- Does this look like too many Metro cars? (Photo: flickr/chrisdag)
Did you hear about that 10-car train that showed up on the Red Line this morning? You know those delays, the ones at Rockville, the "train malfunction" as WMATA put it — what a way to phrase a 10-car train, right? Doesn't WMATA know that 10-car trains don't fit into the Metro platforms. It's like when that operator got high in 2009 and tried to cowboy one onto the Metro lines. God, Metro, it's only Tuesday!
...Except wait. Hold on. That's not what happened at Rockville at all.
10-car train = "train malfunction?" hmmm
No, as WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel clarified via Twitter an hour ago, it wasn't a 10-car train that magically appeared and stalled the Red Line early this morning. It was, as he put it, a "brake problem."
So how did the rumor start? And how did the conversation get amplified to such a degree? The first thing I heard from someone this morning was that some 10-car train had apparently shown up at the Rockville station, like a Flying Dutchman ghost that had manifested and brought otherworldly chaos to our transit.
@unsuckdcmetro The issue was actually brake problem. ^DS
The idea that a 10-car train had suddenly and mysteriously appeared had no basis in fact, as far as anyone at WMATA or otherwise can report. "It's one of the dynamics of social media," Metro's chief spokesman Dan Stessel told me about the morning's incident. "All we can do is try to get the right information out there." Even looking at Twitter now, I initially had trouble identifying where this rumor started. The well-known, critical Twitter account UnsuckDCMetro certainly promoted the notion, scoffing at the idea that WMATA would refer to Rockville's problem — which they believed was a 10-car train — as a "train malfunction."
A closer look revealed that the notion originated from what now appears to be a deleted retweet from someone named Kyle Hitch from earlier this morning. The tweet itself allegedly said, "wtf 10 car train at Rockville" and a retweet can be found here:
No sign of the original tweet remains now on Kyle Hitch's account. Perhaps Kyle deleted the update as the story of the Red Line delays escalated earlier in the morning? The delays are over now and the story could, seemingly enough, vanish without a word.
Yet I believe this morning's series of events is a useful case study in understanding how Metro problems now become reported and distorted in a breathtakingly fast way. Transportation reporters, broadcasters, transit experts, and citizens passionate about their Metro lines all look to Twitter and other social media for regular updates in real-time about how the lines are functioning. Regular followers will throw on the Twitter hashtag #wmata without a second thought to better track the various updates.
It's a small world, and one bit of misinformation can immediately escalate and become critical component to the morning's narrative. Suddenly you do have people believing a 10-car train appeared, as I satirically expressed at this post's outset. D.C.'s transit experts are trigger-happy and ready to dive into the crowd-sourced world of its commuters for the data, substance, and understanding of what's happening on the ground. I regard this largely as a wonderful development but the speed at which information and misinformation travels needs to be taken into account — and people need to be more ready than ever to go back and admit that no, a 10-car train did not magically appear and cause trouble. It's a fun bit of fiction though.