Greater Greater Washington

How many railcars does it take to run Metro?

Every day dozens of Metro trains crisscross the region. How many cars does normal weekday service require? And where do those cars run? We asked the agency, and they were happy to provide the numbers.

Metro currently needs 860 cars to run normal service during rush hours. These cars make up 129 peak period trains.


The percentage of cars assigned to each line. The light gray area represents the cars not needed each day (spares).

The Red Line requires the most cars. At peak, it uses 288 cars in 41 trains. The Orange Line is in second place, with 204 cars on 30 trains. And in third place is the Green Line, whose 140 cars make up 20 trains.

The Blue Line falls fourth, with 138 cars making up 23 trains. The shortest line, the Yellow, requires 60 cars in just 10 trains.

In addition to the 124 trains assigned to a line, Metro positions 5 "gap trains" around the system that can be used to fill in when a train is taken out of service. These 5 trains require 30 cars.

Train length

During rush hours, the Red, Orange, and Green Lines operate with some 8-car trains, with the rest 6-cars long. The Blue and Yellow Lines use all 6-car trains.

Of the Red Line's 41 trains used during rush hours, 21 (51%) are 8-car sets. On the Orange Line, 12 of the 30 trains (40%) are 8-cars long. The Green Line uses 10 8-car trains out of 20 total trains (50%).

Systemwide, Metro operates 43 8-car trains and 86 6-car trains during peak hours. That means that one-third of trains run with full-length consists.

Off-peak

Metro doesn't need as many trains or as many cars during off-peak periods.

The Red Line requires 21 trains and 126 cars. There are 12 trains and 72 cars on the Blue Line. While the Orange needs 66 cars in 11 trains. For the Green, it's 10 trains and 60 cars, and on the Yellow, it's 8 trains and 48 cars.

Rush Plus

On June 18, Metro will start new rail service patterns. In addition to the 5 colored lines, 2 new services will be starting. One will run between Vienna and Largo Town Center (to be colored orange). The other will run between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt (colored yellow).

The Franconia to Greenbelt service will not require any additional trains, since 3 trains per hour that currently run as Blue Line trains are being shifted to the Yellow Line bridge. But the new Vienna-Largo service will require Metro to add several trains during peak hours.

While WMATA did not respond to requests for how many new trains it will require for Rush Plus, the 58 minute Vienna-Largo run time and 20 minute headway could be done with 6 trains.

Metro also did not provide data about how many cars this will require. If all 6 of the new trains are 6-car trains, it will add 36 cars to Metro's peak vehicle requirement. If all 6 of the new trains are 8-car trains, it will mean adding 48 cars during rush hours.

That would increase the size of the peak vehicle requirement to between 896 and 908 cars.

Fleet size

Metro has 1,104 cars that are in its active fleet. But the agency can't schedule all of those cars on any given day.

Metro aims to have a spare ratio of 20%, to account for trains that are out of service for repair or preventative maintenance. In the 1980s, as system expansion outpaced new rolling stock acquisition, Metro allowed its spare ratio to drop and that led to a corresponding drop in reliability.

What this means is that if the system has a peak vehicle requirement of 896 cars, it needs to have an additional 179 cars (20% of 896) set aside as spares. If the system has a peak vehicle requirement of 908 cars, it needs to have an additional 182 cars as sparesa total of 1,090 cars. Metro's fleet today is 1,104 cars, so as long as no major repair issue forces them to take a lot of cars out of service for a long period, they should have enough.

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 the opinion of his employer. 

