Every day, a total of about 11,000 riders board Metro’s Red Line at the Glenmont, Wheaton, and Forest Glen stations. However, about half of the northbound trains on that side of the Red Line go only as far as Silver Spring and then turn around to head back into DC. Riders at these three outermost Red Line stations must wait longer for a train and have a harder time getting a seat, whether they’re coming or going.
WMATA originally implemented the turnbacks back in 1984 to help deal with a railcar shortage. The reasoning behind the Silver Spring turnback and the former Grosvenor turnback was to provide lower headways in the system's core, at the expense of service on the line's fringes. Ridership has grown at several stations at both ends of the Red Line, due in part to surrounding transit oriented development, and the turnbacks have begun to impact more trips.
The agency ended the Grosvenor-Strathmore turnback on the other end of the Red Line in December, so now all trains heading out of DC continue to White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville, and Shady Grove. Wiedefeld's budget also calls for more funding to purchase railcars, which would provide the capacity needed throughout the Red Line to run all trains along the whole line.
Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker, who chairs the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, wants to end the turnback.
“Many people in the Glenmont, Wheaton, and Forest Glen area rely heavily on Metro to commute to work, go to school, or just run errands,” Hucker says. “There’s no reason they should have to wait longer than other riders or stand more on crowded trains. I hope the Metro board listens to these riders and ends the turnback as soon as possible.”
Presently, Wiedefeld wants to end the turnback and the Metro Board isn't necessarily opposed, but it's skittish about going over the system's funding cap because it could incur costly pentalties if it does so. The turnback could end July 1 2020 if DC, Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government agree to exceed the 3% cost cap. However, Maryland and Virginia have signaled that they're not interested in doing so, at least for now.
“On behalf of the 150,000 Montgomery County residents who ride Metrorail or Metrobus each day, I strongly support plans for increasing rush hour service throughout the system while also eliminating disruptive turnbacks at Silver Spring,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass in a press release. “Access to good transportation services is important for economic development, social equity and quality of life. It is crucial that Governor Hogan and General Manager Wiedefeld listen to riders and their need for safe, frequent and reliable service.”
If you're interested in weighing in on this issue, Hucker is calling a special committee meeting on Thursday, February 21 at 7:30 pm to host a Metro Town Hall where riders can learn and offer feedback about the Silver Spring turnback and other service improvements proposed by Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA’s general manager and CEO. The service improvements include transitioning to all eight-car trains, which will provide more capacity and relieve overcrowding at peak times.