Exodus of inaugural watchers jams DC subway stops
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Crowded subway stations and a disabled train caused major headaches Monday for thousands of rail riders trying to get home from President Barack Obama's second inauguration.
Despite handing fewer passengers than in 2009, the District of Columbia's mass transit system decided to temporarily close four stations near the National Mall because of crowding. The problem was exacerbated by a disabled train in northern Virginia that caused extensive delays for passengers trying to get out of city.
Lines around stations snaked for blocks in some cases, as stranded and frustrated passengers congregated outside entrances.
"People were trying to enter the station faster than trains were taking them out," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
The four stations -- Federal Center SW, Metro Center, Foggy Bottom and L'Enfant Plaza -- closed and reopened during the course of Monday afternoon. But transit officials were still dealing with residual delays caused from the train that broke down, and frustrated passengers lamented how longer-than-expected waits put them at risk of missing their connections out of town.
Barbara Means, Miranda McKenzie and Shekita Lee were among a group of people, some of them elderly, who rode a bus from Atlanta to the inauguration. The inbound trip went smoothly, Means said. But after the ceremony, they were forced to wait for more than an hour outside the L'Enfant Plaza station, making them late for their bus's scheduled departure.
At the same subway entrance where Means waited, police officers would occasionally open the doors and allow a few people inside. A crowd of several hundred thinned to dozens shortly before 3 p.m. as people sought different options. Some of those who remained weren't sure where else to go.
"The biggest travesty is we don't have anyone out here providing information and directions," Means said. "We live in Atlanta. This would never happen there. ... This is inexcusable. We don't know what to do, and our bus leaves at 3 o'clock."
Lee said the group was staying in the line because there seemed to be no better option.
"The disappointment is there's no alternative. Nobody seems to know what's going on. We're from out of town," she said.
The problems came even though Metro was handling far fewer passengers than during Obama's first swearing-in in January 2009. As of 2 p.m., 443,000 people had entered the system, or 66 percent of 2009 levels.
Stessel said transit officials occasionally close stations to cope with crowding, as they did in August 2011, when a rare earthquake caused a simultaneous mass exodus from downtown Washington with people leaving work early to go home.
"It's something that we're prepared to do, based on crowd conditions, on any day," Stessel said.
Even stations that remained grappled with major crowding. At Farragut West, crowds lined up to buy fare cards, clogging the entry to the platforms.
The lines at the Federal Triangle stop were long and moving slowly. Rhonda O'Bryan of Altha, Fla., hoped to be on board a train in an hour. "I'm really trying to be good about this," she said.