Rosslyn tunnel bottleneck blues

ROSSLYN, Va. (WUSA9)--Since the start of Silver Line service necessitated cuts to the Blue Line, some Metro rail commuters have asked Metro to restore two Blue Line trains per hour by increasing the maximum number of trains that are squeezed through the Rosslyn tunnel bottleneck. Before the Silver Line, Blue Line commuters could expect seven rush hour trains per hour. Now it's only five, or one every 12 minutes.

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But according to data provided by Metro and compiled by MetroMinder DC, an app that measures the rail system's performance, the transit authority is struggling to even reach its goal of 26 scheduled trains per hour through the Rosslyn tunnel, the maximum number of trains Metro says can squeeze through the choke point without delays.

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The real-time consequences of less-than-maximum service can be seen on the outbound Rosslyn platform during afternoon rush hour. The parade of Blue, Orange, and Silver Line trains share the tracks, their schedules tightly synchronized.

Hitting 26 trains is a challenge under normal operating conditions, but it is impossible if Metro suffers one of its frequent train breakdowns, as it did on August 6, when a disabled train on the Orange Line forced single-tracking, sending delays rippling across the system. Only 14 outbound trains made it through Rosslyn between 6 and 7 p.m. that Wednesday, and only two were Blue Line.

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Most commutes since the Silver Line began on July 28 have not been as terrible as the afternoon of August 6, according to MetroMinder DC.

In the first week (July 28 through August 1), an average 25 trains passed through the bottleneck between 5 to 6 p.m. Between 6 and 7 p.m., the average fell to 23.7 trains/hour.

In the second week following the debut of the Silver Line (August 4 through August 8), an average 26 trains (the maximum) made it through the bottleneck between 5 and 6 p.m. The average dropped to 21.8 between 6 and 7 p.m. mostly as a result of the disabled train/single tracking on August 6.

MetroMinder compiled data for 24 separate peak-period hours during the afternoon rush outbound at Rosslyn from July 28 to August 13. Metro met the goal of 5 Blue Line trains 20 times.

The figures may be getting a boost from smaller crowds during the heart of summer vacation season and the congressional recess. Crowding slows down trains because of the excessive amount of time it takes for passengers to board; therefore, making later trains coming down the line even more crowded by the time they arrive.

Still, commuters interviewed by WUSA9's Martin Di Caro on Wednesday afternoon (Metro squeezed only 23 trains through Rosslyn between 5 and 6 p.m.) said their commutes are already wearing on them, weeks before the post-Labor Day crush resumes.

"It's a little better today. But normally you can't even get into the door and everybody is going to rush in and there will be nowhere to hold onto," said Blue Line commuter Karen Simms. "I take the VRE. I have an hour and a half commute on the VRE, and I miss it almost every day because of the Blue Line."

Metro declined to comment on this story. In the weeks preceding the launch of the Silver Line, Metro urged Blue Line commuters to consider taking an Orange Line train to L'Enfant Plaza then transferring to a Yellow Line train to complete their commutes home in the afternoon.

"I am standing here waiting 12 minutes and maybe I get on, maybe I don't," said an exasperated man on the Rosslyn platform, who said the Yellow Line was not a practical option.

According to the group 'Save The Blue Line,' in the afternoon peak period about 11,000 riders travel between Virginia Blue Line stations and any one of the following: Rosslyn, Foggy Bottom, Farragut West, or Orange/Silver stations in Virginia. For these riders, the Yellow Line is not seen as an option.

MetroMinder DC also compiled data for the inbound, morning commute through Rosslyn since the start of Silver Line service: an average 24 rush hour trains passed through the bottleneck in the first week, 26 trains an hour in the second, and 24 trains an hour so far this week. Metro considers morning rush hour to be 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.


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