WHEATON—Local officials gathered at the entrance of the Wheaton Metro station to recognize the end of the Silver Spring turnbacks.
Councilmember Tom Hucker, who serves as the chair of the Transportation and Environment Committee, explained that by ending the Silver Spring turnbacks, commuters in the area can expect to see twice as many trains and shorter wait times to get to their destinations.
“For too long, as long as (Forest Glen, Wheaton and Glenmont Metro stations) have been in operation, our riders north of Silver Spring have paid full fare and received half the service,” Hucker said in his opening remarks. “Year after year, they’ve had to wait longer for a train and have had a harder time getting a seat. We heard testimony from many who have been late for work, late picking up kids or sadly who felt forced to drive because Metro was not a realistic option for them, and they deserve better.”
Since July 1, all of the Red Line trains are running from Glenmont station and effectively double service for riders at stations above Silver Spring, according to Hucker’s office.
In 1984, Metro began running trains on a turnback schedule for stations north of Grosvenor and Silver Spring. Instead of running all the way to the end of the line, half of the trains would turn back at Silver Spring station and head toward Washington, D.C.
This pattern meant more train service for the population-dense area along the Red Line near the District. However, turning trains back before they reached the end of their line meant that riders looking to get to the Wheaton or Glenmont stations would need to get off and wait to transfer to another train that runs less frequently. In other words, commuters would need to budget even more time into their commute.
“This is truly a big deal for those 11,000 riders (that use stations above Silver Spring), but it’s also a win-win-win for our region,” Hucker said. “It’s a big deal for those riders, because ending the turnback means they will be now served by twice as many trains and have a better chance of getting a seat, but it also means that they’ll be more likely to get to work on time and have more time with their families at night.”
Hucker went on to explain that by making Metro services more convenient, more riders will choose it over driving themselves, which means fewer cars on the road, safer conditions for pedestrians and a reduced carbon footprint for the county.
County Council President Nancy Navarro noted that changes that make improvements to the community are important because they help to enhance the quality of life in Montgomery County.
“These are the types of incremental improvements that will allow us to say that yes, we have absolutely reliable transit,” she said. “There is so much happening in Wheaton that (ending the Silver Spring turnbacks) will be another added asset to the area.”
Councilmember Evan Glass noted that improvements like these are a step toward greater social and racial equity in the county.
“We know that increased access to public transportation is one of economic development and social and racial equity, and we need to do right by all our residents of Montgomery County, making sure that they can safely and efficiently commute throughout our system,” Glass said.
He also took some time to announce free bus service for all residents under the age of 18 in Montgomery County. Glass explained that he was pleased to hear that many young people in the county already know about the free access to Metro bus and Ride On, but he also promised to keep improving transit in the county.
According to Hucker’s office, the decision to end the turnbacks came after a town hall discussion back in January. He explained that the Metro riders he spoke with were very pleased that the Grosvenor turnback ended late last year. But, he explained, he felt that it was biased if only one side of the Red Line received improvements.
“I said at that (last fall) that (ending the Grosvenor turnback) is great, but I represent this side of the county, and it’s not fair to leave the east side out to help the west side, so I’m really happy that we got here today,” Hucker said.
Hucker explained that making these improvements took so long simply because of funding.
“Metro really has a finite amount of resources, and what they said at the time back in 1984 was that they were focused on keeping the trains serving the stations south of Silver Spring and in the urban core of D.C at the expense of serving stations like Wheaton and Glenmont,” he said.
In the past, areas like Glenmont weren’t as developed as neighborhoods to the south, so it could be argued, he explained, that this plan made sense.
“But this development didn’t happen overnight; these areas have been filling up with residents for years, and Metro hasn’t restored full service,” Hucker said. “So, this is going to mean a lot to the riders that board at these three stations.”