Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Mysteries of Metro

I have some strange, esoteric interests and obsessions. One of them is what I might call the "Mysteries of Metro." It's not the frustrating, yet obvious, problems with Metro---such as this morning's cracked rail and the havoc it wreaked on the Red Line. That I can actually make some sense of--the system doesn't have enough money for top-flight maintenance and stuff happens (i.e., rails crack when it's really cold). The mystery is how Metro handles it--they have to single track around the affected area, but why does single tracking around a couple of stations mean your trip takes 40 minutes longer than usual? And if that is the way it has to be, why can't they tell you that when your car is sitting in the station not moving--instead of the driver repeating over and over "I've been instructed to wait here before we go into the single tracking area." It's the little things like the lack of communication about the cracked rail that bother me more than the cracked rail.

I'm thinking more about this after Metro announced today that they were starting random bag checks in the system as a security measure. Metro says they won't be intrusive or time-consuming, but I don't buy that at all. This is just one more little thing that will make the ride to work more unpleasant--and for no good reason.

There's a video Metro posted on the Internet that shows how the bag checking procedure will work, and it has a clock showing that it will take less than a minute. That's nice--but completely irrelevant. If I'm late for work, and my train is about to pull into the station at the beginning of the minute when they decide to swab my bag for explosive materials--then the whole process really takes about six minutes, because that's how long it might be until the next train comes after they prevent me from getting the train I wanted to be on. (And who knows, some days it can be 10 minutes between trains--or 20 on the weekend.)

I totally understand the reasons for and, annoying as it is, don't have much of a problem with the security procedures at the airports. The full-body scanners aren't that big a deal, they only pat you down if you refuse the scanner, and everyone who gets on a plane has to go through security. But checking a handful of random people out of the thousands that say, walk into the Grosvenor station every morning doesn't really make much sense. And since they don't have enough manpower to do this at every station every morning, if the bomber gets to Grosvenor and sees someone checking bags, he can just drive down (or take the bus!) to the White Flint or Twinbrook station.

Two of my co-workers disagreed with my view on this--said that if any type of security can prevent a possible subway terrorist attack, random bag checks was a small price to pay. I see their point, but to be honest, I never really think about a possible terrorist attack on Metro (maybe because any potential terrorist would be so annoyed by the many "Mysteries of Metro" they'd choose someplace else.) You know what scares me the most on Metro? Being on a train in the 3-5 p.m. range after school lets out, when a group of teenagers get on and yell, run around, swing from the poles on the ceiling and generally act like they own the place. I'm scared that if I look at them funny, they'll yell at me or try to fight me, or that someone else decides to tell them to pipe down and that person becomes the victim of a brutal beating right there on the car. Terrorism? There's no history of it on Metro.
And yes, that guy was arrested the other day for posting on Facebook that he was going to blow up the Metro (and why would you post that on Facebook, anyway, if you were serious?), but he said he would bomb the third and fifth cars because they were the most crowded. I always go for the first car, because it's the least crowded (yes, I know it's the car most at risk in a crash like the one last year, but at least I'll have a seat.)

Anyway, I'd rather see Metro try to fix some of the mysteries I was referring to earlier, instead of taking manpower to work on ineffective bag checks. Here are some of my mysteries:

1.Most mornings at the Grosvenor Metro station, every car which comes from Shady Grove (and is usually fairly full when it arrives at Grosvenor) is followed by an empty train which starts at Grosvenor. Except some mornings, when it isn't. There's never any explanation--just for some unknown reason, something that happens nine out of 10 times (regularly enough that people get off at Grosvenor to wait for an empty train) just doesn't happen some mornings. Why?

2. The problems with the escalators are something that has been well chronicled. But here are two smaller escalator issues that make no sense to me. First of all, why is it that so many stations don't have their escalators prepared for huge crowds at a particular station? For example, I've walked out of Caps games numerous times to the Metro exit right at Verizon Center. And a number of times, of the four escalators at that entrance, three are going up and one going down even though thousands of people are going to go down them. Or three of the escalators aren't working, but the fourth, working one is going up. The Caps schedule comes out in July and it's on the Internet. Did no one alert Metro to this fact?

3. Even stranger, there are certain escalators within station which, when out of service, mean that the other escalator next to it must be used for people going both up and down. Aside from the safety issues involved in this, every time I see one of these dual up-down escalators, they're incredibly dirty. They look like a bunch of people sat on it to have lunch and then left their trash there. Why does this happen?

4. When my office was near Farragut North last year, I'd often arrive at the station at about 7 p.m., and frequently find a lot of people waiting for a Shady Grove train--and the board telling me that there was eight minutes until the next train. That meant that it had probably already been at least four or five minutes since the last train, meaning that there had at least been a gap of 12 minutes between trains at a time that was at the end of rush hour. The train would get to the station and would be incredibly crowded, so I'd wait for the next train. And it would come three minutes later. And when I got to Grosvenor, another train was so closely behind my train that it would arrive before I could even get to the escalator on the platform. And usually, I'd look up at the board, and there'd be another train coming in the next three to four minutes. No train for 12 minutes, and then three or four in 12 minutes--and this happened regularly around the end of rush hour. How and why?

5. And then there's the mystery of Metro passengers. Each car has a separate air conditioning system, so if you get on a steamy car with a broken cooling system in July, at the next stop, you should just get on the adjoining car, which more than likely is cooler. And yet, people just sit on the hot car and complain about how hot it is. Are Metro passengers so beaten down by the flaws of the system that they don't even want to try another car, expecting it to be just as hot, or do people just not know this?

There's more mysteries, but that's enough for one blog post. Please leave any other mysteries you've got in the comments.