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The platform of the Columbia Heights Metro Station is packed during an evening rush hour in late October. The benches are so crowded people are sitting on the stairs. Many have removed their masks and don’t maintain appropriate social distance. When the arrivals board for Yellow Line trains switches from a number of minutes to “DLY,” travelers emit an audible groan. A Christian evangelist yells about how hell is real. Since we’re all underground waiting for a delayed Metro train with a history of catching fire, maybe we’ve already arrived.
It somehow gets worse down the line. At L’Enfant Plaza, the first southbound Green Line train in a half hour forces hundreds to pack a single train. Riders stand shoulder to shoulder as they attempt to travel to Southeast. One person screams, “Train full!” in a failed attempt to stop congestion. Another rider asks, “What about COVID? They’re going to kill us all.” The doors close and backpacks, bikes, and bodies are forced to jostle together for three stops until the train reaches Anacostia Station.
For the foreseeable future, this is our hellacious reality. WMATA removed all of its 7000-series trains, which make up roughly 60 percent of its fleet, from service after an investigation of a Blue Line train derailment in mid-October. That left roughly 40 trains to shepherd riders along 117 miles of track.
Progress has been slow and minimal. Additional trains were added to service on Monday, Nov. 1, to ease at least some delays. In an Oct. 25 media briefing, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said they had a proposal in the works for bringing the 7000-series fleet back into service. But for the short term, these delays are slated to last until at least Nov. 15.
“I understand from a customer perspective, it’s clearly not what we want to offer, but it is the safest thing that we can offer,” Wiedefeld said during the briefing. “We want to get as many of the existing fleet we have out there to deal with the immediate pressure, but the real solution is getting the 7Ks inspected and monitored in a way that we’re all comfortable from a safety perspective.”
The derailment saga doesn’t involve only the ill-fated Blue Line train, but all of the lives it derailed in the process. Metro’s expansive network allows many residents in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia to rely less on or even live without cars. The website Walkscore lists D.C. as having the fourth best transit network in the U.S., which contributes to it having the nation’s seventh best walk score. Losing trains means longer wait times, puts added pressure on buses, and potentially puts more cars on the road.
One of those people stuck waiting is Cathy, who asked to only be identified by her first name. She sits in a shelter at Southern Avenue Station with bags of food surrounding her and a ripped jean leg revealing a scar she says is from a knee surgery in April. Cathy says she just missed her northbound Green Line train as she attempts to get to Stadium-Armory.
“It’s really not dumb. It’s backwards,” she says, describing riders being packed like sardines. “This is pathetic, with this six-car train.”
Although she is forced to wait nearly half an hour, Cathy says she refuses to be concerned with the Metro. She’d rather leave the fate of making her train up to her savior, Jesus Christ.
“We’re so interested in doing it our way and it’s not going to work,” she says. “I’ve been here for 67 years. I’m going to get what I get and go home.”
While he may not have let a higher power decide if he makes the train, Jack Sundius attempts a Hail Mary all the same. He saw his Red Line train at Gallery Place on the other side of the tracks and broke into a sprint. He dashed across the bridge and down the escalator but came just short of getting on the train.
“I was so close, too! I could see the doors close, but no,” he says. “Now it’s [a] 14- to 15-minute wait until the next one.”
Sundius says he’s used Metro to get between Gallery Place and Glenmont for the past few months without issue. Since the derailment, he says, he’s been boarding packed cars and isn’t expecting WMATA to provide a workaround for the shortages. The delays have also made him late to work a few times. While his work knows what’s happening on the Metro, “they weren’t happy” with the tardiness, he says.
He’s not alone. When asked how the Metro outages have affected their lives, Reddit users say they’ve been late to work, flights, and doctor appointments due to delays. Others have had to contort their lives to fit this new reality by paying for car services, relying on buses, or walking for miles. One user even says their mother bought a car after being a faithful rider.
Malcolm, who asked to be identified by first name only, says he’s grateful for Metro while his car is in the shop. However, he got a “slap on the wrist” for being late to work the day after the derailment because he couldn’t get on a packed train.
