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Metro decides to close National Airport station over Labor Day weekend. Ummm…

September 2, 2009, 10:24 PM

So the big news today was that Metro was closing National Airport station over Labor Day weekend.

According to Metro’s press release about the closure, the work will involve a complete replacement of the Pentagon City interlocking, replacement of about 2,000 feet of track, maintenance of the aerial structure leading to and including National Airport station, and conduct fire line maintenance. The work appears to be preventative maintenance, and that’s a good thing.

However, the choice of weekends is not. Yes, this is fairly extensive work that basically requires a three-day weekend to complete in order to avoid major rush hour delays. However, choosing Labor Day weekend in particular to do it is a Bad Thing. After all, with it being the traditional last weekend of summer, people are traveling, and that means flying. And I’d expect that a number of people will have chosen to fly out of and into Washington National Airport. And Metro has cut the station serving the airport off from the rest of the system, closing it along with Pentagon City and Crystal City. Thus the line between Braddock Road and Huntington and Franconia-Springfield will be operating with trains, though who knows how, and then riders will have to take shuttle buses between there and Pentagon station, with stops at the closed stations. So in order to access Washington National Airport by public transit, people will have to take a shuttle bus.

My guess is that many people will either pay a cabbie to take them to the airport, or they will drive themselves and park on site, adding another zillion cars to the road network.

The question I have is, when it involves the airport station, why Labor Day weekend? It’s not like there won’t be another three-day weekend ever again. If Metro waited another month, there would be Columbus Day weekend in October. I’ve never known Columbus Day to be a big travel weekend, so it would inconvenience less people to close the airport station then than it would for Labor Day weekend.

Now mind you, this is not the first time Metro has conducted major track work on Labor Day weekend. Last year, Metro undertook a similar project, replacing track and performing aerial structure maintenance. However, that didn’t involve closing any stations, though there was a complete shutdown of part of the C Route. Trains terminated at National Airport in that case, but National Airport was accessible by Metrorail for the majority of the system, thus there was far less impact on people’s travel plans.

One has to wonder what Metro was thinking when they decided to shut down the airport station during a big travel weekend. I think Metro probably just likes to believe it operates in a bubble, and that the real world doesn’t affect it. About the only holiday that’s sacred to Metro is July 4, when they have to transport scads of people to the National Mall and back. There’s usually no maintenance conducted when that holiday falls on a weekend. The other long holiday weekends of the year are when Metro says, “Yippee! Big track work time!” And yes, it’s necessary maintenance, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it in as efficient a manner as possible, but doing this upcoming one when they’re doing it is dumb – and with little advance notice to the public. Metro’s track schedules are certainly planned well in advance, but it’s not like Labor Day is a surprise, or that Labor Day got scheduled after the track schedule was set. Labor Day has been the first Monday in September forever, as far as we’re concerned. It’s not like President Obama made a proclamation or something last week declaring Labor Day a new national holiday. They knew Labor Day was coming, and with lots of people planning travel, many by air.

And I’m not saying Metro should take that weekend off, either. They need to take advantage of the long weekend to do necessary maintenance. But the combination of that weekend and the location of the work is unfortunate. Metro has 106 miles in its system. You’d think that there was somewhere else that Metro could do maintenance on besides there. According to the Washington Post article I cited earlier, Metro is planning on doing work on L’Enfant Plaza on Columbus Day weekend. Why couldn’t they have switched those? L’Enfant Plaza is a little easier to avoid for much of the system, and it would be a partial shutdown there, rather than a complete closure, meaning that there would be train service through the area, but it would involve single-tracking. Yet Metro chose to close the airport station on a big travel weekend. Dumb…

Web site: Metro's test of new fabric for rail car seats. I actually got to ride these cars a couple of weeks ago. Pretty nice! Love the black floor on Alstom 6026.

Song: 200 Dachshunds (hilarious)

Quote: I posted about this at Railroad.net, and was kind of surprised to see one person calling for Metro General Manager John Catoe's dismissal. Certainly this is a big blunder, but to fire him? I wonder. Either way, I'm sure some people in Metro are probably kicking themselves for letting interim General Manager Dan Tangherlini get away. He seemed to be a step in the right direction, but Mayor Adrian Fenty got his hands on him first.

Categories: WMATA