Metro’s Board of Directors passed a motion Thursday to increase rush hour service at selected Red Line Metro stations, starting in December.
“For ten years, Montgomery County has made it a priority to eliminate the Grosvenor turn-backs,” Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said. “I am gratified that the Metrorail board has acted to provide continuous service on all trains for riders to White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville and Shady Grove. We are grateful to WMATA board members Michael Goldman and Kathy Porter as well as Montgomery County Department of Transportation staff for their hard work in this regard.”
The Board took final action to extend all early-ending Red Line train routes from Grosvenor to Shady Grove, eliminating what Metro board members and County Council members call the “Grosvenor turn-back.” Currently, about half of rush hour Red Line trains start and end at Grosvenor-Strathmore Station, rather than at Shady Grove Station.
When the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board’s motion takes effect, Red Line riders at the four stations north of Grosvenor-Strathmore Station will see a train frequency increase from every eight minutes to every four minutes, which would mean 15 trains per hour. Red Line stations Shady Grove, Rockville, Twinbrook and White Flint are scheduled to have more frequent trains during rush hour by December. Metro has not released a specific date for when all rush hour trains will travel past Grosvenor-Strathmore and travel all the way to Shady Grove.
“I am grateful that WMATA’s Board kept their commitment to run trains all the way to Shady Grove during peak hours, instead of stopping half of them at Grosvenor,” Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer said. “The turn-back negatively affects our residents by severely diminishing service to the White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville and Shady Grove stations. This hurts ridership precisely at a time when we are working hard to provide residents with reliable transit options.”
Metro may be forced to temporarily reduce the number of rush hour trains per hour on the entire Metrorail system, including the Red Line, from Jan. 1 until Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority railcar manufacturer Kawasaki can replace the rubber barriers between railcars for another type of between-car barrier. Metro’s chief safety officer Pat Lavin said that may not happen until 11 months after the Dec. 31 deadline.
Henrika Buchanan, acting associate administrator for the Federal Transit Administration’s Office of Transit and Safety Oversight, ordered Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in an immediate-action letter to replace the between-car barriers in the 7000-series trains, Metro’s newest series of railcars, citing a safety concern.
On June 22 she directed Wiedefeld to write a plan to retrofit the bumper-like, between-car barriers with chain between-car barriers, as on the older series trains by Dec. 31. FTA would then need to approve the plan and routinely monitor Metro’s progress in completing it.
If Metro misses the Dec. 31 deadline, starting next year Metro would need to take all 7000-series trains offline until manufacturer Kawasaki finds a contractor to supply the new part and install it on 7000-series trains before returning them to service. Then, FTA could withhold up to 25 percent of funds from WMATA’s section 5703 Urbanized Area Formula funds until Metro meets the terms Buchanan outlined.
WMATA chief safety officer Pat Lavin told Buchanan in his response that Metro likely would not have the 7000-series trains retrofitted with the chain between-car barriers until November 2019.
Maryland Board member Goldman said Monday that after talking with WMATA safety officials, he is not worried about railcar availability after the Dec. 31 deadline.
“There’s numerous transit systems and railroads throughout the country … [that use] that kind of paddle separation between the train cars, so I just can’t see the FTA imposing that requirement on WMATA as one system out of 10 or 15 in the country that has exactly the same separation barrier,” Goldman said.
Buchanan sent Wiedefeld the immediate-action letter after a woman with impaired vision stepped off a Metro platform and fell between two 7000-series train cars onto the tracks on May 25, suffering minor injuries.
Lavin said in his response to Buchanan on June 29 that the woman’s fall was one attempt at boarding among thousands of riders with vision impairments entering the 7000-series railcars without mistaking a space between railcars for a doorway and falling between the cars. Without the 7000-series railcars in service, rush hour headways would have to increase to 12 minutes for the entire rail system.
Riemer next said he wants the Metro Board to eliminate the other set of Red Line turn-backs – located at the opposite end of the line.
“Montgomery County residents deserve full, reliable service on the Red Line, and the next step is to eliminate the turn-back on the east side at Forest Glen station, and run all of the trains all the way to Glenmont,” Council President Riemer said.