- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Anna Chu says Metro’s new maintenance plan hasn’t created any noticeable changes to her daily commute because she is used to long wait times, delays and overcrowded trains.

“I guess I’m so used to things being disrupted on the Metro that these new changes don’t really affect my expectations,” says Ms. Chu, who rides the Orange Line every workday from her home in Farragut West to her job at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Subway trains on the Orange and Silver lines between the East Falls Church and Ballston stations in Northern Virginia are running on a single track until June 16 as part of the first phase of Metro’s “SafeTrack” maintenance plan, a yearlong effort to repair the beleaguered transit system’s aging infrastructure.

The maintenance work, which kicked off Saturday, encountered its first rush hour on Monday, and Metro officials said the transit system saw a 1 percent decline in the number of riders for a typical morning commute.

Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans encouraged subway commuters to avail themselves of alternative modes of transportation as the SafeTrack maintenance continues, because they can expect disruptions to rail service.

For example, the single-tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston requires trains to run less frequently and to be more crowded.

But such complications barely faze Ms. Chu, who says she uses the ride-sharing service Uber if the Metro situation becomes “ridiculous.”

Uber officials said their operations in the D.C. area have benefited from record numbers of new customers since March, when Metro shutdowns increased mobile app usage.

Nonetheless, an Uber driver who frequently transports customers along the Orange and Silver lines remarked that there is no guarantee that subway riders who opt to drive will avoid congestion as Metro delays mount.

“During peak hours the traffic is so bad, it isn’t even worth it for them to Uber,” the driver said Tuesday.

James Mizelle, an occasional Metro rider, said the effects of the SafeTrack maintenance work are less noticeable outside of peak hours. The trains are slow, he said, but “that’s nothing new.”

In recent months, Metro has been beset by almost daily track fires and threats of federal funding cuts, as it faces an $18 billion capital deficit. In March, the transit agency took the unprecedented step of closing the entire subway for 29 hours to examine and repair electric cables that had been causing smoke and fire incidents on the tracks. The most serious one killed one woman and injured 86 other passengers in January 2015.

The SafeTrack plan calls for the following service disruptions through the end of next month:

Phase 2 of the SafeTrack plan will begin June 18 and end July 3. It will shut down rail service on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines between Eastern Market and Minnesota Avenue/Benning Road.

Phase 3 is planned for July 5 through July 11 and calls for a shutdown on the Yellow and Blue lines between Ronald Reagan National Airport and Braddock Road.

Phase 4 is scheduled for July 12-18 and will shut down service on the Yellow and Blue lines from Pentagon City to Reagan National Airport.

Phase 5 will run from July 20-31 and require single tracking on Orange and Silver lines between East Falls Church and Ballston.

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