Dear PoP – “Why oh why does the yellow line mock me?”

Photo by PoPville flickr user cacophony76

“Dear PoP,

Why does the yellow line stop service at Mt Vernon Sq during rush hour? It would be so much more efficient if it just traveled 4 minutes further to U St or 6 minutes further to Columbia Heights. I am tried of getting of the yellow line only to have the green line show up completely full. I don’t accept the excuse about the yellow line trains not being able to service Huntington effectively if it travels 2, 4 or 6 minutes further into the District. Those 4 minutes are better spent moving people from Mt Vernon Sq home!

Who can make this change? Do you think the readers of PoP petition enough pressure on those individuals to make this change?

It would really be better for more people. Utilitarian principles should run the metro!”

Sadly, I think this comes down to a budget issue. Given WMATA’s well known budget woes and safety issues I’m fairly certain extending the yellow line will have very little priority. I believe it was even in jeopardy of being cut completely. When the Metro system becomes a bit healthier (literally and financially) I def. agree that this is an issue worth pursuing. But at the moment I think a petition – even with 50,000 signatures – will not make much of a difference.

Do you guys think the yellow line will ever be extended north to Ft. Totten?

65 Comment

  • by “more efficient”, the writer means “more convenient for me”

    • That’s pretty much what I was going to say. I’d bet there are a lot of people in Huntington and along the VA yellow line route who think they’re just as important as the writer.

    • By efficient I think the writer means: more frequent service along a greater stretch of track AND utilizes existing infrastructure including the turnaround at Ft. Totten.

      It’s stupid for Metro to not be running these trains with greater frequency.

  • I think I read this has something more to do with Virginia wanting to make sure the trains get to VA quicker during rush hour. If they head all the way up to Ft. Totten, they’re losing time back to VA.

    I can’t remember where I read this, but I’m pretty sure I did. Maybe someone less lazy can find it.

    Note: I take Shaw/Howard and find this extremely annoying. Being the last station before people really start getting off, I’ve watched my fair share of trains go by that are too full to get on. Personally, I think it’s much worse than C-Heights or U Street.

  • There’s a simple solution to this if you’re headed north: transfer at Gallery Place or L’Enfant, not at the end of the line.

    • ah

      Exactly–it’s not like you don’t know where the train is stopping or have time to figure it out once you’re on.

      Also, there’s a turnaround issue that would prevent it going “one more stop” to U Street.

    • Transfering is a pain in the ass, period. Gallery Place and L’Enfant are messes during rush hour, even on the best days.

  • Unsuck DC metro might be a good place to start your campaign.

  • The lack of Yellow Line service to Ft. Totten during rush hour is a pain…the green line trains north of Mt. Vernon Square have to be spaced far apart to accommodate the Yellow Line trains that come in between them, making travel slower. PoP is right that it’s a matter of budget. People did speak loudly and clearly that they preferred to increase fares rather than cut services, but I don’t think WMATA is anywhere near the point of adding additional service now…

    • That’s hooey. It takes the same amount of time to turn them around at Ft. Totten or Mt. Vernon as it does Red Line trains at Groversnor and Silver Spring. It can be done in less then a minute as Red Line trains are spaced at 3 minutes apart.

  • While the original question came off kinda whiney he did have a point.

    Anyone who has ridden eithe rthe green/yellow line knows that a large percentage of the riders get off the train at one of the next three stops, Shaw – U Street – Columbia Heights.

    I am not saying the trains have to go all the way to terminus before turning around, but you would think they would be able to go a few minutes further to atleast Columbia Heights to accomodate the huge number of people who disembark the trains between Mt Vernon and Columbia Heights

    • There might not be a place for the trains to turn around at CH-U-Shaw though, that’s also a factor.

  • Let’s just choose the terminal station that suits us best, shall we?
    Give them an inch and they’ll ask for a mile (or several).

    It was not too long ago that the yellow line terminated at Mt. Vernon Square. Period. Full stop. It did strike me as strange that yellow line service was extended to Ft.Totten in NON RUSH HOUR rather that RUSH HOUR.

    Anyway, life is unfair.

  • I agree with the original poster. The volume of people who get off the train at Columbia Heights every day during rush hour is staggering. Inevitably, the ride home from downtown in the evening on the Green Line is sardine-tight, standing rood only. Once the train gets to Columbia Heights, it empties halfway and suddenly there will be seats available for those riding to Greenbelt! Part of the problem is that instead of rigorously alternating trains, during the peak of the peak of rush hour, there will often be TWO Yellow Lines to nowhere in a row, causing a delay for the northbound Green Line as the Yellow trains are changing tracks at Mt. Vernon Square. What a stupid, avoidable little thing!

