Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 65

On Tuesday, we posted our sixty-fifth photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 21 guesses. Six people got all five. Great work, Peter K, Justin..., Roger Bowles, AlexC, JamesDCane, and Mr. Johnson!

Image 1: Archives

This week had a theme: knockout panels. Each of the featured stations has provisions for future entrances. For each station, the image we featured is where slightly different walls make that visible.

The first image shows the knockout panel for a future southern entrance to Archives station (it would be in the vicinity of Constitution Avenue and 7th Street NW). This knockout panel is fairly distinctive because of the full outline of the mezzanine opening in the endwall of the station. The mushroom-shaped panel is easily visible from the platform. Note, the white rectangle extending outward from the wall has nothing to do with the panel. It's part of an antenna for providing cellular coverage in the station.

Thirteen got this one right.

Image 2: Federal Triangle

The second image shows the provision for a future entrance to Federal Triangle station. Unlike at Archives, this future entrance would make use of the current mezzanine, and would not require a new fare control area. This entrance was planned at a time when the federal government intended to tear down the Old Post Office to complete the long-planned Federal Triangle complex. Since the building is landmarked, this entrance is unlikley to ever be constructed.

We featured this knockout panel in week 6. Only a few stations have knockout panels. You could've narrowed this down to Federal Triangle because of the elevator here. The only similar knockout panel is at Navy Yard (pictured below), and that knockout panel is not located next to an elevator.

Nine knew this one.

Image 3: Pentagon City

The third image shows the place where a future southern mezzanine could be installed at Pentagon City. Like at Archives, this would be a completely new entrance, with its own fare control. The main clue here is the orientation of the station. There are very few side platform stations in Metro, and even fewer have the waffle-style vault. So that should have helped you narrow down the options pretty significantly.

We featured these knockout panels in week 12. Eleven guessed Pentagon City.

Image 4: Navy Yard

The fourth image shows one of the knockout panels (yes, there's more than one) at Navy Yard station. This entrance would lead to an escalator at the corner on the north side of M Street at Half Street SE. Originally, fare control at the western entrance of Navy Yard was at the mezzanine level (where the picture was taken), however, when this entrance was reconstructed to accommodate crowds coming from Nationals Park, fare control was moved to street level. If this entrance were built, the faregates would need to be at street level as well.

Clues for figuring this one out included the jagged area on the bottom of the panel (for structural supports) and the fact that you could see a second mezzanine at the opposite end of the station. Very few underground stations have entrances at opposite ends of the trainroom. So that should have helped a lot.

Nine figured it out.

Image 5: Bethesda

The final image shows the well-disguised knockout panels at the southern end of Bethesda station. These panels will soon be used to build a southern mezzanine with a connection to the Purple Line station just below the surface.

Other than having noticed these before, or having figured out the theme, the only thing you could do to narrow this down was to note the architectural type. This was clearly an Arch I station, a type which appears only on the Red Line's Shady Grove branch. You can tell this is Arch I (4 coffer vault) because the first crossbar is very high on the wall. At an Arch II station, like Georgia Avenue, the first crossbar would be lower, and a second would be visible above.

Fifteen guessed Bethesda.

Next Tuesday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Note: You can find the leaderboard, submission guidelines, and other information at

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 65

It's time for the sixty-fifth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

This is a themed week.

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at

There are four #newtrains. Here's where to find them.

Monday morning, the fourth of the #newtrains, also known as the 7000 series, entered service on the Green Line, joining the others on the Blue, Red, and Orange lines. If you're wondering where to find one (or all four) of the trains, look no further.

The #newtrain on the Green Line. Photo by the author.

These tables show the scheduled runs of the 7000 series trains. For a variety of reasons, Metro could change this schedule at any time without notice, and if there are delays on any of the lines, they can affect when the train will show up.

The first table shows the morning period on the Blue and Orange lines. Note, for trips toward Franconia and Vienna, read down. For trips toward Largo and New Carrollton, read from the bottom up.