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I love how nerdy this site is sometimes. Great article. Question: if Metro has more cars then they actually require, can they run more trains? I know there is labor and electrical costs, but can't they just run those out? Also; where do special trains come into play? Like the baseball shuttle, the 8 car trains they run from Navy Yard to Mt Vernon after games?

by DAJ on May 24, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

Hmmm. Nerdy numbers!

by Jasper on May 24, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

Matt - There may be an obvious answer to this question, but I can't think of it. Every day I wait for a Green line (or a Yellow line that extends to Ft. Totten) at Gallery Place at 6:45-6:50 pm. The green and yellow lines typically alternate. Sometimes, there are two Yellow line trains in a row, but rarely if ever any two Green line trains in a row - in fact, I can't remember any instance where there were two Green line trains back to back at that time (which is still rush hour, I think). But how can this be if there are twice as many Green line trains as Yellow line trains?

by dcd on May 24, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

It seems that it might be good to caveat your analysis that all trains are not created equally. If I'm not mistaken Metro is trying to phase out the 1000 series trains, which I'm guessing might make up a large share of the surplus cars in the fleet.

A great follow up might include phasing out the 1000 series cars and the new car requirement for the silver line (will increase the number of surplus cars to meet the 20% target).

by OddNumber on May 24, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

The new routes are fine, but the names are confusing. The Vienna-Largo route is not "Orange." For that matter, even the Shady Grove-Glenmont and Gosvenor-Silver Spring routes are different. So why doesn't Metro just change the nomenclature?

Naming all Red Line and Oranges Line trains the same is like naming all the 30-buses "30" because they spend a lot of time on Wisconsin and Penn. That's dumb, WMATA. Bad WMATA.

Look up the street to NYC, where the MTA Orange lines (B, D, F, M) and Red Lines (1, 2, 3) different designations to reflect the different routes. So helpful! WMATA can leave the coloration alone, and just re-label all the new routes with letters and colors to account for the increased variety along each line.

by Ronald on May 24, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

I saw the title and thought this was a survey so I guessed 1000 but I was over. Some day I'll be on the showcase showdown, but that's not today.

by Jeff on May 24, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

@DAJ

In theory you could run more trains, but a percentage of the spares are in maintenance. Cars are continuously rotated in and out of the 860 operated fleet number for routine maintenance.

For the special trains, those come out of spares as well I believe if they are on top of rush hour service. Usually the games are over after rush hour ends.

@dcd

The Green Line is 23 miles long. The Yellow Line during Peak is half that length. So in reality, trains per mile along each route is pretty similar. The reason you might see two yellows but not two greens is that the yellow has more timing issues due to the fact that it has to share track with two different lines (Green and Blue) so it can get slowed down waiting for trains on the other line more than the Green Line would.

by MLD on May 24, 2012 11:05 am • linkreport

One thing I have yet to see Metro address regarding Rush Plus is do they plan to start running 8 car trains on the Blue line to make up for lost capacity for those riders that are headed anywhere between Arlington Cemetary and McPherson Sq? As it stands the Blue trains are pretty packed by the time they get to Crystal City and without additional cars the Blue line could be destined to turn into a nightmare.

by RJ4DCU on May 24, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

What's interesting to me is what this might say about ridership relative to populations. If you add up Montgomery County and PG County, you get 1.8 million people. If you add up the suburban VIrginia populations (Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Prince William) you have roughly the same population. THe two lines that serve DC and Maryland exclusively are using 428 cars, while the other lines which serve VIrginia suburbs on one side, DC in the middle and Maryland 'burbs on the east end are served by 402 cars. Although slightly more trains begin or end in peak hours on those lines that traverse Virginia (63 to 61), it seems clear that Marylanders are far more dependent on Metro.

Not at all what I would have expected -- but then again, Virginians have highways into the city, whereas most Marylanders driving in would have long trips down city streets. It would be interesting to figure out why Marylanders seem more likely to use Metro, and what could be done to make Virginians use Metro more.

Also makes me wonder why I always have such long waits for Red Line trains in the late evening or on weekends, even when track work is not the explanation.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 24, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

@DAJ:
Essentially, Metro can run X number of cars, so long as:
X * 1.2 < 1,104.

Right now, X = 860, so:
860 * 1.2 = 1,032 and 1,032 is < 1,104 by 72 cars.

As for "special trains", like those used as additional trains after Nationals games, it depends. If Metro is adding additional trains during rush hour, then yes, those cars come out of the spares pool.

