The Seven Stages of a Metro Breakdown


As you may know, I spend an average of 1.5-2 hours on the Washington Metro (WMATA) system every day commuting to and from Northern Virginia. Last Thursday, the Metro had an aneurysm. There were structural issues. There were confused train operators. There were dramatic train offloadings and pissed-off passengers. The drama of it all was classic WMATA. As I sat in a tunnel under Arlington I identified seven clear psychological stages a Metro passenger experiences when stuff goes off the rails, often literally.

Stage 1~Confusion
The train stops between McLean and East Falls Church, inexplicably. Random train stoppages are not abnormal, so you continue reading your book. Minutes pass. The train does not move. Slowly, confusion sets in. 

I feel like that First Class lady from Titanic who asks “why have the engines stopped? I felt a shudder” in a posh British accent. The train remains motionless, and the total lack of information available leads many in the car to look around. The train driver apologizes for the delay but doesn’t offer anything else. This moment is also reminiscent of that scene in Harry Potter when the Hogwarts Express stops abruptly and the dementor climbs aboard. Except in this case there are no dementors. Just white collar employees who work in Tysons Corner (similar to dementors I guess). 

Why have the engines stopped? I felt a shudder! *Gasp*

Stage 2~Self-Reassurance
The train will move in just a minute. It’s just a little hiccup. 

Stage 3~Realization
Minutes pass. The train operator comes on and says “there’s some kind of mechanical issue” with a train on the tracks ahead. It becomes clear this is not a hiccup. “Mechanical issue” is the phrase train operators use when no one knows what the issue is. Metro is bad at hiding when stuff hits the fan. This “mechanical issue” crack is a sheepish admission that there is something very, very wrong in WMATA…


Stage 4~Acceptance
As the train is offloaded, you get on a new train, and said train stops for at least five minutes at every subway stop, you reach a psychological compromise with Metro. Metro can have a big issue. You will ride it out. It’s poetic. Stuck on a subway with only a book to read and your thoughts! This is probably the type of situation that inspired J.K. Rowling. You are in this for the long haul, folks!

Stage 5~Annoyance
At Court House station, the train stops. And does not move. For a long time. You knew getting into this there were going to be a bunch of delays. But really? Come on. This was an adventure for a minute, but now it’s irritating. At this rate it’ll take two hours to get home. You feel antsy.

Stage 6~Pride
I am a devoted WMATA passenger. I have been with Metro through thick and thin for the last year and a half. I am NOT abandoning the Silver Line now. No. I will stick this out! I am a Metro warrior! This is WMATA! 

Stage 7~Bailing 
*P.A. systems crackles to life*
“Passengers, there are 6 trains waiting to get into Rosslyn station. It could be awhile.”
Once the train operator offers these words, you stand up, gather your belongings and your dignity, say “good luck folks” to the train and step onto the platform towards an Uber. Even the most committed Metrorailers gotta know when to fold.