“If I cared about my job, I’d be more frustrated but I’m just like, it is what it is. It is what it is. I can’t control it,” he says.
Malcolm’s now delayed in leaving Gallery Place as trains on the Yellow and Green Lines begin to single track. Overhead signs say it’s due to a medical emergency, which Malcolm says is because of a person who had a seizure on a Metro car. He says he had to talk his girlfriend through how to take care of them until emergency workers arrived to help him. This has left the train stopped on the platform at Archives and put one of Metro’s few working trains out of commission. These ordinary delays for medical emergencies or technical problems can heavily disrupt a system functioning normally. Riders may have less margin for error when it comes to making trains right now, but Metro also has little wiggle room if anything goes wrong.
Many riders are frustrated with Metro’s issues but Judah Bernard is seeing his beliefs validated. The lessened service represents what he doesn’t like about taking the trains, even when they’re running frequently. The reason he’s even waiting for a train in Dupont Circle is because a heavy rainstorm prevents him from taking other modes of transportation to Mount Vernon Triangle.
“What I don’t like about it is more so the tardiness and sometimes I have to be at a place early,” he says, adding he prefers the “more reliable” and “more direct” options of bikes, scooters, or ride-hailing services because he lives downtown.
As the delays continue, riders familiar with other cities’ transit systems have wondered how a global capital’s trains went so far off course.
Adian Gonzales has spent only a month in D.C. due to an internship, so he’s almost exclusively experienced this sparse Metro schedule. However, he’s from New York, which captured Walkscore’s No. 1 spot in both walkability and transportation systems. Even though New York’s MTA has its fair share of issues, Gonzales says he’s had to convince people back home their subway is much better than D.C.’s.
“When I would post on Instagram, like, ‘Oh, these subway systems are so bad,’ my friends and family from New York would say, ‘No, the MTA in New York is the worst.’ I’m like, ‘No, this one.’”
Waiting for his train at Metro Center, Gonzales reflects on the benefits New York has over D.C.: Trains run 24/7 and more tracks allow for more room for trains. “I’d rather take the delays in New York over the long wait times here,” he says.
The only person who seems to be OK with everything is Cathy at Southern Avenue, who entrusted Jesus to get her onto the right train. She says there’s “no need to worry” about all of life’s, and Metro’s, chaos.
“There’s gonna be some more people who are going to have to deal with what’s going on down here,” she says. “Anybody but Satan.” —Bailey Vogt
1.46: the average number of riders injured each year per million riders in the past decade
WMATA’s performance reports document rider injuries if they happen during Metro operations, especially when the injury is considered serious or requires immediate medical attention away from the scene.
The majority of customer injuries reported involve slips, trips, and falls. According to the most recent performance report, which covers July 2020 to June 2021, the top causes of injuries within Metrorail were intoxication, inattention/distraction, and train motion (e.g., quick stops).
But there were several discrepancies within these reports. The report for July 2018 to June 2019 said there was a customer injury rate of 1.38 per million riders, but the July 2019 to March 2020 report stated that this time frame actually had a higher injury rate of 2.17 per million riders. Similarly, Jan. 2013 to Dec. 2013 report said there were 0.10 injuries per million riders, but the report for Jan. 2014 to Dec. 2014 found 0.58 injuries per million riders. There were also seven months of missing data from April 2020 to June 2020, April 2017 to June 2017, and December 2011. —Michelle Goldchain
$2: the cost of one-way weeked rail fare as of Sept. 5
Three: the number of times the Blue Line train derailed on Oct 12.
National Transit Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said wheels on the 7000-series cars had shifted outward, and passing over one switch knocked the train off the rails, but passing over a second switch bumped it back. The same thing happened again almost an hour later before the third derailment stranded the train and its passengers in a tunnel. —Mitch Ryals
10: the number of Metrorail derailments in the past decade
Like clockwork, WMATA has dealt with derailed trains nearly every year for the past decade. With each derailment, WMATA’s response is always to assure their riders that safety is a priority. Most recently, after the Oct. 12 derailment, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement, “I want to assure our customers that their safety is driving every decision being made.” WMATA pulled 60 percent of its 1,200-car fleet after the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission ordered the transit agency to remove all of its 7000-series trains. During this same period, Homendy told the Washington Post, “This could have resulted in a catastrophic event.”