Westbound AM
Eastbound AM
read down
read up
5:388:02Morgan Blvd7:5010:14
5:418:05Addison Rd7:4710:11
5:448:08Capitol Heights7:4410:08
5:478:11Benning Rd7:4110:05
6:288:34New Carrollton8:2610:34
6:388:44Minnesota Ave8:1610:24
5:516:438:158:49Potomac Ave7:378:1110:0110:19
5:536:458:178:51Eastern Market7:358:099:5910:17
5:556:478:198:53Capitol South7:338:079:5710:15
5:576:498:218:55Federal Center SW7:318:059:5510:13
5:596:518:238:57L'Enfant Plaza7:298:039:5310:11
6:036:558:279:01Federal Triangle7:257:599:4910:07
6:046:568:289:02Metro Center7:247:589:4810:06
6:056:578:299:03McPherson Sq7:237:579:4710:05
6:066:588:309:04Farragut West7:227:569:4610:04
6:087:008:329:06Foggy Bottom7:207:549:4410:02
6:138:37Arlington Cemetery7:159:39
6:178:41Pentagon City7:119:35
6:198:43Crystal City7:099:33
6:218:45National Airport7:079:31
6:268:50Braddock Road7:029:26
6:288:52King Street7:009:24
6:338:57Van Dorn St6:559:19
7:059:11Court House7:499:57
7:089:14Virginia Sq7:469:54
7:149:20East Falls Church7:409:48
7:179:23West Falls Church7:379:45
7:219:27Dunn Loring7:339:41
read down
read up

The next table shows the evening commute period on the Blue and Orange lines.

Westbound PM
Eastbound PM
read down
read up
3:145:38Morgan Blvd5:267:50
3:175:41Addison Rd5:237:47
3:205:44Capitol Heights5:207:44
3:235:47Benning Rd5:177:41
3:165:22New Carrollton5:147:20
3:265:32Minnesota Ave5:047:10
3:273:315:375:51Potomac Ave4:595:137:057:37
3:293:335:395:53Eastern Market4:575:117:037:35
3:313:355:415:55Capitol South4:555:097:017:33
3:333:375:435:57Federal Center SW4:535:076:597:31
3:353:395:455:59L'Enfant Plaza4:515:056:577:29
3:393:435:496:03Federal Triangle4:475:016:537:25
3:403:445:506:04Metro Center4:465:006:527:24
3:413:455:516:05McPherson Sq4:454:596:517:23
3:423:465:526:06Farragut West4:444:586:507:22
3:443:485:546:08Foggy Bottom4:424:566:487:20
3:496:13Arlington Cemetery4:517:15
3:536:17Pentagon City4:477:11
3:556:19Crystal City4:457:09
3:576:21National Airport4:437:07
4:026:26Braddock Road4:387:02
4:046:28King Street4:367:00
4:096:33Van Dorn St4:316:55
3:535:59Court House4:376:43
3:566:02Virginia Sq4:346:40
4:026:08East Falls Church4:286:34
4:056:11West Falls Church4:256:31
4:096:15Dunn Loring4:216:27
read down
read up

Here's the schedule for the Red Line #newtrain. It hasn't changed since we shared it with you in June.

To Glenmont
To Shady Grove
read down
read up
7:01x2:415:01Shady Grove9:20x4:567:20
7:11x2:515:11White Flint9:10x4:467:10
7:17x2:575:17Medical Center9:04x4:407:04
7:22x3:025:22Friendship Heights8:59x4:356:59
7:26x3:065:26Van Ness8:55x4:316:55
7:28x3:085:28Cleveland Park8:53x4:296:53
7:31x3:115:31Woodley Park8:50x4:266:50
7:33x3:135:33Dupont Circle8:48x4:246:48
7:35x3:155:35Farragut North8:46x4:226:46
7:37x3:175:37Metro Center8:44x4:206:44
7:39x3:195:39Gallery Place8:42x4:186:42
7:41x3:215:41Judiciary Square8:40x4:166:40
7:43x3:235:43Union Station8:38x4:146:38
7:47x3:275:47Rhode Island Ave8:34x4:106:34
7:52x3:325:52Fort Totten8:29x4:056:29
7:58x3:385:58Silver Spring8:23x3:596:23
8:01x3:416:01Forest Glen8:20x3:566:20
read down
read up

Finally, here's the schedule for the Green Line's #newtrain.