  • It should be noted that there are only two turn around spots on that stretch: Mt. Vernon Square and Fort Totten. It isn’t technically feasible to turn around anywhere in-between.

    • Thank you!

      It isn’t possible to just turn the train around at any old place. In order to extend service they’d have to go all the way to Ft. Totten.

      Not saying I don’t want it (I get off at Ga. Ave. when I ride), but it’s not as simple as adding just 2 or 4 minutes.

    • If that’s true, it is a very reasonable remark.

    • +1

      Yet another example of “truthiness” on the part of the letter submitter.

      • ah

        There’s nothing misleading in the letter, just a complaint that if s/he were aware of all the facts would seem not terribly reasonable.

    • This is true. MV Sq has turnaround tracks, while the other stations don’t. If we had things your way, we’d be single tracking all the way back to MV sq., which would really slow down your commute.

      If it’s a huge problem, you could just ride a bike, which is faster than anything anyways

    • This is the answer – thanks

      Can you provide any more details? Where can you turn the train around at Mt Vernon Sq?

      • @Shawn

        There is a track switch further north in the tunnel from the Convention Center station. Sometimes if you’re in a green line train, you’ll notice a yellow one on a third (middle) track) while it’s turning around. You can almost see it from the station if you’ve ever been in there when a yellow line changes into a Huntington-bound train.

    • Thank you for shortening my diatribe response & analysis.

      The ride from Fort Totten to Mt Vernon Square adds an extra 11 minutes each way to the yellow line’s route. For a total roundtrip from one end of the line to the other and back, you’ve added 22 minutes to what is usually a 50 minute ride…which means less trains to start the trip over.

      The result is that you either need to add more trains to meet your every 6-minute Yellow Line rush hour schedule (not going to happen in this budget crunch), or lower the frequency. I’m sure there would be an equally loud complaining faction for the latter as there is for not extending service further.

      I can envision that one day the ridership for Columbia Heights & Petworth will demand that the Yellow Line be extended even during rush hour. But that day hasn’t come quite yet. You’ll probably have to reach a crush of Orange Line proportions to get there, sadly.

    • it is possible to skip stations between Columbia Heights and Ft Totten to speed things along

  • I’ve heard that there just isn’t enough time during peak hours to have the yellow line run to Fort Totten, something about the lengthy turnaround times. That may be BS, but that was the official metro party line.

    If true, that would be a shame. I agree that the green line is ridiculous during rush hour and will only get worse as U Street, Columbia Heights, and Georgia Ave. continue to add businesses and housing. The system is already overloaded and will soon be simply unable to accomodate the number of riders going, in particular, to CH, which is an utter mob scene during peak times.

    At the very least, as stated above, there should never be 2-3 trains terminated at Mt. Vernon in a row, which often seems to happen for some reason and drives me nuts. But really, if technically feasible at all, metro HAS to start recognizing that the green line is fast approaching the red line in ridership levels, and needs to be augmented accordingly

    I also THINK things are much worse during Nationals game days when there seem to be far fewer green line trains headed north, but that may just be my imagination.

  • WMATA and Metro, 2 distinct and separate orgs.

    Are folks aware of this…

    Looking for public input on governance of wmata on July 1….

    • What on EARTH are you talking about? WMATA *is* Metro.

      Yes, MetroRail is a subsect of WMATA (just like MetroBus and MetroAccess), but they are not two separate and distinct organizations.

  • What people don’t realize is that that train serves as an “express” train. In NYC, nearly every line has a train that doesn’t service all stops at all hours of the day (or even every day of the week). Yeah, if you live at a stop outside of the express route, you have to go out of your way a little.

    But, as many other commenters stated, the Yellow only recently started going to Fort Totten at all before Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, and U Street were as popular as they are now.

    Want to take the Yellow all the way home? Leave work a little later. You’ll save money that way, too.

    • That analogy makes no sense. If it were an express train it would mean that it would go to Fort Totten but skip over CHeights, U Street etc. I get the original person’s point though, the downtown work force consists of more people who live on the northern section of the green and yellow lines now and therefore should get more service during rush hour.

    • You are making no sense. There is no such thing as an express train on the DC metro. Did you just get here or something?

    • Not everyone can just leave work early everyday.
      Even if it is an “express train,” it is based on outdated rider patterns.

