DC transit system expects inaugural crowds

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WASHINGTON – The Washington area's transit system is warning that passengers should expect packed railcars and buses and extraordinarily long lines on Inauguration Day.

Metro chief John Catoe on Thursday outlined the agency's plans for the Jan. 20 swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama.

Catoe said that if crowd estimates prove correct, Metro will certainly eclipse an all-time high inaugural ridership of about 811,000 set in January 1993, when Bill Clinton was sworn in for his first term. Metro also expects to shatter its all-time record ridership of more than 854,000 set in July.

"We recognize the eyes of the world will be on us," Catoe said. "Will it be the largest crowd ever? We think so."

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said earlier this week that Obama's inauguration could lead to an unprecedented turnout of possibly 3 million to 5 million people. Other estimates have anticipated crowds of 1.5 million or more.

Catoe said there will be long waits of perhaps an hour or more to get into downtown stations after the swearing-in ceremony. Escalators likely will be turned off because of safety concerns.

To handle the crowds, Metro will operate on a rush-hour schedule from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. All available railcars and buses will be placed into service.

For security reasons, the Archives-Navy Memorial station will be closed, as will the National Mall entrance of the Smithsonian station. Metro may hold trains sporadically as the presidential motorcade travels over subway tunnels.

The transit agency is planning to sell 35,000 commemorative plastic and reusable farecards, also known as SmarTrip cards for the inauguration. The cards will be sold for $10 online and in select retail locations in early January. Three to five million commemorative paper farecards are expected to be placed in vending machines by late December.