ROCKVILLE – Buses are replacing trains between six stations in Virginia during a shutdown that will last longer than three months so Metro can replace and repair station platforms and other infrastructure.
Kevin Gomez, a Gaithersburg resident who lives near Flower Hill, said while waiting on the Rockville Station platform that he did not know about the shutdown. Upon learning about it, he said he was concerned for the riders whose commute time will be increased. He wondered out loud why Metro is using shuttle buses instead of single-tracking for the platform project, given that buses replacing Metro trains will add time to riders’ commutes.
“If I have to get off at one station…if I have to get on a bus and the bus drives me through neighborhoods and (expletive) to, like, get there, that’s different! That’s not the train,” Gomez said. “That’s not (where) you sit down and you just chill and you get to where you need to go.”
Gomez said he takes the Metro every week for work. While waiting on the Red Line platform, an audio announcement played. He said he could not understand the recorded announcement with its fuzzy sound even though he speaks five languages.
Leading up to the shutdown, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and local elected officials encouraged riders who would be affected to plan to use alternate forms of transportation.
“As a region, we have been preparing for the start of this major capital project for more than a year, and the partnership with Northern Virginia has yielded a robust network of travel alternatives,” Wiedefeld said in a news release. “Customers have many good options, but I encourage everyone to take the time to study the shuttle options, learn more about the bus routes that serve your neighborhood, and then be prepared to add an extra half hour to your regular travel time.”
Virginia resident Imani Prince, who works in Bethesda, said her commute is ordinarily two hours, but that increased to three hours with the shutdown arrangements.
“The first Saturday (May 25) they shut down the Metro stops I had two buses pass me because they were not picking up passengers,” Prince said.
During the shutdown, workers will rebuild or repair the platforms where people wait for the subway at six stations on the Blue and Yellow lines.
“Metro is monitoring the shuttle bus operation day and night so that we can make adjustments to better meet the rider demand,” said Metro spokesperson Ian Jannetta.
The stations — Braddock Road, King Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield — will remain closed through Sept. 8.
“State and local transportation agencies have established a robust travel alternative network to help residents navigate the rail shutdown,” according to a May 22 news release from Metro, which also stated: “This includes additional service on local Metrobus, DASH, Fairfax Connector, and OmniRide routes, as well as service on Virginia Railway Express, Amtrak, and more.”
The organization scheduled other infrastructure-related projects to occur during the shutdown in the same location, including the complete replacement of a crossover — the device that trains use to switch from one track to the other, which is required for single-tracking trains, north of King Street Station according to a memorandum to the Board Capital and Strategic Planning Committee dated May 10, 2018.
Jannetta confirmed that contractors are responsible for driving the shuttle buses, which Metro is calling express shuttles.
“We have contractors driving the express shuttle buses, and then we have, obviously, Metrobus drivers on our routes, which we have increased service on some of the routes to compensate for increased demand,” Jannetta said.
Gomez was not the only Montgomery County resident unaware of, though not inconvenienced by, the shutdown. King Farm resident Didem Bernard, 49, said she rides the Red Line every day to Twinbrook for work but that she did not know about the shutdown. It was not the first time she was unaware of a shutdown occurring outside the Red Line. She believes Metro should have posters similar to the advertisements on Metro trains or in stations to inform riders about shutdowns so they know where to wait for a shuttle.
The schedule of the current shutdown on the Blue and Yellow line stations outlasts any of the shutdowns during Metro’s year-long SafeTrack program of repairs, replacements and maintenance a few years ago. This was characterized by round-the-clock single tracking and shutdowns during projects important to safety.
“The current Blue /Yellow shutdown south of the airport is the longest station shutdown to date,” Jannetta wrote in an email.
General Manager Wiedefeld has said that the work completed during SafeTrack had been scheduled for a span of three years but was compressed into a single year.
Bernard primarily travels on the Red Line except for when she might travel downtown for an occasional conference. She said she would not be thrilled if a shutdown occurs for platform construction work on the Red Line.
Rhode Island Avenue Station on the Red Line — one of the oldest stations in the system — is scheduled for maintenance or repair in September 2020 as part of Metro’s multi-year “platform reconstruction” program, of which the ongoing Blue and Yellow Line stations are a part.