Severe heat and storms have trains across the county slowing down for the sake of safety and, with forecasters predicting more heat, commuters in Montgomery County can expect to add about 15 minutes to their trip to work.
Some commuters say they’re getting back into their cars to beat the heat while others say it’s just part of riding the rails.
Metrorail operators announced this week a new policy of slowing trains to 35 mph on above-ground sections of track during three-day stretchs of heat. The new policy comes in the wake of the July 6 derailment of a train on the Green Line near West Hyattsville. Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority officials say the train hit a “heat kink,” or bend in the rail caused by extreme heat.
Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas said the new policy was instituted July 16, and slows trains if workers find any portion of rail has reached 135 degrees of higher. Speed restrictions also will be put in place automatically if temperatures reach an average of 95 degrees for three consecutive days, a more conservation criteria than before when operators slowed trains at their judgement.
“Under those conditions, there is a potential for a [heat kink],” Lukas said.
Similarly, MARC train operators reduce the speed of cars on the Brunswick Line by 20 mph, keeping cars moving just above 40 mph, whenever temperatures reach 90 degrees, said Maryland Transit Authority Spokesman Terry Owens. A similar restriction exists for trains on the Camden Line.
The National Weather Service is expecting high temperatures at or exceeding 90 degrees until Saturday, where the high is expected to near 89 degrees.
On Monday, Silvia Nevas of Gaithersburg was waiting by the Germantown Transit Center for a bus. She said she takes a bus to work three per a week and Metrorail twice per week for work.
She said this past Friday she broke from that routine to drive to work in Friendship Heights to avoid the heat and the headache of the train.
“It wasn’t worth it,” she said.
Owens said the reduced speeds should add between 5 and 15 minutes of time to the daily commute. Express trains see the largest delays.
AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella said her group never has studied driver habits as they relate to weather, but notes extreme weather conditions often push commuters into their cars.
“Obviously, if it’s raining or something more people will continue to drive,” she said.
Penn Line MARC trains are slowed to 80 mph if temperatures reach 95 degrees.