  • I don’t know what rider-counts are like for those who live on the green line past Ft. Totten, but it would probably make more sense to mimic the red line’s approach. Every other (or every third) Green Line train could turn around at Ft. Totten (a la Red line at Grovesnor or Silver Spring) instead of going all the way to the end of the line.

    Alternatively, you might be able to do that at Anacostia too (I think there’s a switch there, so it wouldn’t have to go all the way to Branch Avenue…but I could be wrong). Better yet, you could do both and have one train during rush hour trimming both ends of the Green Line acting as a shuttle for shorter distance commuters.

    The yellow line, which is a critical shortcut across the river, might not need to get involved.

    Again, all of this depends on the distribution of riders and where the biggest cash cow is for Metro (is it short-distance commuters, or is it the long-distance+parking commuters?).

  • Actually, there are 3 main reasons that the Yellow Line cannot run north of Mount Vernon Square during rush hours.

    The primary reason is that there is not a pocket track anywhere on the line north of Mount Vernon Square. There are several crossovers where trains can physically change tracks (not just at Fort Totten, as one commenter mentioned), however a crossover is not enough during rush hours.

    Without a pocket track (which is a third track in between the two main tracks), a train turning around would have to stop on the main line while it changed ends and waited on clearance for the other track. With the Green Line running every 6 minutes during rush hour and the Yellow Line running every 6 minutes during rush hour, that means the line there sees a train every 3 minutes.

    3 minutes is *not* enough time to turn a train around. It would reduce the overall throughput. In order for this to happen, Metro would have to reduce the overall number of trains in the Mid-City Subway to off-peak levels.

    That’s why during off-peak periods, Yellow Line trains even have the option of running to Fort Totten – there’s time to turn them back. Even still, northbound Green Line trains are often held at Fort Totten because a Yellow Line train is waiting on the northbound track for the southbound track to clear.

    The installation of a pocket track at Fort Totten would be extremely expensive and disruptive and would take several years to move from design to construction to operation.

    So, the only other place Yellow Line trains could turn back is at Greenbelt, and that adds quite a bit of distance to the run.

    There aren’t enough railcars. When a line is extended, it requires more trains in order to keep the same headway. The only way to have enough railcars to run all Yellow Line trains all the way to Greenbelt (see first point) during rush hour would be to cannibalize all the 8-car trains (currently on the Red, Orange, and Green Lines) and probably some of the 6-car trains too. And we don’t want to return to 4-car operation, do we?

    So, Metro would need to order more railcars. And that takes time and money. The first 428 cars for the 7000-series will be enough to replace the 1000-series and run the Silver Line. More cars (for 8-car train operation or an extension of the Yellow Line) would be beyond that, and there is currently no funding for more than 428 new cars.

    This has already been touched upon. Money is another issue. It would cost more to operate the service. And right now, Metro doesn’t have any extra cash lying around.

    For more information, see this PDF presentation made to the WMATA Board in 2006.

    An extension of the Yellow Line to Fort Totten during peak periods would require 30 new railcars, the construction of an underground pocket track north of Fort Totten, expansion of rail yards (to hold the new cars), revisions to the signal system, and new maps. This would cost approximately $150 million.

    The service would also cost $3 million extra per year to operate during peak periods. This is in addition to the $3 million additional cost which pays for the off-peak extension of the Yellow Line to Fort Totten.

    • my hero. complete and thorough. while i’m sure few among us would make excuses for wmata, reality does set in at some point. thanks for providing a healthy dose.

    • When it comes to urban planning issues/transit questions, Greater Greater Washington is to PoP as the New York Times is to USA Today.

      • Wow – that was like transit-wonk phone sex! Thanks

      • That’s absolutely true, rocketnerd. GGW is a great place for transit information. However, when it comes to inclusiveness and acceptance for diversity of thought and points of view, PoP is to GGW as NPR is to Fox News.

        You can be smart and resonable, or you can be smart and uncompromising. A debater who can make no concessions is a stubborn mule, not a conversationalist. Most people on GGW fail in that respect, which is quite unfortunate given their brilliance in other ways.

        • I can see your point, but I think that the pointless one-upsmanship exists here as well (‘pwned’ and ‘owned’ show up on this board).

          There’s also a lot of cultural labeling- hipster, yuppie, etc..and lots of people take offense, even if it is meant as good natured joking (e.g., my farcical “tax fro-yo” crusade)…

          What I think drives much of the hyper-argumentative behaviour on GGW are the often diametrically opposed political philosophies underlying a lot of the opinions–
          Libertarians, fiscal conservatives, social liberals, and, of course, master planners who believe in a large role for the state.

