WASHINGTON – Metro’s Board of Directors voted to end train turnbacks permanently on part of the Red Line July 25 after a six-month evaluation period.
Metro staff reported that Red Line ridership and Metro parking usage increased at select stations from December through June, the first six months without the turnback at Grosvenor/Strathmore Station, compared to the period of September 2018 to December 2018.
Metro’s Board of Directors on July 25 voted to solidify the end to the Grosvenor turnbacks, a service change that started in December.
Since the 1980s, rush hour Red Line trains would arrive at Shady Grove, Rockville, Twinbrook and White Flint stations half as often as most of the other stations on the Red Line. This was due to Metro having too few railcars.
Up until Dec. 17, half of rush hour trains traveling from either Glenmont Station or Silver Spring Station would go out of service upon arriving at Grosvenor station due to the turnbacks; half of the trains traveling toward Glenmont station would enter service at Grosvenor rather than Shady Grove. Riders either boarding or exiting at the Shady Grove to White Flint Stations now have to wait about four minutes for a train during rush hour instead of about eight minutes.
In its written resolution in 2018 for ending the Grosvenor turnbacks, the board had asked Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld to write a report about the effects of turnback elimination on service. Metro staff reported in a memorandum to the Safety and Operations Committee for the July 25 meeting that Red Line rush hour trains continued to arrive on time, despite the increase in the number of trains, and that rush- hour train overcrowding at stations west of Grosvenor happened less frequently.
“Customers at the stations with increased service (…) also saw improved OTP (on-time performance) in the first six months of 2019 versus the last four months of 2018,” according to a memo to the committee. “Additionally, there were no reports of issues with train spacing, or Shady Grove Terminal or Rail Control Center (ROCC) operations.”
Ridership at Shady Grove, Rockville, Twinbrook and White Flint also increased after elimination of the turnback, according to the memorandum, by about 3%, compared to September to December 2018. Riders needed 16% less time to exit the affected stations during evening rush hour, compared to when the turnbacks were in place, according to the July 25 memorandum for the Safety and Operations Committee.
Safety and Operations Committee Chairman Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said he learned from Montgomery County transportation officials that the reason it takes riders less time to exit Shady Grove through White Flint stations is that the stations are less crowded when riders exit the trains than they were during the evening rush-hour period prior to terminating the turnback. The reduction in crowding during the evening rush hour was especially noticeable at Shady Grove.
Montgomery County’s Gary Erenrich, special assistant to the director of Montgomery County Department of Transportation, wrote in an analysis dated July 15 that Metro data showed reduced parking congestion at Grosvenor Station and increased parking usage at the Shady Grove to White Flint stations from February to May, compared to February to May 2018.
“Eliminating the peak period Red Line turnbacks at Grosvenor has increased ridership at White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville and Shady Grove, and has reduced parking congestion at Grosvenor,” Erenrich wrote in a report obtained by The Montgomery County Sentinel through a written request.
The number of riders boarding on rush-hour trains at those stations increased during February through May of 2019 compared to February through May 2018, whereas it had decreased in February to May 2018 compared to February to May 2017, according to Erenrich’s analysis. He did not include the month of January, due to the federal government shutdown, which included January 2019.
In addition to studying the impact on ridership and crowding, Metro is scheduled to begin an engineering infrastructure analysis in six months, which will include the stations formerly affected by the Grosvenor turnback, as well as the Red Line stations formerly affected by the recently ended Silver Spring turnback, and the Green and Yellow line stations formerly affected by the Mount Vernon Square Station turnback, both of which ended July 1. It is included in Metro’s capital program.
The study will look at “reducing the risk to reliability of the increased service” and “support infrastructure investments enabling full-line operations with respect to railyard capacity, terminal operations and ridership and crowding impacts,” according to a memorandum to the Safety and Operations Committee for the July 25 meeting. It will include the capacity of the infrastructure to not break down prematurely in case Metro starts operating all eight-car trains.
Back in December, both Wiedefeld and elected officials representing the county said at a news conference at Rockville Station that they were happy about the trains no longer turning around at Grosvenor Station.
“The elimination of Grosvenor turnback is possible, thanks to Montgomery County’s support for more frequent service – both in terms of funding, as well as additional railcars needed to support the change,” Wiedefeld said on Dec. 17, 2018. “We look forward to working with our jurisdictional partners to make similar improvements elsewhere in the system.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen was present at a news conference in December as well.
“This has been a long time (in) coming, but there’s no turning back now; for more than a decade we have urged Metro to end the Grosvenor Station turnaround, and today this hard work has finally paid off,” said Van Hollen. “It is a big win for all the commuters who live in Rockville, northern Montgomery County and parts of western Maryland.”
In July 2018, back when the board had adopted its plan to end the Grosvenor turnback, then-County Executive Ike Leggett said he and elected officials representing the county had been asking for the Grosvenor turnback to end for 10 years.
The board would later vote to end the turnbacks on the opposite end of the Red Line at Silver Spring Station, so that trains would run all the way to Glenmont Station; both stations are located in the county.
Goldman said on July 24 he hopes positive effects similar to those that followed the termination of the Grosvenor turnback also will result from ending Silver Spring Station turnback which occurred July 1. With the end of the Silver Spring turnbacks, all rush hour trains stop at all stations on the Red Line. Turnbacks would only affect rush hour service.
The resolution to end Grosvenor turnbacks permanently will take effect 30 days later, in late August, in accordance with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Compact, said the board resolution.
Goldman said the reduced crowding issues from the termination of the turnbacks are improving safety at the stations. Montgomery County Council member Sidney Katz and former County Councilmember Roger Berliner wrote in a letter to Metro in 2015 that they were concerned about safety risks due to crowding on the Shady Grove platform.