Hundreds of Blue, Orange and Silver line Metro riders suffered delays of 20 to 40 minutes during morning rush hour May 31 due to a power problem, but Metro and Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) officials disagree on the cause.
Rider Dylan Echter said he was planning to be early for a meeting that day, but when he arrived at the entrance to Eastern Market Station, he ended up waiting a total of 25 minutes for a train in near-darkness.
“Light (was) coming from down the stairs, and there was some light coming from the trains,” said Echter, a D.C. resident. “When I walked down, there was really only light from the train.”
Metro spokesperson Richard Jordan said Thursday the delays resulted from a PEPCO problem.
However PEPCO spokesperson Eric Winkfield disagreed and said PEPCO never sent crews to the site of the power problem. He also said Metro told PEPCO operations that the problem was on Metro’s end.
He said PEPCO first learned about the power problem when local media contacted PEPCO May 31 for a comment.
“There was a momentary loss of a power feed into the Eastern Market substation,” Dan Stessel, spokesperson for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said in a statement.
While the power-source third rail still supplied power to trains, the power outage caused problems with the signals to the trains on whether to stop or go.
“Third rail power was not affected, but it did cause a disruption of certain signal and communication systems in the area,” Stessel said.
Echter said the most irritating issue was the “disruption of communication systems” mentioned by Stessel, which meant the estimated time of arrival signs and the public announcement systems were off at Eastern Market. The station manager used a megaphone to “shout” to riders on the platform.
“I couldn’t hear all of what he (the station manager) was saying,” Echter said.
He watched riders walk up the escalators, which were also off.
“Aside from waiting in the dark and not really knowing when the next train was going to come... there were a lot of people that were going up the escalator, although the escalators were off, so it was just a very long staircase,” said Echter.
Echter waited 20 minutes and then gave up and headed for the escalator to call a taxi, when he heard a station manager say a train would arrive soon. He stopped.
A Blue line train pulled slowly into the station a few minutes later. Echter needed the Orange line.
Five minutes later his train arrived, moving slightly faster than the first train.
“(You) could probably keep up with it speed-walking especially with the first train that pulled in,” Echter said.
The train was crowded, and only became more so once it entered D.C., Echter said.
“People were scrambling to get on the last car, people were shoving their bodies to hold the door open but they (the doors) wouldn’t hold,” Echter said.
He said he couldn’t remember a time when the Orange line was that crowded.
“I haven’t seen any trains like this on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines going downtown,” Echter said. “I used to commute using the Red line during my previous job. I was like, ‘Oh, this is like being on the Red line again.’”
Though the slow-moving trains on that stretch of track near Eastern Market added time to his commute, he was content with the speed because he was concerned about how the train operators could see riders on the platform.
“I was not sure how much they could see into the station and people on the platform since it was so dark,” Echter said.
“It was good to see the trains moving slowly because the platforms were so dark... taking more caution when the amount they could see people on the platform was questionable at best,” he added.