Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lions and tigers and emergencies at Farragut North, oh my!

So after spending my first night at my new apartment, I got off to a busy start today. This morning I met the first year students from my program, Urban Studies and Planning, and the first year students from the Historic Preservation program at the National Building Museum at Judiciary Square for a tour. I had been on the tour before when I was in Washington in March, but the museum was interesting and I wanted to meet more people from my program. The tour was as I had remembered it and I did meet some new students. After the tour several of us went to lunch at a tapas restaurant nearby.

Lunch was good and we stayed and chatted for quite a while. Afterwards I went exploring with Brent and Chris, who I met on Tuesday at the GRA orientation. We went up in the Old Post Office Tower (which is free, like almost everything in DC). The tower is the fourth tallest building in Washington and offers spectacular views of downtown and the surrounding areas. Afterwards we decided to take the Metro up to Columbia Heights, a gentrifying neighborhood, and walk over to Adams-Morgan. Adams Morgan definitely has a similar feel to Atlanta's Little Five Points, but Atlanta doesn't have any neighborhoods as diverse or urban as this one. It is a neighborhood which wouldn't look out of place in Chicago or San Francisco. Our trek took us up to Woodley Park, just across Rock Creek from Adams-Morgan, and then up Connecticut Avenue to Cleveland Park. Along the way we stopped at the National Zoo (also free).

Unfortunately we got there just as some of the exhibits were closing, so we didn't stay long, nor did we venture far into the zoo. We only made it as far as the Panda habitat, but the Pandas were AWOL unfortunately. We didn't see any lions or tigers either, unless you count the stone lions guarding the entrance to the zoo.

We did, however, see an emergency at Farragut North (a Metro station on the Red Line in Downtown DC). Well, we didn't see it exactly, but we were stuck because of it. At Cleveland Park, we boarded a Silver Spring train and stood by for several minutes after the operator announced that an emergency at Farragut North was holding up service. When we finally got moving after well over 10 minutes, the operator told us that we would be single-tracking as we approached Dupont Circle.

True to his word, we did cross over onto the Shady Grove track as we arrived at Dupont Circle. The operator took the train out of service, and we all stepped off onto the platform. We waited for several minutes with no word from WMATA employees as to whether we should go across the mezzanine to the Glenmont track to continue eastbound or whether we should wait. Brent, Chris, and I had been in the last car of the train, so when the operator got to our end and put the train back into service as a westbound Shady Grove train I asked him which platform we needed to be on in order to continue in the direction of Glenmont and he told us to go over to the Glenmont platform. As I repeated this to the frazzeled customers around me, a man said loudly that this is why he wanted to get a car. I thought it was ironic that while a growing number of Atlantans were abandoning their cars, Washingtonians were getting fed up with one of America's most popular and well-reknown transit systems.

As we waited on the almost-full Glenmont platform, eastbound trains continued to cross over onto the westbound platform and go back toward Shady Grove. I suggested to Brent and Chris that we try to walk the 7 or 8 blocks to Farragut West (near Farragut North) and catch a blue or orange line train in order to transfer to the green line. As we started to work our way to the escalator, WMATA finally made an announcement: the emergency at Farragut North had shut down all red line service between Dupont Circle and Metro Center; shuttle service was being put into effect. I couldn't tell from the announcement where I was supposed to go to catch the bus bridge, and no else seemed to know either. A surge of passengers carried us out the faregates, where we ran into one of our fellow first-year-USRPers, Mike. He had also been trying to get home off of the green line before the service disruption. We decided to walk over a mile to the U Street-Cardozo Metro Station on the Green Line.

While ascending the escalators to street level, we saw firemen in full gear going down into the subway, ostensibly to walk down the tracks to Farragut North, the next station eastbound. At the top we were greeted by mass confusion about the shuttle buses, and we noticed in the distance (near Farragut Square) that Connecticut Avenue was closed by a gaggle of fire trucks (at least 6) and police cars.

Our walk was quite nice, and I even ran into a friend of mine from Atlanta on the Circle. Anyway, after arriving at U Street-Cardozo, we discovered that not only was the Red Line closed at Farragut North (with trains operating from Glenmont-Metro Center and Dupont Circle-Shady Grove), but that the National Airport Metro Station was closed completely due to an "emergency" with Blue Line service between Crystal City and Largo Town Center and Braddock Road and Franconia-Springfield. A separate "emergency" at Huntington had shut down all Yellow Line service between King Street and Huntington (including Eisenhower Avenue Station), an outage that when coupled with the National Airport closure left Yellow trains operating only between Fort Totten and Crystal City, with no service south of there.

We waited several minutes but got moving soon despite yet another "emergency" at Shaw-Howard University which was causing single-tracking on the Green and Yellow Lines. There's been no word from WMATA about what caused this meltdown with "emergencies" in four separate locations causing major delays on four of the five lines. Only the Orange Line came out of this disaster unscathed, but don't worry, it was already experiencing minor delays due to scheduled track maintenance.

Overall, I love the Metro. It is so much better than MARTA, even on days like this; in Atlanta, we couldn't have walked to another line as easily since there are only two trunklines. WMATA has done a great job so far in the week that I have been staying in Washington, but we must measure success not by how successful we are during the good times, but how we are during the bad times. I hope WMATA continues to work to improve customer communication and service in the future.

I'll keep you posted once I find out what went down today. I think it's probably worthy of a Washington Post story, plus WMATA posts a record of all service disruptions on their website every day.

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