Heights Civic Association is holding a meeting on Sept. 28 to discuss JPods, a transit system that uses suspended railcars, as a possible solution for Columbia Pike in light of the cancelled streetcar.
“We’re excited about this possibility,” said Sarah McKinley, one of the Columbia Heights Civic Association Board members.
The owner of JPods, Bill James, has looked at the Pike and thinks it is a good location for the gondola-like system, McKinley said.
JPod users would get into a pod at a station and then program in an address for where he or she wants to go.
“Think of it like a chauffeured car,” James said.
There could be several hundred to 1,000 pods on the Columbia Pike network. There is a possibility of turning the transit system into a grid, with JPods running from Columbia Pike to Metro stations and other parts of Northern Virginia, he said.
The solar-powered pod system would be privately funded, according to James. The JPods website lists the average cost for installing a network as $10 million, though there’s no word on how much it might cost to construct along the Pike.
Before the project was canceled, the cost of the five mile Columbia Pike streetcar line was estimated at $358 million.
If JPods were approved for Arlington, a network could be built along the Pike in a year, James said.
“[With JPods] you’ll be able to get around most cities like [you can in] New York, without cars,” he said.
Arlington County has been “made aware” of the JPods system, said Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet.
“It’s too early to comment on it because we have not received any detailed technical or cost information that can be evaluated,” he said. “The JPod information we have seen says it would not require any public funding.”
Arlington County does not expect to decide on an alternative transit plan for the Pike until next year.
A third entrance to the Pentagon City Metro station is slated to open as soon as next month.
Arlington County is wrapping up work on a Metro entrance on the northeast corner of S. Hayes Street and 12th Street S., next to the offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Transportation Security Administration, the latter of which is moving to Alexandria in two years.
The stairs-only entrance and pedestrian access tunnel connect to what is currently a set of glass doors in the station’s mezzanine. While no official opening date has been set yet, the opening is “tentatively scheduled for the end of September,” according to Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet.
The entrance and tunnel was actually first built in 1984, but “for a number of reasons, was never opened to the public,” according to the county. In order to open it, the county needed to rehabilitate the tunnel, repairing lighting, electrical connections, leaks, deteriorated doors and gates, floor tiles and other 30-year-old infrastructure. The county also added security cameras, an emergency call box and new signage.
The total cost of the project is $1.3 million. The county says the expense is worth it in order to provide another entrance to a busy station next to the Arlington’s largest shopping center. The new entrance may also help accommodate a coming influx of riders from new development in the area, including a new Whole Foods.
“The opening of the entryway will provide an additional access/egress point to this busy Metrorail station, one of the County’s highest ridership stations, and to the adjacent retail center, Fashion Centre,” the county said in its recent Capital Improvement Plan.
The county, not WMATA, will be responsible for ongoing maintenance of the tunnel.
Just as Metro was recovering from yesterday’s derailment in D.C., a train became stranded between the East Falls Church and West Falls Church stations around 6 a.m. due to a reported power problem.
Arlington firefighters helped to unload passengers, who walked down the tracks to the East Falls Church station.
Orange and Silver Line service was suspended between the two station for more than an hour. Trains are now single-tracking between the two stations, with delays in both directions. The train that lost power is still sitting helplessly on the track.
Orange and Silver Line commuters weren’t the only ones affected by Metro problems this morning. A Yellow Line train suffered a reported brake problem at National Airport around 7:30 a.m. The train was offloaded and taken out of service, but not before causing delays.
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) August 7, 2015
Arlington County has added eight new buses to its fleet in order to provide more frequent bus service along several routes.
Additional bus service will be added to the ART 41 (Columbia Pike, Ballston and Courthouse), 43 (Crystal City, Rosslyn and Courthouse) and 87 (Pentagon Metro, Army Navy Drive and Shirlington) routes starting Monday, July 6, according to press release.
The new bus service on Columbia Pike is just an initial step in improving transit on the Pike, said Eric Balliet, spokesman for the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services.
“This is definitely one of the first steps we can take to show our commitment to the corridor and our commitment to transit,” he said.
The ART 41 route will have more frequent service with the bus coming every 15 minutes during the day and every 23 minutes during weekday and Saturday nights.
The enhanced service is one way Arlington is addressing the transit needs that remained after the streetcar program was cut, Balliet said.
The ART 43 route will have buses run about every 10 minutes with extended service until 10:35 a.m. during morning rush hour and 7:47 p.m. during the evening commute.
The ART 87 will be getting new Sunday service, which will run from 7:14 a.m. to 7:11 p.m. The route will also have extended service until 11:41 p.m. on weekdays and 11:53 p.m. on Saturdays. On the weekends, the service will run to the Pentagon City Metro Station instead of the Pentagon Metro Station.
The county is also adding a new ART 87P line, which will run between the Pentagon and S. Lang Street. During rush hour, service will alternate every 10 minutes between the full ART 87 line and the ART 87P line.
“Anything we can do to make [commuting] more convenient, we think customers will appreciate,” Balliet said.
In order to provide the advance service, the county added eight new 40-foot buses to the ART fleet. The new buses are 5 feet longer than the standard ART buses, which allow for more seats and more standing room, he said.
The new buses are being added to routes with high ridership.
“These bus service improvements are a first step in meeting the current transit needs for Columbia Pike and Crystal City-Pentagon City, as we work to create vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods along these corridors,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “Every day ART helps thousands of Arlingtonians get to work, school and other activities, and the additional service will make ART an even more reliable transportation choice all week long.”