read down
read up
5:337:18x2:464:36College Park7:108:58x4:286:16
5:367:21x2:494:39Prince George's Plaza7:078:55x4:256:13
5:397:24x2:524:42West Hyattsville7:048:52x4:226:10
5:427:27x2:554:45Fort Totten7:018:49x4:196:07
5:457:30x2:584:48Georgia Ave6:588:46x4:166:04
5:487:33x3:014:51Columbia Heights6:558:43x4:136:01
5:507:35x3:034:53U Street6:538:41x4:115:59
5:537:38x3:064:56Mount Vernon Sq6:508:38x4:085:56
5:557:40x3:084:58Gallery Place6:488:36x4:065:54
5:587:43x3:115:01L'Enfant Plaza6:458:33x4:035:51
6:027:47x3:155:05Navy Yard6:418:29x3:595:47
6:087:53x3:215:11Congress Heights6:358:23x3:535:41
6:107:55x3:235:13Southern Ave6:338:21x3:515:39
6:137:58x3:265:16Naylor Road6:308:18x3:485:36
6:188:03x3:315:21Branch Ave6:258:13x3:435:31

In a month or so, Metro should add a fifth train. If they provide the schedule data publicly, we'll keep you up to date with a revised set of schedules.

Good luck!

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 64

On Tuesday, we posted our sixty-fourth photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week we got 31 guesses. Five got all five. Great work, Peter K, Mr. Johnson, Chris H, JamesDCane, and AlexC!

Image 1: Spring Hill

The first image shows Spring Hill station. The design elements clearly mark this as one of the new Silver Line stations. And the roof type is Tysons Peak, which narrows this down to two stations. From there, you can easily differentiate it from McLean because McLean isn't in the median of Route 123, but rather is on the north side of the street. Spring Hill, on the other hand, is in the median of Route 7.

Twenty-two got this one right.

Image 2: Smithsonian

The second image shows the Mall entrance to Smithsonian. The vantage point of this photo, with the Washington Monument in the background, can really only be found at Smithsonian. The angle isn't right for any other station since the monument is in line and not askew, as it would be from Arlington Cemetery.

Twenty-seven knew this one.

Image 3: Bethesda

This picture shows the edge of the canopy over the elevator entrance at Bethesda. The main clue here is the stone wall of the building at center. It used to be Bethesda's post office, and is a fairly recognizable landmark on Wisconsin Avenue, visible at right.

Twenty-four correctly guessed Bethesda.

Image 4: Huntington

The fourth image shows the inclined elevator at Huntington's south entrance. This is a unique piece of equipment, not only within Metro, but also within the transit industry. Other than Huntington, only Dallas' Cityplace station and the soon-to-open 34th Street/Hudson Yards station in New York have diagonal elevators. We also featured this elevator in week 14.

Twenty-one got this one right.

Image 5: Stadium/Armory

The final image was taken at Stadium/Armory. It was a bit tricky. The clue here was not the message on the sign, but rather the sign itself. There are very few signs like this, since for the first three decades of its existence, Metro eschewed overhead signs. Starting with Gallery Place (where signage concepts are tested) Metro has moved toward installing overhead signs at escalators on the platform. Along with Metro Center, Stadium/Armory is one of the only stations with this type of sign.

The "hospital" referred to by the sign is "DC General Hospital," which was located near the southern entrance to the station. However, it has since closed. In fact, it was closed before these signs were installed. I suspect the fact that the hospital is no longer open threw some of you off the right track.

Seven guessed Stadium/Armory.

Next Tuesday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Note: You can find the leaderboard, submission guidelines, and other information at

Why is Metro building a test track in Prince George's County?

Metro is currently building a two-mile long test track alongside the Green Line, between College Park and Greenbelt. It's for commissioning the new cars that are joining Metro's fleet.

The test track, as seen from a northbound Metro train. It's the one closest to the white wall. Photo by the author.

In addition to the test track, Metro is building a commissioning building in the nearby Greenbelt Yard. The pair of projects will cost $60 million.

Metro's getting lots of new cars and needs a faster way to test them

Metro's gotten by so far without a test track. Why build one now?

Over the next four years, Metro will be receiving 748 new 7000 series railcars from Kawasaki. Each of these cars needs to be commissioned, which means testing them to make sure they're fit to provide service, and that takes time and space.

In the past, for the required work inspecting and testing components, Metro used existing yard space. That takes away space from maintaining and inspecting the existing fleet, so the agency is constructing a large building with several railcar bays at Greenbelt Yard exclusively to test newly arrived cars.

The cars also need to be run at top speed and under automatic train operation to see how they work in service. In the past, Metro mainly used the stretch of track between College Park and Greenbelt because it's relatively flat and straight.

