Not quite “back to normal,” but closer: Metrorail projects continue as the agency restores most service

A lot of track work on Metro is scheduled to wrap up close to Labor Day.  Image by Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons.

Metro track work, bus, and rail service changes are coming to a head this Labor Day, and major changes are afoot for many riders. Some Red Line riders, the latest to deal with around-the-clock single-tracking, get a reprieve at the end of the month, but others will need to take shuttle buses.

Rail riders on all lines get some service improvements though as hours and service changes come, and more bus changes get implemented.

Red Line track work moves north

The continuous single-tracking that had caused Red Line trains to run less frequently since July 17 wraps up on August 29. Metro construction crews and the agency’s contractor used the single-tracking and two shutdown weekends to install new fans between Woodley Park and Cleveland Park. The fans are more powerful and would be used to remove smoke from the tunnel.

Red Line trains have been running every 18 minutes during single-tracking, and some extra trains have been running between 9 am and 9 pm from Glenmont to Farragut North. After the project ends, Red Line trains will be back to running every six minutes.

The agency says the ventilation pilot project was developed in response to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) directive that came out of the fatal 2015 L’Enfant Plaza incident, where smoke which wasn’t properly cleared from the Yellow Line tunnel ended up killing a rider. Metro and the NTSB later found that the wrong fans were activated, some weren’t activated at all, two fans weren’t working, and neither the rail controllers nor the train operator had training on how to properly respond to the situation. The result was that the train stuck in the tunnel was “blanketed” in smoke.

After the project construction finishes, Metro says it will “analyze the performance and if successful, prioritize other locations throughout the Metrorail system for similar ventilation system upgrades.”

The project hasn’t gone completely without incident, however. Construction began before a hazard analysis was performed, and Metro’s Safety Department was “not included in the review” of the tunnel ventilation designs, according to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC). New columns were constructed in the path of an emergency egress staircase as a result.

After the ventilation project wraps up, Metro is looking to embark on a project to replace the canopy at the Rockville station. Two Red Line stations will be closed: Shady Grove and Rockville, and Metro says they’ll be providing bus shuttles between the two and to Twinbrook.

Image from WMATA.

The closure of the Shady Grove and Rockville stations on September 11 comes a month after Metro announced that the Rockville station pedestrian bridge that crosses over Rockville Pike reopened after a 14-month closure. Metro closed the bridge initially with little notice, but said “a safety concern” meant that it couldn’t stay open to the public.

Since the bridge’s closure, Metro says they completed all “safety-necessary structural repairs” to the bridge. Cracks were filled, metal decking was reinforced, and newer non-skid tiles were placed as well.

More trains, more buses

Both bus and rail riders can expect to see more frequent service beginning September 5. Rush hour on the rail system will be partially back: between 5-9:30 am and 3-7 pm, trains will run every 10 minutes (up from the current 12, but down from the previous eight-minute headways). Red Line trains will come every five minutes during rush hour, up from the current six.

In addition to the partial service restoration during rush hour, trains will run every 15 minutes in the evenings, and trains will run until 1 am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Metro published a press release on Monday outlining the service changes to expect come September 5.

Weekend trains will run every 12 minutes during the day not only on Saturdays (as it was before the pandemic), but also on Sundays. Weekend trips will be a $2 flat fare, which may help some riders make peace with the track work that commonly occurs during those off-peak periods.

The agency made some changes to try and boost bus ridership as well. The $2 bus fare will be included in any rail trip fare, so trips on Metrobus and other local bus systems will essentially be free if you transfer from rail. The prices of monthly and weekly bus pass prices were also dropped; a $15 weekly bus pass will now cost $12, for instance.

Bus lines that will resume service or have other service changes beginning September 5. Image from WMATA.

The agency’s bolstered network of frequent bus lines will also take shape around Labor Day. 26 bus lines will run at least every 12 minutes all day, and 16 others would run at least every 20 minutes all day, “or better.”

Image from WMATA.

Metro says 46 other bus routes would also have service restored or improved (details in the link), but those changes cover just 85% of pre-pandemic service levels. The remaining 15%, have been allocated to “frequency improvements” on some routes and service restoration on others.

The upper Yellow/Green line reopens

Assuming everything continues on schedule, the four stations north of Fort Totten on the Yellow and Green lines - West Hyattsville, Prince George’s Plaza, College Park, and Greenbelt - are set to reopen on September 6th.

The stations have been closed since May 29 as Metro replaces and re-levels the granite edges in the stations, puts in new tiles, new cameras and signage, and new amenities. Shuttle buses have been bridging the gap created by the closed stations, and those will also be gone on the 6th.

Metro plans to close five more stations next summer in 2022 for more platform work: Minnesota Ave, Deanwood, Cheverly, Landover, and New Carrollton.

More weekend shutdowns coming for structural repairs

Metro’s press release from October 2020 also noted more weekend shutdowns are coming in “fall of 2021” and throughout 2022, though not all details were provided. Ten weekend shutdowns at “various locations” are apparently to be expected “in the fall of 2021 / winter of 2022” for needed bridge repairs.

Five weekend shutdowns will occur around the Grosvenor station in early 2022, and five more weekend shutdowns will close stations from Eastern Market to Cheverly and Addison Road.

These projects are only some of what Metro’s working on, including construction of its new Alexandria headquarters building which has been causing some night single-tracking on the Blue Line, and construction at the new Potomac Yard rail station.

Have we missed any, are there other Metro projects we should be aware of?