Talkin’ Transit

Photo courtesy of
‘Horton #23′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

Some of you might know me from my photo posts here, and I hope you’ll humor me as I branch out to talk about a subject I love. Or, well, more accurately, a subject I love to hate. As anyone who follows my Twitter stream can attest, I’m not exactly happy with the state of Metro Rail at the moment. But I thought I’d start my new contribution to Talkin’ Transit on a more positive note.

Many times, you’re on the platform waiting for a train and it breaks down. You’re headed home, tired, impatient. The big board was saying ten minutes until your train; now it says “No Passengers,” instead. The announcer makes some vague pronouncement of a problem that is now cleared, “and all trains are moving normally.” When the next train arrives, though, you see it is jam packed — a Caps or Nationals game was just wrapping up, or worse, it’s still rush hour.

A few years ago, Metro installed big expensive signs in every station. They were there to tell you a few bits of information: which elevators were out, when the next train was coming, and so on. On the screen that displays the trains, it also told you what color line the train was servicing and how many cars made up that train.

I found it odd the number of people who didn’t seem to pay any attention to this board. Sure, it isn’t always accurate, but most of the time it is very close. Generally, if it says there is another train after this one, and that train is arriving in three minutes, you could count on that. But people ignore that information and always try to cram onto the first available train. Human nature, maybe?

The other thing you can count on is the board telling you how many cars make up a train. Most trains are six cars, and they stop at the front of the platform. I consistently stand toward the front and get on one of the first two cars. They are almost always less crowded than the rear of the train.

When the sign says an eight-car train is coming (sometimes it lists them as two-car trains, but that seems to be a bug), I go to the rear of the platform. The last car in an eight-car train is … deserted. It is rare that I don’t get a seat.

And this brings me back to the situation a few paragraphs up. On Saturday, this happened to me. The empty train went past, and as I stood there at the front of the platform, I noticed the next Orange line train was to be an eight-car train, and it was 15 minutes out. I walked to the other side of the platform, and when the train rumbled in, the front six cars were packed like sardines. There were a dozen people in the last car, where I snagged a seat for my ride home.

I recommend, if you have internet service in the Metro, that you bookmark your most frequently used stations so you don’t have to strain to read the status board.

Do you have any tips for making the hellish Metro ride a little smoother? Drop them in the comments, please!

Born in Lebanon, Samer moved to DC to go to college. A lot of good that did him. Twenty-two years later, he still lives in the area. When he’s not writing for a blog or tweeting incessantly, he wanders the streets (and the globe) photographing whatever gets in his way.

9 thoughts on “Talkin’ Transit

  1. Thing is, more than once I’ve had a sign say the next Red Line train is an ’8′ and gotten a 6-car train instead, so standing at the back of the station can be dicey.

  2. And I’ve seen at a few stations the electronic boards aren’t correct with times. At McPherson, usually they’re about 2-3 minutes off – nothing’s more irritating than seeing “Franconia – 3 min” on the board and the train is pulling away from the platform… and when it’s in the tunnel, the board flips to “BRD”.

    I know with Blue Line trains, even the last car in a 6-car is packed. It’s usually the front car that’s empty.

  3. I don’t ride in the first or last car anymore. Whenever there is an accident that’s where the most people get hurt. I ride everyday and with as many accidents as we have been having sitting isn’t worth it.

  4. In the effort to keep the front cars empty, please stop giving away the secret to everyone!!! It’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

    I agree that at times there are some problems with the next train timing, but overall it seems pretty good (give or take a minute).

    I think the entire metro experience could be improved if people just used some common sense and courtesy.

    A few examples:
    - move to the center of the train when it’s packed.
    - when exiting the train, DO NOT immediately stop and try to figure out where you’re going.
    - use your “inside” voice. The last thing anyone wants/needs in the morning is to hear you shouting about your babysitter, boyfriend, husband, plumbing problems, hair disasters, etc.

    I personally would be a big advocate of figuring out a way for tourists to either be banned from riding the metro during rush hour or have tourist-specific cars for them.

  5. i’m a big fan of standing at the ends of the platforms – but i never thought about it in terms of car crowding. i just figure that as long as i’m standing around waiting for a train, i might as well move to the end of the platform that’s going to put me as close as possible to my intended exit/transfer in the destination station. and since most of the stations i use have exits at the ends, that means i’m never in the middle cars.

    i work down at the navy yard – and last summer overheard a cop shouting over the crowd leaving a nats game to move to the ends of the train that “you’re not all tourists. you don’t have to be in the middle car”.

    oh. and about that “the end cars are more dangerous” thing. the 1000-series cars are more dangerous – i’m sure the end cars are worse in the event of an actual collision, as has happened three times (with passengers on board) in metro’s history, but that empty train that slammed into a parked one in one of metro’s yards totaled 3 or 4 1000-series cars that were in the middle of the consist… until metro gets proper capital funding, its just not going to be as safe as it could be. still safer than driving though.

  6. When you ride often enough and to the same destinations each day, my favorite tip is to board the car that you know will drop you closest to your escalator without having to fight the crowd on the platform once exiting.
    When I used to work at GP/Chinatown I always got on the first car at VN creating a quick getaway as I arrived. Same held true for the ride home as those prescious extra steps on the platform, and behind the crowd could sometimes make or break your chances of catching the bus once on street level. Nothing worse than emerging from underground to see your pull away when you could have made it if you thought ahead.

  7. At L’Enfant there are almost never any empty cars. If you’re there waiting for the Yellow and the Nats fans are clogging the platform waiting for a Green, it’s very tough to get on your train because a large percentage of the Nats fans are either too clueless or too rude to get out of the way, even though the Yellow inevitably shows up first. Metro needs to get more employees down there to keep a little order. Rowdy baseball fans versus tired commuters leads to a lot of angst.

  8. Last Friday was my first time riding the metro in a while. Things went pretty well heading from Shady Grove down to the Caps game. On the way out from the game people were crowding the middle of the platform, but other than stopping for a while when they were single-tracking a section there weren’t any problems.

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