But doing so required single-tracking during those periods, which Metro did between rush hours in every day and also in the evenings.

That's disruptive to Green Line riders, that's not the only reason Metro wants to have a test track.

With single-tracking, there are only a few hours each day available for testing. With those parameters, Metro would only be able to process eight new cars per month. The 7000 series delivery schedule, meanwhile, calls for having 12-14 cars arrive each month.

With the test track, Metro will be able to process 16-20 cars per month, which should speed acceptance of the new state-of-the-art cars. Currently, there are four new trains in service (32 cars) and another 20 cars have been delivered but aren't yet commissioned.

Since the test track and commissioning facility aren't done, WMATA has been single-tracking between Greenbelt and College Park and between Shady Grove and Twinbrook to test the cars it has now. But that will all move to the new facility when it's finished.

The test track is close to ready

The test track and commissioning facility are nearing completion.

Last week, contractors started installing insulators (the non-conducting supports for the third rail) and third rail along the track. Since the end of July, workers have also installed track circuits and marker coils, which are part of the signalling system.

The permanent perimeter fence is also going in. There's not much work left now.

Metro did not respond to requests for comment on when they expect the track to be completed and in service.

Metro is retiring old cars. It matters which ones go first.

Metro is currently replacing its 1000, 4000, and 5000 series cars with new 7000 series cars. The plan is to start with the 1000 series, but the 4000 series cars are the least reliable in the system, so retiring them first might be better for riders.

Graphic by the author.

On average, a 4000 series railcar travels just 25,823 miles between breakdowns, making the series the least reliable in Metro's fleet, by far. (25,823 miles would be 405 round trips between Shady Grove and Glenmont. An individual car would make several dozen round trips each day.)

In contrast, 1000 and 5000 series cars go nearly twice as far between breakdowns, and the 2000/3000 series, which despite the different numbers is one series, are four times as reliable. The newer 6000s are five times as reliable.

This data is for the period from January 2014 to March 2015, so it doesn't include numbers for the newest cars, the 7000 series.

A railroad is only as reliable as its least reliable cars. It wouldn't matter if every train on the Red Line were made up of 6000 cars, except for one 4000 set. If that 4000 train were to break down, it could delay dozens of trains behind it, and sometimes even those going in the other direction as well.

Metro has purchasd 748 railcars from Kawasaki, and its current plan is to replace all of its 1000 series cars with 7000 series ones. This will happen as soon as there are enough cars to provide Silver Line service without drawing down reserves, which is the current situation.

The new cars are coming in at approximately eight cars per month, however once Metro's commissioning facility is complete, that should increase to 12-14 cars per month. Right now, there are 32 7000 series cars in service, half as many needed to operate the Silver Line without cannibalizing reserves.

The 1000s have been criticized by the NTSB and others because they don't fare well in crashes. But crashes are relatively rare on Metro. Breakdowns are far more common.

The 4000 series is the smallest set in the fleet, with just 100 cars. Because of the small series size, it will only take about seven months to retire the 4000s. On the other hand, it will take almost two years to retire the 1000s.

Unfortunately, while retiring the 4000s first would reduce the number of breakdowns and delays on Metro, it probably won't happen due to political pressure to remove the 1000s, which make up about a quarter of the fleet.

Keeping the 4000s in service for two to three more years, as opposed to starting retirement soon, means riders will continue to have commutes marked by delays and offloaded trains.

Regardless of the order in which WMATA decides to retire cars, the 7000s will mean that the three least-reliable series will be off the rails by 2019. Hopefully, the 7000s will be very reliable, like the 6000s have been.

While we don't have any data on the new trains yet, there's reason to be confident. Kawasaki has made reliable cars for other transit systems, most notably New York.

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 64

It's time for the sixty-fourth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck!

Update: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at

The WMATA Board blames employees for the derailed train instead of looking at its own leadership failures

Following stunning revelations that some people at WMATA knew the tracks were out of alignment near Smithsonian Metro a month before a train derailed at the same spot, the WMATA Board released a statement of outrage. But the board only focused on blaming the people immediately responsible and not the culture and leadership that led to the situation.

Covering eyes image from Shutterstock.

The statement says,

The Board is outraged and dismayed that anyone working at Metro would have critical safety information and not act on it immediately. It is totally unacceptable that the wide gauge track problem reported yesterday by the General Manager could go unaddressed and unrepaired for four weeks. ...

