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Metro Ridership Unsettled by Recent Derailment

Norma Porter | 2/17/2010, 12:43 p.m.

David Robinson rides the train to his job at Macy€s in downtown Northwest every day. His commute begins at the Branch Avenue Metro Station and ends at Metro Center. Robinson, who lives in Clinton, Md., boards a Green Line Metrorail train traveling in the direction of Greenbelt, Md., and transfers to the Red Line at Gallery Place. He hops off at Metro Center.

Like any other day of the week, Robinson boarded the train to go to work on the morning of Fri., Feb. 12. However, this was no ordinary day for the District€s transit agency. After nearly a week of closures at above ground stations, Metro expanded services that had come to a grinding halt due to the snowstorm only to have a Red Line train derail underground at the Farragut North Station in Northwest.

€No, I don€t feel safe riding Metro,€ Robinson, 23, said in an adamant tone.

€You never know when a derailment is going to happen or another crash.€

Riders aboard the train suffered minor injuries and no fatalities have been reported. After one hour, riders were able to exit the train and the Farragut North Metro Station reopened.

Robinson isn€t the only commuter who no longer feels safe riding Metro trains due to the transit system€s recent track record regarding safety. Over the past year the beleaguered Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has had more than its fair share of mishaps and accidents that have endangered the lives of both its riders and employees.

More than 15 people have been killed in Metrorail accidents since last January, including nine people who died in the worst crash in Metro€s 33-year history, Mon., June 22, 2009, between the Takoma Park and Fort Totten Metro Stations.

This year one rider and two veteran Metrorail employees have been killed: a Red Line train struck and killed a 50-year-old Kensington, Maryland woman at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro Station, Mon., Jan. 4, and track equipment killed automatic train control technicians Jeff Garrard and Sung Oh, Tue., Jan. 26.

Mike Johnson, a tax consultant who commutes from Baltimore, Md., to the District said that he gets nervous every time he steps foot on a Metrorail train.

€I ride the Marc train from Baltimore to Union Station and then I get on the Red Line train to go to Metro Center,€ Johnson, 39, said.

€I am very nervous about riding Metro trains. I don€t know why a train would derail underground. Metro needs to have a plan and do more preventative maintenance on the trains and tracks to avoid accidents like this.€

Other riders feel the same way.

Margaret Ventura, a 15-year Metrorail rider, agrees.

Ventura, a computer technician, said that she rides the train four days a week to travel to work.

€Preventative maintenance is the main key in having the trains run safely for us and for riders to feel safe; it is the only way to eliminate these careless mistakes,€ Ventura said. €They need to be mindful of safety issues especially when we have inclement weather,€ she said.

But riders like Julia Murphy of Landover, Md., said that the problems appear to haunt the first line that Metro built.

€The Red Line seems to be the line that has the most accidents and has been in the news recently,€ Murphy, 22, said. €I think it goes too fast. I think they should shut it down and fix the problems on the line.€

Robinson agrees with Murphy.

€The Red Line is [one] of the most crowded lines in [the Metro system] and [it€s] one of the stations where most of the transfers occur,€ he said.
€I think they need to slow down and add more trains to the line€s schedule.€

Despite the fact that riding Metrorail is becoming riskier by the day, Metro Board of Directors approved a 10-cent fare increase on all Metrobus, Metrorail and MetroAccess services to close a $40 million budget gap, Thu., Jan. 28. The fare increase will take effect March 1 and continue through June 30.

The fare increase will help generate close to $9.6 million in new revenue in four months, Metro officials said.

But riders balk at the fare hike because of Metro€s recent safety mishaps and the declining quality of service.

€I don€t agree with a fare hike. The schedules are off, the escalators are always broken and with these recent accidents, Metro needs to learn to do more with less,€ Johnson said. €They do not deserve to get more [money from riders], while producing the same results.€

Murphy, a lifelong Washington area resident, said that she remembers when the base-board Metrorail fare was $1.10. She has watched the fares increase to $1.35 in January of 2008 and now to $1.45 this year.

€It seems like the fares just went up and now they are going up again,€ she said.

€Metro is pretty convenient, but now that the prices have gone up and the safety of the trains has gotten worse, Metrorail will not be the fastest, cheapest and safest way to get around.€

Ventura said that she has €mixed emotions€ about the fare increase. She said that she understands that with the recent accidents and lawsuits against Metro, the money to support the transit agency has to come from somewhere.

€I don€t really know how I feel about a fare increase,€ she said. €It€s a domino effect. I know that Metro has costs that occurred because of the previous accidents. But it€s a shame that we have to pay for their mistakes.€

Robinson said that the Metrorail shouldn€t increase the fares €" especially at this juncture.

€It€s going to get to the point where you€ll be better off paying to park,€ he said.

€It€ll be cheaper and safer.€