The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has seen low rider numbers since the lockdowns for the Coronavirus pandemic began. With the winter season promising even lower numbers Metro has decided to take advantage of the situation by making some safety improvements.

Recently, Metro announced plans to accelerate major work on the Blue Line in Northern Virginia that will modernize the signal system at the Alexandria Rail Yard. The plans are to replace major components including switches, signals, track circuits, and signal control rooms. 

Metro will also run safety tests on the new system to ensure their operations run smoothly. Metro hopes that safety, reliability, and on-time performance will be the result of these improvements which will modernize their Automatic Train Control System which is more than 40 years old.

This will result in a series of temporary service outages at two train stations on the Blue Line, the Franconia-Springfield station and the Van Dorn Street station in Alexandria. Currently ridership with the two stations is down by 80% when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld made a statement in a press release stressing that the safest way to make these upgrades was with to shutdown train service on this portion of the line:

“It is imperative that we continue our efforts to maintain safety-critical systems and a ‘State of Good Repair. “It makes sense to consolidate this work now so that we impact the fewest customers, while modernizing our system so that it is safe and reliable for decades to come.”

The work will take place over 10 weekends beginning Friday, Nov. 17 and ending Sunday, March 14. In addition, there will be a two-week shutdown on Dec. 21-25 and Dec. 28 to Jan. 1 during the lean ridership months of the winter holiday. 

During those times the Blue Line will operate between the Huntington and Largo Town Center stations. There will also be free local and express shuttle bus services which will replace train service and will operate between Franconia-Springfield, Van Dorn St. and Eisenhower Ave. and Franconia-Springfield and the Pentagon. The Franconia/Pentagon service will be closed during the holidays.

There will also be scheduled breaks during the Wreaths Across America event on Dec. 19, Inauguration Week which will run from Jan. 16-24, and on President’s Day weekend on Feb. 13-15.

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