In the end, with every derailment, there is risk to not only riders’ wait times, but also their trust in WMATA. At some point, WMATA will have to prove their promise to the public and figure out how to make the Metrorail reliable, both in service and in safety. —Michelle Goldchain
25, 45, or possibly infinity: the number of years until the Georgetown station becomes a reality
In September, WMATA released its two-year Blue/Orange/Silver Capacity & Reliability Study, which examined and addressed overcrowding on the aforementioned lines that share a single track throughout most of D.C. Of the six proposed alternatives that would alleviate existing problems, four plans include a new (and long-awaited) Georgetown station that would connect to a second, new station in Rosslyn. Of course, those options land on the pricier side, so the chosen solution remains to be named.
Shortly after the report was released, the D.C. Council penciled $10 million into its FY2022 budget to buy an old gas station site along M Street NW near Key Bridge, which could be the eventual Georgetown Station. Though the study doesn’t dig into the specifics of each proposed option, it does note that “an effective solution to the challenges in the [BOS] corridor could take 10 to 20 years or more to deliver.” Local reporters have noted that planning and building a Georgetown Metro stop will take at least 25 years. The Georgetown Voice, which interviewed the president and CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, Joe Sternlieb, reports that such a station could take up to 45 years to complete. Sternlieb, however, says the neighborhood and BID want a station and are focused on making it happen. —Sarah Marloff
29: the number of stations with Art in Transit artwork
Those stations include Anacostia, Congress Heights, Georgia Ave-Petworth, Metro Center, Tysons Corner, and Wheaton. —Laura Hayes
39: The number of trains Metro says are in service as of this week after adding 2000- and 3000-series cars back into service.
The older trains were taken out of service and put into “cold storage” due to reduced ridership during the pandemic, Greater Greater Washington reported. —Mitch Ryals
$58: the cost of a weekly unlimited WMATA Metrorail/Metrobus combo pass
With a weekly unlimited WMATA Metrorail/Metrobus combo pass costing $58, D.C. is the most expensive of the 10 top U.S. metro systems by ridership participating in weekly pass programs. (This includes transit systems serving Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami-Dade, New York City, New Jersey, and the District.) While the areas these metro transit systems serve vary vastly in size and scope, transit budget and options, ridership, metro area cost of living, and speed and frequency of transit, weekly pass cost is still one useful indicator of fare affordability.
WMATA’s weekly pass is nearly three times the cost of the most affordable (Baltimore Metro SubwayLink’s 7-day CharmCard pass, which costs $21) and approximately 1.6 times the cost of the most expensive among these other metro systems’ weekly passes (New Jersey PATH’s SmartLink Unlimited 7 Day Pass, which costs $36).
Monthly passes are a different, more complex piece of the story. With monthly Metro passes ranging from $72 to $216, D.C. is either the second least costly or most costly of the 12 high-ridership transit systems nationwide participating in monthly pass programs. Compared with the other participating major transit systems (a list that also includes San Francisco’s BART and Seattle’s King County Metro), WMATA’s cheapest monthly unlimited rail/bus combo pass costs four times as much as the lowest range for King County’s multi-transit unlimited monthly pass (which ranges from $18 to $189). Like WMATA fares and monthly passes, King County’s are based on point of origin and destination per trip. —Ambar Castillo
91: the total number of Metrorail stations
117: total miles of track
A lot has changed since Metro first broke ground in late 1969. When it first opened in 1976, it was just one line—the Red Line—stretching from Farragut North to Rhode Island Avenue. It has since expanded to include six lines, which connect 91 stations and cover 117 miles of track. Throughout the 2010s, fewer and fewer people were passing through those 91 stations. Ridership declined consistently from 2011 to 2018, a period that was punctuated by safety concerns, fires, and delays. Ridership actually rose by 4 percent in 2019 before plummeting during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That 2019 increase was above average for the nation, which saw an average increase of heavy rail ridership of 2.3 percent that year. But D.C.’s ridership losses during the pandemic have been more severe. On average, transit systems across the country saw a 60.93 percent reduction in heavy rail ridership in 2020, according to data from the American Public Transit Association. D.C.’s reduction was 71.57 percent. —Will Warren
