Weekend in Washington

I recently visited Washington DC for the first time. I had planned to write a quick piece about the Metro service; however, due to my visit occurring over the Labor Day weekend, it became very difficult to objectively assess the service as, well, the service offered was fairly dire.

Planned Disruption

Labor Day weekend is quite a major holiday and I flew into Dulles Airport expecting a quick shuttle bus connection to Wiehle-Reston East station where I would change for the Silver Line to reach the central area. The silver line is a new line that is being constructed in phases and will eventually run all the way to the airport. The trip started painfully with a 16 minute wait for a train. I started to wonder if this was an exception but then I saw the information screen warning passengers that there were further engineering works over the weekend. Unfortunately, Wiehle-Reston East station is situated in the central reservation of a highway so there is very little to look at whilst waiting 16 minutes, apart from the cars speeding past on the adjacent highway. Upon arrival at Metro Center, I changed to the Red Line platform and was greeted with a 20 minute wait for the next train.

Audio announcements were broadcast stating that trains would be 26 minutes apart and upon hearing this, I could see that some passengers had settled in for the wait.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the service had been degraded to what seemed like an arbitrary 26 minute headway – why not 20 min, why not 30 min? It was a driver who announced that it was due to “single-tracking”. I’m not sure if many of the passengers found that answer useful or not but after the very extended trip to my accommodation, I avoided the Metro for the rest of the weekend. It was a shame but I just didn’t want to take the risk of missing one of the infrequent trains.

Having said this, I found I could get to all the central point of interest on foot and learnt to appreciate the ordered, logical city plan.

System Design

I can’t write about the system without noting the coherent design of the network, which provides passengers with a familiar station form and includes some unique station features.

Reading some news articles, I can see that there are deeper issues regarding service and maintenance on the system which have been the subject of regulator’s attention; however, a positive view on this would be to say that the thoughtful design of the passenger environment means that the foundation for a high quality experience is already in place.


Author: Liam Henderson