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Metro Considering Diverting Blue Line Cars

Half of Blue LIne cars would go to L'Enfant Plaza if Board of Directors approves proposal early next year.

To help alleviate congestion in the Rosslyn tunnel, Metro officials are considering taking half the Blue Line trains running north from the Pentagon stop and diverting them to L’Enfant Plaza along the yellow line tracks.

The plan is only in the preliminary stages right now, Metro officials said during a town hall meeting in Rosslyn on Nov. 29, and will not come before the board of directors for a vote until February at the earliest.

If the proposal is adopted it would cut the number of Blue Line trains traveling from the Pentagon to Rosslyn from approximately 10 per hour to five. Arlington and Alexandria residents wanting to reach Rosslyn would then either have to wait longer on the platform for a train or transfer at L’Enfant Plaza.

The reason for the possible change is the over-crowding of the Rosslyn tunnel and the ensuing delays it causes for Orange and Blue Line trains. Metro engineers have concluded that the tunnel can efficiently handle 26 trains an hour, but currently 28 to 29 trains pass through every 60 minutes, said Jim Hughes, Metro’s chief operating officer for operations support.

"We presently have the problem of trying to get too many trains through that portal," Hughes added. "This plan would allow us to take some trains out of the Rosslyn portal."

Metro officials admit that there will be clear winners and losers if the plan is approved.

"Some riders will get to their destination faster and some may have to transfer who don’t now," said Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, who serves as the second vice chair of the Metro Board, during the townhall meeting in the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater.

The proposal has irked many residents in South Arlington and Alexandria who feel they are being slighted in favor of people who live in the Ballston to Rosslyn corridor.

"Every Orange Line rider will be better off, while Blue Line riders will be much worse off," John Antonelli, a community activist who lives along Columbia Pike, told Metro officials.

Antonelli added that the plan was another example of how the Arlington government favors the richer northern half of the county over the less affluent and more diverse southern part.

Zimmerman refuted that claim, arguing that the plan was "not a north versus south Arlington issue as some have suggested."

For years the Metro Board has struggled to come up with ways to decrease the frequency and duration of delays along the Orange line. Residents complain that eastbound cars are jam packed in the mornings and it is difficult to find space.

Maryclare Whitehead used to get to the Virginia Square Metro station at 8:30 each morning, but had to wait for one or two trains to pass before there was room for her to board. Now she arrives at the station an hour earlier so she can find a seat on a train.

"There’s nothing worse than standing on the platform and watching one train come in and then another, and you just can’t get on," Whitehead said.

To help mitigate this problem Metro recently introduced a pilot program of running eight-car trains. Though stations have always had the capacity to handle eight-car trains, it was only recently that their power-grid systems were updated to accommodate larger trains, Hughes said.

Metro is planning to add 184 new cars to the system by the end of 2008, and hopes one-third of all trains will have eight cars, Hughes added.

Metro has also begun experimenting with different configurations of cars, including moving poles and handrails in hopes of allowing more people to fit in each car and expediting passenger exits and entrances.

But Metro officials have concluded that more needs to be done to improve Orange Line service, and early next year they will debate whether diverting Blue Line cars to L’Enfant Plaza is a viable solution.

"We have to evaluate what impact that will have on everyone’s rides," Zimmerman said. "But if we can’t find a way to use the capacity we have now [to ease Orange Line congestion], clearly we are not doing something right."