Why Metro canceled its Rush Hour Promise after a recent crash

When one Metro train crashed into another soon after a Nationals playoff game, Metro decided to cancel its “Rush Hour Promise” refunds for the following afternoon’s commute.

Now, Metro’s general manager has offered a partial explanation.

The refunds were offered to registered SmarTrip cardholders who were caught up in major Blue, Orange and Silver Line delays on the morning of Monday, Oct. 7. But they were not provided to those riders in the afternoon even as the crumpled cars continued to block one of the tracks near Farragut West.

“We kept it that morning, and basically since it was such a major event that wasn’t a service-related issue where we could have planned it, where we do say that, it was just something that we put in place,” Paul Wiedefeld told the Metro Board Thursday.

Essentially, Wiedefeld said it was not a regular type of service delay, and riders had several hours of advance notice that the commute home on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines would be a mess.

The crash of the two out-of-service trains came after Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

The service disruptions and major crowding due to single-tracking remained for Game 4 the night of Oct. 7, and into the very beginning of service Oct. 8.

Investigators are focused on the actions of the operator of the moving train that rammed the back of a stopped train at approximately 11 mph. The striking train had significant damage, and the train that got hit had cars separate by more than a foot. Both train operators were taken to the hospital, then released a few hours later.

The decision to cancel the “Rush Hour Promise” for the Monday afternoon commute sparked pushback from riders.

“It generated not inconsiderable ill will,” Riders’ Advisory Council Vice Chair Andrew Kierig said.

A number of riders have complained to him about the decision.

“A promise is a promise unless, you know, WMATA decides otherwise. It’s frustrating,” he said.

Metro has heavily promoted the program as a way to ensure riders that service is improving and as a tool to keep people from turning away from the system when there are major delays.

It now offers automatic refunds to certain rush hour rail riders when their trips take 10 minutes longer than the longest possible scheduled trip at that time of day.

The terms and conditions of the program list three reasons Metro would suspend the promise: scheduled track work, severe weather or force majeure, such as a regionwide blackout or major security incident that impacts service.

“There’s nothing actually in the terms and conditions that says WMATA may suspend the program if we give you X number of advance notice,” Kierig said.

He suggested explicitly stating any circumstances where the promise would not be honored, but acknowledged the crash could theoretically fall under the force majeure clause.

Arlington County Board Chair and Metro Board member Christian Dorsey hopes for more discussion about how explicit the terms should be, even if it is not reasonable to foresee every possible event.

“While I can expect and welcome people disagreeing whether or not this qualifies as a force majeure event, I think it’s at least reasonable that it does,” Dorsey said.

Having clearer policies about when the refunds do and do not apply would make things smoother in the future though, Dorsey said.

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