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Smaller crowd but bumpy afternoon for Metro

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Photo - Commuters board a train at a Metro station last fall.
Commuters board a train at a Metro station last fall.
Local,Transportation,Liz Essley,Inauguration,Metro

Riders took about 700,000 trips on Metro to attend President Obama's second inauguration -- a sizable drop from the 1.1 million Metrorail rides in 2009 -- but they battled problems ranging from a disabled train and switch problems to crowded platforms and long lines for fare cards.

Though fewer riders used Metro than on a normal weekday, they were all headed to the same place at the same time, creating bottlenecks at escalators, fare gates and train doors.

"They took the rapid out of transit today," Buffalo, N.Y., resident Lester Sconiers quipped to his fellow travelers as they waited at Federal Center SW for their Orange Line train to move about 2 p.m.

A disabled train between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom caused delays as long as an hour in the afternoon for Orange and Blue Line riders like Sconiers, as their trains single-tracked around the downed train -- the measure that seasoned Metro riders know means a long ride home. The train operator couldn't release the brakes himself because of a mechanical problem; technicians had to be brought in to manually disengage each railcar's brakes, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

When the train pulled into Rosslyn, "chaos" ensued as riders tried to get off and paramedics tried to get in to help a sick rider, said Arlington resident Matt Tosiello, who was a few seats away from the ill woman on the disabled train.

"She was very pale and shaking," he said. "The only information we got was via the 911 dispatcher, which was that they would send paramedics to the next station."

Metro officials limited access to a handful of downtown stations in the afternoon to prevent crowding at the platforms. Trains bypassed Judiciary Square and Federal Center SW in the morning when the platforms became too full. And officials opened fare gates at L'Enfant Plaza several times throughout the day to keep people moving through them quickly, and earlier at Capitol South.

Switch problems on the Red, Orange and Blue lines also caused delays in the afternoon. And six Metro parking garages filled up, most about four hours after the 4 a.m. opening, unlike in 2009, when garages filled an hour after opening. Drivers struggled to get out of the Franconia-Springfield Metro parking lot about 5 p.m., when a traffic light outside the station malfunctioned. Metro brought in the Fairfax County police, who fixed the problem.

But Metro's morning was relatively smooth, as riders trickled onto the Mall, some packing stations like Federal Center SW but many riding trains less crowded than a normal weekday rush hour.

But even with a smaller crowd, some inaugurationgoers weren't going to risk being late.

"There's less people, less of a rush, but I just wanted to get there," said Sarah Cassin, who started her journey from Harrisburg, Pa., at 3:30 a.m., bundled up in everything from a red, white and blue scarf to electric socks with a D battery attached. "I wasn't able to come last time, and I wasn't missing this one, whether or not we had tickets."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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