94.4: how hot it can get inside a Metro station, in degrees Fahrenheit
In the summer of 2019, cooling systems broke in Dupont Circle, Farragut North, and Union Station. (Two systems had been broken for several years, but this summer, Metro didn’t make temporary cooling arrangements.) WAMU/DCist reporter Jordan Pascale visited eight stations with a handheld thermometer to gauge how hot the stations got. With its broken cooling system, the inside of Union Station reached 94.4 degrees—making it the hottest station (that day). Dupont came in a close second at 93.9 degrees. Forest Glen, however, had a working cooling system and still the temperature registered 91.7 degrees underground. Though the exterior temperature was in the low 90s that day, the outdoor station at Fort Totten reportedly “felt a lot cooler under the station canopy,” while Brookland’s open air platform registered at 92.1 degrees with no reprieve. The cooling equipment—not air-conditioning, but cool water pumped through pipes surrounding stations—helps ensure station temperatures stay about 10 degrees cooler inside during summer months.
During a 2016 heat wave, Metro riders used the hashtag #HotCar to bemoan train temps that reached hot yoga studio levels. At the time, the Post reported that inside train temperatures could soar into the 90s. (Apparently that wasn’t always the case—in the ’70s and ’80s, according to old Post articles, the Metro actually offered respite from hot summer days.) —Sarah Marloff
$100: The amount of monthly SmarTrip balance D.C. residents would be entitled to per month if Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen’s bill is approved.
Allen reintroduced the “Metro for D.C.” bill in October after his initial proposal, introduced in March 2020, fell away due to the pandemic. The bill, which has 10 co-introducers including Allen, would give each qualified D.C. resident a SmarTrip card with a $100 balance each month. The subsidy is not available to out-of-state residents or federal employees who live in the District and receive a transit benefit.
The program works like this: Metro initially loads $100 on qualified residents’ SmarTrip cards. On the first day of each following month, the agency replenishes the balance used up to $100. The legislation spells out a tiered eligibility, where Medicaid-eligible District residents are first in line, followed by families earning up to $96,000 a year, and then families earning up to $155,000 per year.
Allen has estimated that the subsidy program will cost between $54 and $151 million, depending on how many residents sign up and how much of the subsidy each person uses. The program would be funded with tax revenue that exceeded previous projections, according to a Post report.The bill also would create a $10 million fund dedicated to improving and expanding bus service, especially in areas with low-income residents, who make up the majority of bus riders. —Mitch Ryals
260: the number of fires and smoke incidents in Metrorail stations in the past 5 years
Is the Metro on fire? This question has become so ubiquitous that it has its own website: IsMetroOnFire.com. When the Metro is not on fire, the site provides a rather simple, if cynical answer: “Not yet!”
To calculate the number of fires that the Metro has experienced in the past five years, City Paper used WMATA’s publicly available performance reports. These reports may differ from what is found online, especially on Twitter, as @IsMetroOnFire shares both fire and smoke incidents and includes tweets from Metro passengers rather than solely relying on WMATA’s records. WMATA’s performance reports fail to share the number of fire incidents post-2017. And six months of data is missing from these reports, which is labeled in the graph below. —Michelle Goldchain
460: Number of sworn Metro Transit Police officers (plus 145 Special Police officers and 90 civilian personnel)
2,000: the number of pounds artist Sam Gilliam’s “From Model to Rainbow” art installation weighs
It’s part of Metro’s Art in Transit program and can be found on Cedar Street NW outside the Takoma station. It covers 400 square feet and is made from glass mosaic mounted on aerolam panels. It was installed in 2011. —Laura Hayes
2040: the year Metro predicts 37 percent more people will live along the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines.
