Talkin’ Transit: Mish-Mash Morning

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘bankbryan’

Mish-mash of transit for your morning perusal.

HOT Lanes Delayed: While the Beltway HOT Lane construction continues forward, Virigina has decided to delay building additional HOT lanes on I-395 and I-95. The economy is the answer that’s been trotted out; state leaders fear that they won’t be able to get money from the bond market and the state has no more money to spend. The Beltway project is expected to be completed by 2012, with the outer lanes opening as early as next year.

Officials were pretty specific in stating the project has been delayed, not abandoned, though there is still a lot of concern with local officials, who feel the proposed project will adversely affect their communities and neighborhood traffic patterns.

Construction was supposed to begin next summer.

ICC & I-95: This week began a traffic pattern shift along I-95 as construction continues on the Intercounty Connector in Prince George’s County. Several lanes are being closed or shifted in both northbound and southbound directions from Route 198 to Route 212. Closures begin as early as 8 p.m. and re-open before morning rush. The closures will be in effect until Sept. 29.

VRE Gets Stimulated: The federal government has awarded $9.8 million to the Virginia Railway Express, money needed to purchase 12 more locomotives. The funds fall under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will be administered by the Federal Transit Administration.

The current locomotive fleet consists of 20 engines that can pull an average of six cars; the new engines the VRE is purchasing are more powerful and efficient, capable of pulling 10 cars each (at 144 passengers a car) and will help the service expand its current capacity.

Photo courtesy of
‘Orange Line to Vienna’
courtesy of ‘cacophony76′

WMATA. What’s transit news in DC without stuff from WMATA?

Operator Follow-up: As we suspected earlier this month, the bus driver who was on her cell phone has been exonerated by an internal investigation. No such luck for two other bus drivers however; one was canned for having a suspended license, the other for kidnapping. That’s right – kidnapping.

More Noise, Plz: Like it or not, Metro started installing equipment this week that will provide service to three additional wireless carriers: Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. Twenty stations are the first to get upgrades, with the rest of the stations seeing the upgrades by fall of 2010. Full underground service – as in, while in the tunnels – is expected by 2012. Those who rely on wireless service are most likely happy they’ll be able to connect while underground. Those who enjoy the quiet commute right now with minimal cell chatter? Not so much.

I wonder if WMATA will go the MARC and VRE route and begin a “quiet car” service…

Ridership Falling: WMATA reported yesterday that ridership has fallen across the system in July, dropping 2.3 percent on Metrorail compared to last year. Bus ridership dropped 4.1 percent. Both services saw decreases of roughly 1.6 percent in June as well.

Fortunately, Metro hasn’t come right out and blamed the June 22 crash as the reason. There are other factors involved – lower gas prices than last year, tighter economic crunch and so on – so for now, the next several months will truly tell the tale. Still, Metro officials can’t be pleased; the lingering effects of the crash, coupled with continued stories of safety issues, deaths and a general lack of respect for the agency by the public will only continue the slide.

If they can get the Red Line back up to speed, however, I’m sure the decreasing ridership will slow down considerably.

Where the Riders Are: Greater Greater Washington did a very cool unofficial survey of where Metro riders are and what trains are truly the most crowded. Kudos to Matt Johnson over at GGW for the awesome map.

Photo courtesy of
‘Metro Fail’
courtesy of ‘Karon’

Red Line Angst: Speaking of our beleaguered Red Line… As the investigation into June’s accident continues, Metro has told passengers that manual operation of trains will continue indefinitely. Not a fun prospect, that. Manual trains tend to be more jerky with longer station waiting and delays – especially on the one-train-at-a-time stretch of track where the crash occurred.

WMATA officials have said the switch is a safety precaution. Federal investigators at the National Travel and Safety Board have said that the automatic control system to prevent crashes is supposed to work regardless of automatic or manual operation; that system is the focus of the investigation. So really, manual operation isn’t exactly that much safer.

Especially when you consider what a consultant was quoted saying in the Washington Post article: “Operating a train is a very repetitive task. You do the same thing all the time. There’s complacency. [The operator] could be tired. He could be preoccupied. He could be taking medication. . . . There is nothing inherently unsafe about operating in manual mode, but you introduce more risk.”

Metro GM John Catoe, Jr. has been emphatic that trains won’t be running in automatic mode until he’s personally satisfied that every aspect of the June crash has been corrected. Which may take YEARS. The NTSB won’t issue their final report for months yet, which will include recommended fixes. (And Metro isn’t beholden to follow those recommendations, either, as they’ve so aptly proven before.) Never mind the fact that one of the early recommendations is the installation of a real-time, continuous backup for the current glitchy system.

So for the foreseeable future, it’s herky-jerky rides and long lines for all of us.

Anyone want to carpool?

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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