However, Jack Requa's transparent release of information, as well as his actions to order immediate track inspections and gather information to hold people accountable at every level, is what the Board expects and what the circumstances demand. ...

The Board looks forward to learning how the chain of command broke down and where the responsibility lies. This is an unforgivable breach of safety that needs to be dealt with firmly and swiftly.

This statement implies that there is some problem deep within the chain of command, some bad apples or a process failure that must be rooted out and dealt with, but little more than that. That's not the case.

The problems at Metro are endemic and far-reaching. They don't stop at any one person at the agency. WMATA's deficiencies stem from its management structure, organizational culture, funding woes, deferred maintenance, and its own Board of Directors, which squabbled for months in a way that stopped the agency from hiring a new general manager.

Yes, not acting on information that tracks were dangerously out of alignment for four weeks is an egregious failure of the "safety culture" the agency seems to think it has. And that particular instance might fall on the shoulders of one or two people.

But the larger set of lapses, from poorly installed insulation on electric cables, to not hiring and training workers in the rail control center, to nonfunctioning radios and track gauge problems, proves that the problems are more widespread than that. These aren't personal failings. They're institutional failures.

Even if the agency identifies a few employees who were negligent and fires them, it doesn't solve the underlying problem: WMATA is reactionary, not proactive.

Yes, this incident was a derailment that should have been prevented. But what other safety lapses are lurking under the surface just waiting to erupt?

If this were the only safety lapse at WMATA in a decade, maybe we wouldn't worry. But this is just the latest (and probably not the last) event in a chain stretching back beyond the fatal 2009 crash at Fort Totten.

Where does the responsibility lie? It lies squarely at the feet of those who've sat on the board for years now, many of whom came in after the Fort Totten crash to turn things around, who hired Rich Sarles, and who've left the agency arguably even worse off than they found it.

But rather than step up to that responsibility, the board's statement did not even include an apology and shows no understanding that they haven't done their jobs or that the agency needs deeper change.

Rebuilding WMATA isn't just about welding rail and replacing ties. It's also about fixing the problems with the institutional culture. That's a far harder task.

The region needs a board that will fight for change at WMATA. Not just because we need a functioning transit system. But because lives literally depend on it.

WMATA has many hard-working and dedicated staff members. Many of them want the agency to do better. But they can't do it without leadership from the top. The board has a role to play in fixing the agency. Sadly, this message instead conveys that the board doesn't recognize the problem and isn't ready to take responsibility.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 63

On Tuesday, we posted our sixty-third photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 25 guesses. Eleven got all five. Great work, AlexC, Peter K, JamesDCane, FN, Dylan P, CTA to WMATA, Chris H, Mr. Johnson, Adam L, Say Hey, and RyanS!

Image 1: Wiehle Avenue

This week, all of the pictures were of station exteriors. The first one is of Wiehle Avenue's northern entrance, taken on opening day. There are two clues to help you identify this station.

You can tell that this is one of the new Silver Line stations because of the shape and style of the bridge. Each of the Silver Line stations has a bridge (or two) like this one. And all of them have escalators at the end opposite the station, except for Wiehle's north entrance, which lands in a plaza above the bus loop.

The other clue is the unique art here. Twenty-four got this one right.

Image 2: Van Ness

The second image shows the western entrance to Van Ness. The ball sculptures here are very distinct, and are unique. They should have helped clue you in. Also, the combination of a stair and escalator at the street entrance is fairly rare, so that could have helped you narrow it down.

Twenty-two knew this was Van Ness.

Image 3: New Carrollton

The next image shows the pedestrian bridge over Ellin Drive leading to New Carrollton station. This curved bridge on the west side of the station is fairly distinctive. It leads to the IRS building.

Eighteen figured it out.

Image 4: Congress Heights

The fourth picture shows the art installation outside Congress Heights. Since it's unique, being able to identify it was key. The building types in the background also could have given you a hint, since those duplex-type buildings are common in the area.

Twelve got it right.

Image 5: Shaw

The final image shows the elevator at the northern entrance to Shaw. This new building recently went up adjacent to the entrance. The escalator shaft empties into the plaza in front of the building. But the elevator entrance has been incorporated into the base of the structure.

Fifteen were able to identify Shaw.

Next Tuesday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Note: You can find the leaderboard, submission guidelines, and other information at

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 63

It's time for the sixty-third installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck!

Update: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at

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