          Also, there are some people on GGW who ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to cede one point, even if they are wrong. I won’t name any names.

          This, coupled with too much ‘transit identity politics’ — I’m a bicyclist, I fight for bicyclist rights only,
          I’m a pedestrian, I fight for pedestrian rights only.” with very little balanced talk, and search for consensus.

          Regarding argumentation and the search for common ground, I think that there are many missed opportunities here, there, and everywhere on the internet, as labeling, insulting, or “pwning’ (as the 14 year olds say) makes people feel better about themselves.

          Having said all this, I think there is some role for humour on ‘teh internets’, as I enjoy a lolcat photo or a youtube video as much as a decent discussion.

  • There’s no place to turn around the Yellow train during rush hour except at Mt. Vernon Square or all the way at Greenbelt. At Mt. Vernon Square there is a pocket track between the inbound and outbound track that the trains use to turn around so it does not interfere with the train behind it. During off-peak hours since there is more time between trains, a train can use the normal crossover past Ft. Totten to turn around. This is not possible durnig rush hours because it would delay the train behind it. The train would have to go all the way to Greenbelt to turn around.

  • I think they should discontinue service from Ft. Totten to Greenbelt and turn it into a park, like the High Line in New York.

    • here are some of the people who would strongly disagree:

      -the hundreds of thousands of PG county residents
      -those of us who work in/near greenbelt
      -the U of M students
      -people flying in/out of BWI who use green line to get into DC from the bus transfer
      -the owners of the caps, the nationals, and the wizards who all have built their venues to be near metro access for suburbanites

      i’m not even touching the race card issue, but i’m sure it’s coming. get ready.

  • I’ve stopped transfering at Gallery Place and wait until the Red Line gets to Ft Totten to go South to Georgia Ave. It might add on 5 extra mins, but saves the frustration of getting stuck behind someone who is slow/a tourist/crippled/left side elevator stander and JUST missing the Green Line going North.

    SIDE NOTE: Nothing is as bad as trying to transfer to the Orange or Blue Line from Metro center. Those drivers barely wait for passengers to get off a crowded train before closing the doors. Had to do it last night and it sucked!

  • Agreed, nice job Matt!

  • Agreed. The importance of additional stops grows significantly as the yellow line approaches Columbia Heights and declines dramatically after passing Petworth. Totally.

  • I take the green line from Petworth to Chinatown every day for work, and then back in the evening. Sometimes the wait is 5 minutes, 7 or 8 at most for a green line train at rush hour. I don’t find this to be a problem, and I usually get a seat because I travel either in the first or last car. Sure it’s inconvenient, but really, it’s not that bad, and there are a lot more people going to VA who need the Yellow line trains.

  • I think a petition is in order. A lot of us living in Columbia Heights are going out to Virginia at Rush Hour and have to wait 10 to 20 min in Mt Vernon every day

  • it’s also hard to live in Vienna and work in New Carrollton.

  • It is possible the yellow line does not continue north in DC because it is discrimination against the traditionally black communities along the green line? If you don’t think there is a racial stereo type against the green line, just check out the Arlington Rap on uTube. Just a thought…

    • yes and no — socioeconomics of all sorts were definitely a factor in the history of the green line, and Metro as a whole, but i think one that has been largely overcome. construction on the green line started in 1984, didn’t really serve the northern end at all until the early ’90s, and didn’t fill in the gaps until around 2000. extended yellow line service along the greenline tracks started in 2006, if i recall. So Shaw through Fort Totten are enormously better served than they were 15 years ago.

  • How soon we forget. It was only a year or so ago that the decision was made to extend the Yellow Line to Fort Totten during non rush hours and weekends. I (and many others) thought it was odd given the growth of the Columbia Heights station and the projected growth around the Petwroth Station. But at the end of the day it was better than nothing. And it still is. It was only a month ago that budget cuts were going to result in getting rid of the Yellow Line extension, “limited” as it is. Perhaps some perspective is in order.

  • I realize there are people who live in DC even though they work in VA for a variety of reasons, but whatever happened to living close to where you work? If you work in VA, maybe you should consider living there too. problem solved!

    • why even bother having trains? just walk to work.

    • saf

      Well, I work in DC, the husband works in VA. And we’re both on direct transit lines.

      And I would not live in VA. Just wouldn’t. So we can’t really move.

  • I ride from CH to L’Enfant. On the way home, it is not unusual for 2 yellow trains to pass by. Is the time to VA the reason why they don’t run the Ft. Totten train during rush hour?

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