- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2012

Track work on Metrorail lines will be suspended during cherry blossom season, officials said, to avoid major delays for the thousands of additional riders expected to celebrate the District’s unofficial start to spring.

Weekend and midday track work from March 24 to April 20 will be postponed, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said, “to ensure a seamless travel experience.”

All non-emergency track work will begin after 10 p.m. during the season. The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 20 to April 27.

“Metro is the preferred travel choice for hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Tidal Basin each spring,” Mr. Sarles said.

According to numbers provided by Metro, ridership during the blossom festival increases by more than 15 percent and weekend ridership can double.

During the 2011 festival, the transit system averaged 641,956 daily rail trips, compared to an average of 554,000 outside the blossom season.

The total number of rail-passenger trips was not available for last year, but in 2010 nearly 11 million rail trips were taken during the festival.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 trees from Tokyo. The annual celebration includes a downtown parade, a kite festival, and dozens of Japanese and blossom-related events throughout the city.

Nearly 1,700 cherry trees, with their iconic white and pink blossoms, ring the Mall’s basin during peak bloom. This year’s peak will be announced Thursday at the Newseum. Despite the unseasonably warm weather in the region, officials with the National Cherry Blossom Festival said the mild temperatures will not impact the blooms significantly.

To be sure, the trees have withstood two notable snow storms: More than 11 inches fell March 31, 2003. And in February 2010, a winter storm cracked branches as thick as 6 inches and sheared off the tops of some trees.

The exact number of visitors who come for the cherry blossoms is hard to pin down, officials said. However, a recent study by George Mason University estimated the festival generates about $126 million in revenue for Washington.

Mr. Sarles said Metro would putting more eight-car trains into rotation during the festival’s off-peak hours and on weekends.

Blossom enthusiasts will also have two new transportation options for the festival.

A Capital Bikeshare station at the corner of Ohio Drive and West Basin Drive — near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — will be open in time for the festival. And a $1-per-ride shuttle bus will run from the Mall to the cherry trees on Hains Point, said National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson.

“We’re just trying to provide a number of different options,” Ms. Johnson said. “We know we’re getting a number of visitors. We did an alternative transportation study a while ago and got information about what our visitors would like.”

The Bikeshare program allows people to rent a bicycle from one of its stations across the city for short trips, such as riding tours around the Mall.

A total of five stations will be going up around the Mall, though not all of them will be ready for the blossom festival.