Metro’s Board of Directors may approve an increase in rush-hour service on part of the Red Line during its meeting Thursday, a change the board requested three years ago.
If all Red Line trains that would normally start or terminate at Grosvenor-Strathmore Station instead traveled past Grosvenor to Shady Grove, as in the proposed change, that would double the service to Shady Grove and three other stations.
The board will vote on both a service increase for four Red Line stations during rush hour and on whether it approves a federally-required equity analysis of the service increase. An employee posted the equity analysis, formally known as a Title VI analysis, on Metro’s website Monday.
Currently, some Red Line trains heading to or from Shady Grove Station stop and turn around at Grosvenor-Strathmore Station rather than at Shady Grove Station. Metro Board members and Montgomery County Council members call this arrangement the “Grosvenor turn-back.” Rush-hour riders boarding at stations from Shady Grove to White Flint must wait eight minutes for a train, whereas riders standing on the Grosvenor-Strathmore platform have to wait only four minutes, according to the schedule.
The service increase, if approved, could involve directing all the rush-hour trains that haven’t been traveling north of Grosvenor-Strathmore Station, to continue traveling all the way to Shady Grove and stop at the stations in between. Complete elimination of the Grosvenor turn-backs would involve the four stations – Shady Grove, Rockville, Twinbrook and White Flint – receiving twice the current train frequency during rush hour.
Another option the board is considering is reducing but not eliminating the Grosvenor turn-backs.
County Council President Hans Riemer said he’s excited about the possibility of the Grosvenor turn-backs ending.
“Half of the trains currently turn back during rush hour, and they head back in the other direction,” skipping four Red Line stations, Riemer said.
Back in June, Gary Erenrich, special assistant to Montgomery County Transportation Director, said in his analysis of ridership and passenger loading of the Grosvenor turn-back, obtained by the Sentinel, that he is concerned about ridership and crowding at the four lesser-served stations.
“The crowding worsens on the Shady Grove trains when compared to trains that originate at Grosvenor. The result is an uneven passenger loading and longer station dwell times, and poorer customer experience,” said Erenrich. “If all the trains started at Shady Grove, then there would not be an uneven passenger loading, [and there would be] improved on-time performance, and a better customer experience” from Cleveland Park to Farragut North.
Citing Metro data from April 30, Erenrich said the trains starting at Shady Grove had every seat filled by the time they reached Grosvenor-Strathmore Station, with about 75 people per car. Between 7:48 a.m. and 8:48 a.m., every car had more than 100 riders by the time the trains reached Grosvenor-Strathmore, so Erenrich concluded the Grosvenor turn-backs are a safety issue. He said he expected midweek ridership to show additional crowding, although he had data only for April 30, which was a Monday.
County Executive Ike Leggett has planned and budgeted to increase housing near Metro stations, also known as transit-oriented development, under his “Smart Growth Initiative.” Multiple-housing complexes are near the four stations for which elimination of the Grosvenor turn-back would increase service.
Metro Board member Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said increasing Red Line service to the area would enhance the appeal of nearby current and planned housing complexes, many of which fall under the Smart Growth Initiative.
“Better Red Line service will make those Red Line properties more attractive,” Goldman said.
Although the Metro Board is scheduled to approve partial or complete elimination of the Grosvenor turn-backs Thursday, Metro has the money for the turn-backs already. The board during a meeting in June voted to amend the Fiscal Year 2019 budget to fund the additional service for up to full elimination of the Grosvenor turn-backs.
Federal Board member Steve McMillin voted against the turn-back elimination money, saying he disagreed with funding the service increase before the board had approved the service increase itself. He added that he was concerned after Metro staff said the four stations might require $20 million to $30 million in improvements to ensure the safety and reliability of service with the additional trains.
The board added $1.25 million for the additional service for the remainder of FY ’19. In future budgets, full elimination of the Grosvenor turn-backs would cost $2.5 million per year.
The change would be permanent, although the general manager would retain the ability to propose changes to service levels in the future.
Goldman said riders seem to prefer the Grosvenor Station so they don’t have to wait as long for a train.
“Commuters are voting with their actions that they would rather have four-minute waits to eight-minute waits,” said Goldman.
Goldman said Grosvenor-Strathmore Station’s parking lot and garage are closer to being full on weekdays, compared with White Flint, Twinbrook and Rockville station parking lots.
Riemer said he hopes the board approves the Grosvenor turn-back elimination, but also that Metro will someday increase the number of eight-car trains and eliminate the turn-back at the opposite end of the Red Line, which includes Silver Spring Station. He added he wants to see Metro run more trains per hour in general.
“You have a lot of room for improvement as far as our service level,” said Riemer of Metrorail in the County.
The board agreed to reduce late-night service to allow more time for maintenance and repairs starting in 2016.
On the operational side, Metro staff wrote in a memorandum to the board for the Thursday meeting that they had studied operations involved with ending the Grosvenor turn-backs. The staff determined that Metro needs more oversight of dispatching trains, and it plans to add more staff to oversee dispatch of trains. Staff did not indicate whether the probable future positions would require additional operating funds.
Metro’s Board of Directors signed a motion in 2015 ordering staff to propose ways to eliminate the Grosvenor turn-backs, to start July 1, 2018, although staff told the board earlier this year that the soonest Metro could increase service is December.