Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said it was “too early to make that call,” last week when he announced the earlier weekend closing time. But he has said that trains would stop at midnight for at least the next year.
The new closing time for weekend service is part of an accelerated track rehabilitation plan that will significantly reduce service and even shut down stretches of track for weeks at a time. The track repairs will target more than a dozen locations over the next year. The exact schedule of the track-sharing and track shutdowns have not yet been finalized.
But the final Saturday with late-night service will be May 28; trains will run until 7 a.m. until 3 a.m., Metro said Friday.
Closing the system at midnight, seven days a week will provide maintenance crews more time to work on the tracks, something federal investigators have urged for years.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said that Wiedefeld has the authority to make the “temporary” changes on his own. But any extended changes in the system’s closing time would have to be approved by Metro’s Board of Directors.
Metro’s board has discussed cutting back weekend service in prior years but never acted on it.
“It’s at least a year, but this is something that the board will likely consider in the months ahead and will be able to make this a permanent change if they so choose,” Stessel said. “Obviously there is a critical maintenance benefit to having six additional hours per week of unfettered access to the tracks.”
Also, Metro will not stay open later than scheduled nor will it open early for special events such as playoff games, rallies or marathons through at least May 2017.
Right now, Wiedefeld says about 7,500 riders use the Metro system between midnight and 3 a.m. on an average weekend night, about half the number that used the service five years ago.
Since then, routine weekend track work has cut service significantly for weekend riders.
Metro Board Chairman and D.C. Council member Jack Evans said he understands the burden this could put on restaurant workers and people in other industries. But he said he supports the change.
“We have a crisis situation. … It’s not only going to be the bar owners, it’s going to be a lot of different interests (impacted),” Evans said last week. “But these are the decisions that we have to make if we’re going to get the system where we want it.”
While Metro is certain that late-night service on Fridays and Saturdays will end after May 28, Wiedefeld said he is not certain about the exact dates for the major repairs he announced last week. He said he hopes to finalize the schedule within the next week so that riders can plan ahead for the next year of single-tracking, shutdowns and delays.
The draft plan called for the work to begin June 4 with two weeks of Blue Line trains sharing a single track on the Virginia end of the line.
A history of Metro service expansions
Weekend rail service was extended to 1 a.m. in Nov. 1999 as part of what was initially an eight-month experiment. In July 2000, the weekend service was extended to 2 a.m. as part of a one-year experiment, and weekend rail service was eventually permanently extended until 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings. The last trains depart end-of-the-line stations significantly earlier than that.
The weekend changes were just the latest extension of service hours as the Metro system and the region have grown.
Metro began service on a short stretch of the Red Line in 1976 with trains running only on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Weekday service was extended to midnight and Saturday service (8 a.m. to midnight) began in September 1978. Sunday service from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. was added in September 1979.
Today, the system opens at 5 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends and major holidays.
Wiedefeld said there will be about 40 shuttle buses dedicated to helping riders get around the single-tracking and shutdowns, but he has not detailed any plans for additional transit options for late-night riders.