In that same time period, an estimated 30 percent more jobs will also pop up along the corridor. As the BOS report states, this is “likely to increase ridership” in stations that have already exceeded capacity for years during peak riding times. —Sarah Marloff
3,110: the approximate number of reported crimes and general complaints that Metro Transit Police failed to investigate, according to a report from WMATA’s Office of Inspector General
Record-keeping issues such as those cited in an audit of Metrorail released in September, are not exclusive to the transit side of WMATA’s shop. They apply to its police department too. The May audit of MTPD cases from 2010 to 2017 revealed that the transit police agency could only find documentation for 1,445 of the 3,110 complaints, and “most of them only contained a one-page document suspending the investigation.” Of the 1,445 case files MTPD provided, 84 percent “lacked any documentation of investigative activity.”
In its report, the OIG notes that it called out a similar problem in 2012. In that instance, the OIG looked into complaints that MTPD’s criminal investigations division was falsifying investigations. OIG found discrepancies between what detectives documented and what victims told OIG. The then-chief promised to take corrective action, but OIG determined this year that the fixes never happened, according to its most recent audit report.
MTPD Chief Ronald Pavlik told OIG investigators that his agency began its own audit of this very issue in 2019, but two years later it remains incomplete.
The OIG notes that the delay is yet another cause for concern and perhaps indicates that “top officials have not made this matter a priority and have not officially determined the root cause…”
In response to the audit released in May, MTPD attempted to defend itself with false claims.
Take the example of the only detective internally investigated for failure to investigate. The OIG found 177 cases from 2011 to 2017 for which the detective failed to conduct or document any investigation. The detective admitted that he failed to document what, if any, investigation he completed. MTPD management opted not to discipline the detective because too much time had passed. WMATA Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader claimed in the agency’s response to the OIG audit that the detective improved his performance from 2018 to 2021.
But the OIG notes in a response to the response that MTPD’s claim is incorrect.
Testimony, documents, and internal communication among MTPD command staff show that in 2018 and 2019 the detective “received a subpar evaluation for ‘multiple investigative deficiencies in assigned cases to include lack of communication and follow up with victims/complainants in his assigned cases.’” The detective was placed on a performance improvement plan, and internal MTPD investigators determined that he “routinely failed to perform duties and responsibilities as a detective” in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. MTPD command staff recommended discipline, but was overruled by command staff, the OIG notes.
MTPD also claimed that the OIG “mischaracterizes the cases under review” and claimed the “overwhelming majority” were misdemeanor cases. In fact, the OIG said MTPD’s internal communication and analysis by the investigative division’s management staff shows that 40 percent of the cases under review were felonies ranging from armed robberies, sexual offenses, kidnappings, and assaults. —Mitch Ryals
4,000: The number of people who’ve signed up for new Capital Bikeshare memberships after Mayor Muriel Bowser partnered with Lyft to offer 30 days of free rides.
Jeremiah Lowery owns five bicycles, but sometimes he prefers to use Capital Bikeshare instead. The bicycle-sharing system that operates in the D.C. area gives him peace of mind.
“It’s something about the comfort of using CaBi and being able to not worry about my bike when I’m out,” says Lowery, the director of advocacy for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “If I go to the movies or go to an event and I want to ride a bike there, I might not want to ride a bike back, so Capital Bikeshare gives me those options.”
On a recent October evening, Lowery was out downtown when he tried to find a bike at a Bikeshare station, but there were none to be found. Lowery, who lives in Petworth, attributes the shortage of bikes and increased usage of Capital Bikeshare to Metro’s ongoing service issues and subsequent delays. In response to the Metro delays, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Lyft announced on Oct. 25 that Capital Bikeshare would offer one free 30-day membership to all D.C. residents.
“The service disruptions at Metro are deeply troubling for D.C. and the region,” Bowser said in a statement. “D.C. is open, and we need a fully functioning transit system to get workers, students, and visitors across the city. We have been intentional, over the past several years, about making Capital Bikeshare more accessible and convenient for D.C. residents, and now we are proud to be able to offer this free one-month membership to every Washingtonian who might need it.”
