Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Columbia Heights Metro offload creates minor delays and major angst

April 10, 2012 - 11:45 AM
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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During today's morning rush hour, between 8 and 9 a.m., a train at Columbia Heights was offloaded. Was it thanks to door problems? An irritated train operator? Some other mechanical failure? Riders didn't know at the time and described losing valuable minutes of commute time on platforms that looked extraordinarily crowded.

But then the usual reaction happened. People documented the platform hordes with photos on their cell phones and by 8:45 a.m., the scene hit Prince of Petworth with the headline "Massive Metro Mess." And would anyone seeing the crowd photos deny it? The blog's comments suggest the offloading didn't create any major long-term issues, however. A commenter at 8:57 a.m. notes that the Columbia Heights Metro was now fine, "problem was fixed." Others reiterated Twitter rumblings that it was a door issue, that a rider blocked it. One commenter noted that another train was scheduled to come within two minutes of the offloading. "I got there around 8:45 and everything was absolutely fine," another wrote. "This doesn’t seem like a massive mess to me at all." At the U Street station, another reader remarked "the personnel at the station actually did a fairly good job of informing us of what was happening."

No one likes a train offload or any delay — whether 3 minutes or 30 — but I'd point to this as another case study in the power of these photographs. WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel reiterated a point made in recent weeks and told me, "This is what an offload looks like." You see the chaos but you don't see the resolution 15 or 30 minutes later. WMATA confirmed that a door problem caused the offload. "I was there," Stessel, a resident of Columbia Heights, told me this morning and added that the offload was "not reflective of a major system disruption." He said two trains arrived back-to-back after the offload to help clear the crowd and said the delay amounted to seven minutes. Was that your experience this morning? His description seems to fit with the Prince of Petworth comments about how the offload was managed.

Meanwhile, here's how riders reacted on Twitter during the offload — and the photos that create such a stir:


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