- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

If you ride the Red Line, don’t head to work, head to the beach, Metro officials are saying as they encourage Maryland commuters to stay off the busiest subway line for much of the month of August while tracks are repaired.

Now is a “great time for vacation,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said Wednesday at a press conference, urging riders “to find alternatives” such as avoiding the subway entirely.

The sixth and seventh phases of Metro’s yearlong “SafeTrack” maintenance plan are set to begin Monday and will affect Red Line riders directly for the first time since accelerated repair work began in June.

The upcoming surges will involve single-tracking of trains between the Silver Spring and Takoma Park stations Aug. 1-7 and single-tracking between the Shady Grove and Twinbrook stations Aug. 9-18.

While single-tracking in Phase 6 will span only two stations, officials expect widespread delays and overcrowding across the whole line as all trains traveling in both directions will have to share one track when passing through the affected area.

Metro estimates a 50 percent to 70 percent decrease in service for the east side of the line from Glenmont Station to Takoma Station, meaning longer wait times and overcrowding on platforms and in train cars.

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Montgomery County Council Vice President Roger Berliner said riders should remember the old scouting phrase “be prepared” when riding the rails.

“This is not going to be pretty, it is a major inconvenience and you need to look at all your alternatives, study them up and do all you can to avoid being discombobulated,” said Mr. Berliner, who joined Mr. Wiedefeld at the at Silver Spring Metro to discuss the impact of upcoming surges.

Despite the impending inconvenience, Mr. Berliner said Montgomery County is lucky the surge is in August, when the number of rail riders is at its lowest.

Riders are encouraged to telecommute, bike, car pool or use transit alternatives such as busing and the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train.

Morning and evening rush hours in the District have been extended to “mitigate” SafeTrack-related traffic, said Leif A. Dormsjo, director of the District Department of Transportation.

Rush hour will be in effect from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays to help keep travel corridors open and ease road congestion.

During the next week when Phase 6 is expected to cause the greatest delays, Metro encourages budgeting an extra hour for travel in both directions and using the Yellow or Green lines whenever possible.

The purpose of Wednesday’s press conference was to discuss upcoming service changes and ways riders can combat them, but local officials also noted the need to repair tracks and the success of earlier surges, many of which have “met or exceeded” expectations, said Montgomery County Council member Kathy Porter, who is also Metro Board member.

While SafeTrack repairs have meant “temporary” changes to Metro accessibility, the SafeTrack curfew may need to be a permanent change, Mr. Wiedefeld suggested in a press release Tuesday.

Under his new plan, Mr. Wiedefeld would like the rail system to close even earlier on Sundays, by 10 p.m., when service demand is at its lowest. For all other nights, service would continue to run until midnight. He insisted that cutting weekend service hours is needed to prevent the system from “sliding back” after SafeTrack ends.

It isn’t a matter of financial concern, said the general manager, who has yet to calculate how much money the transit agency would save in operating costs.

“At the end of the day, this has been a repeated issue. We don’t have enough time to do the work and do it right,” said Mr. Wiedefeld.

Mr. Dormsjo called the proposal “premature.”

“It’s going to be a high burden of proof for [Metro] to talk through,” he said.

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