There are currently 630 bikeshare stations in the D.C. region, with 337 of those in the District, a District Department of Transportation spokesperson tells City Paper. On average, there are 4,500 non-ebikes and 1,000 ebikes overall in the region. D.C. will generally have 500 ebikes and approximately 2,250 non-ebikes at a given time throughout the city, the spokesperson adds. According to DDOT, as of Oct. 31, over 4,000 new commuters have registered for Capital Bikeshare since the launch of the promotion. Capital had 25,000 annual members and 300 monthly members prior to the promotion. It now has 4,300 monthly members.
Lowery credits the Bowser administration and Capital Bikeshare for offering the free 30-day membership, but points out that this only reinforces the need for more Bikeshare stations in the city.
“We need to actually increase the infrastructure, increase the number of stations because we’re going to get more people on these bikes,” Lowery says.
The DDOT spokesperson tells City Paper the department plans to add “20 new stations a year for the next four years. We are also planning to add 2,500 e-bikes in the next two years, along with hundreds of new non-e-bikes a year, as our old bikes age out of service.”
DDOT acknowledges that while this may alleviate some of the commuting issues the sudden suspension of 7000-series cars caused, there are people in the city who cannot use bikes.
“While we know that Capital Bikeshare is not a solution or replacement to Metro, our goal has been to provide a healthy solution for some people to move around the District,” the spokesperson says. “We also encourage commuters to make use of our DC Circulator and DC Streetcar services. Additionally, commuters can also visit godcgo.com/ for complimentary transit resources and options to get around the District.” —Kelyn Soong
6000: the other series of trains sidelined due to safety issues
On two separate occasions last year, cars on 6000-series Metro trains on the Red Line detached while passengers were on board. Neither incident resulted in major injuries, but they did cause Metro to temporarily sideline the 6000-series railcars. Investigations by Metro and the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission found loose bolts and connections in the couplers, a large latch at the end of each railcar that connects it to adjoining cars. Trains involved in both incidents had issues with the coupler assemblies.
This August, the WMSC determined that “Metrorail does not consistently follow its safety certification process, which leads to project activation and use without proper hazard identification and mitigation, putting Metrorail customers, personnel, and first responders at risk.” The report also states that “Metrorail’s failure to follow its safety certification processes contributed directly to the pull-aparts of two 6000 Series trains on the Red Line in fall 2020.”
The first of the two 2020 incidents happened on Oct. 9, when two railcars uncoupled near Union Station. The train was headed from Union Station toward NoMa-Gallaudet U. Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly told DCist at the time that the train had experienced an “undesired uncoupling” between its second and third cars. The WMSC attributed the train separation to an improperly torqued gland nut, which is also part of the coupler assembly.
The second incident occurred on Nov. 24, 2020, around 1 p.m., when a train headed from Wheaton to Glenmont separated. Metro announced it would temporarily sideline all 6000-series railcars after the incident, which shared similarities with the one that preceded it in October.
“The 6000-series fleet entered service in 2006 with 184 cars delivered over the subsequent three years,” Metro wrote in a release announcing the suspension of 6K cars. “The fleet is approaching ‘midlife,’ the 20-year milestone where railcars are put through a comprehensive overhaul. Railcars typically provide passenger service over a 40-year lifespan, assuming a midlife overhaul is conducted.”
In December 2020, the WMSC, Metro, and the coupler manufacturer reviewed the coupler assembly from the November incident and found that there were “five loose bolts on the top of the coupler assembly.” One of the bolts was designed to hold the draft bar in place, while the other four bolts were intended to hold in place a guide rail that can help prevent the coupler assembly from rotating. They also found that “the screw-like threads on the draft bar and coupler head were worn or damaged. Corrosion and contaminants were found on the threads of the coupler head.”
The Post reported in early October 2021 that transit officials hope to return all 184 of the 6000-series railcars to service before year’s end.
“Our goal is to return the entire 6000-series fleet to service by the end of the year, dependent on a number of factors, including findings from our inspections,” Metro spokesperson Ian Jannetta told the Post. —Kelyn Soong
$67,598,000: total cost to run the MTPD in 2020
WMATA budgeted $78,288,000 in 2021 for its police force, and $78,718,000 in the 2022 fiscal year despite losing 42 authorized positions.