If Metro is running additional trains during the midday or evening, those cars are just coming out of the same pool that rush hour service comes out of.

As for adding service, it's not as simple as having more cars. Track capacity is a limiting factor, as is the power system.

For example, the Orange/Blue subway through Rosslyn is currently running at capacity*. So Metro can't run any more trains through there under current service patterns. They could lengthen the trains that do run through there, though.

Except that Metro's power system has to be upgraded to run longer trains. It takes more power to run an 8-car train than a 6-car train, and the traction power substations have to be upgraded to enable more long trains to run. That's an ongoing project.

*Note, that Rush Plus is moving Blue Line trains to the Yellow Bridge to free up capacity through Rosslyn for the Orange Line, so Metro will be increasing the number of cars used on June 18.

@dcd:
It's not as simple as you make it out. Just because there are twice as many Green Line trains, does not mean they run at twice the headway.

The run time from Branch Avenue to Greenbelt is 47 minutes. Assuming a 6 minute layover at Greenbelt, it takes 1 train 100 minutes to go from Branch Avenue to Greenbelt and back.

So, if Metro only had one train on the Green Line, there would be 100 minutes between trains. If there were 2 trains, the wait time would be 50 minutes. With 4, we could reduce that to 25 minutes. With 8 trains, it would be 12.5 and finally with 16 trains, we could get down to about 6 minute headways.

On the Yellow Line, the runtime from Huntington to Mount Vernon Square is 25 minutes. Let's assume a 6 minute dwell at Mount Vernon Square. That means a train would take 56 minutes to get from Huntington to Mount Vernon Square and back.

That means that with just one train, the Yellow Line could operate with a 56 minute headway. That's half the headway if we tried to run the Green Line with just one train.

The number of trains does not allow you to compare headways. You have to know the runtime of the route.

On a side note, this is why bus priority saves money. If you can make a bus run faster, you can reduce the number of buses (drivers) that are required to keep the same headway (or you can spend the same amount and have more frequent service).

As for individual scheduling (2 Yellows in a row), that's either a quirk in the schedule because it's around the time that Yellows start running to Fort Totten or the result of delay on one of the two lines.

@OddNumber:
Metro will eventually discontinue use of the 1000-series cars. But that will not happen until they're replaced with the 7000-series in 2015 or 2016. Until then, Metro can't stop using the 1000s, because they won't have enough cars.

Remember the math from the top of this comment. There are 278 active 1000-series cars. So, if we subtracted all of those from the fleet, how many cars could Metro use during rush hour:

X * 1.2 < Z, where Z is the fleet size.
X * 1.2 < (1,104 - 278)
X * 1.2 < 826
X < 826/1.2
X < 688

That means that without the 1000-series, Metro would only have 688 cars for peak hours (they currently use 860), and that would mean a major reduction in service during rush hours.

by Matt Johnson on May 24, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

Great Article Matt....

One point I'd like to address is the current combining of mixed consists (trains); as recent events have shown (uncommanded door opening & rough acceleration and braking).

If Metro went back to creating consists of the same fleet, ie; all 4K, 5K, and 6K series, mingle the 2K/3K fleet I would see improved reliability on the mainline. As for the Rhors (1K) utilize them as complete consists during rush hours only and as gap trains during other times. As the 18 MPH West Falls Church Yard collision showed, placing the 1K in the belly (middle) position doesn't change anything.

Overall result, more reliable trains and improved safety...

On a side note I would personally try to limit the 5Ks as much as possible....

by Roger B. on May 24, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

Two questions:

1. Is WMATA running extra cars after nationals games? And why don't they charge rush hour fares?

2. Why not more 8 car trains on orange?

by charlie on May 24, 2012 12:14 pm • linkreport

@charlie:
Please see my comment from 11:26.

by Matt Johnson on May 24, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

@MattJohnson; thanks, missed that on the power substations.

by charlie on May 24, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

@Charlie, I believe part of the answer to your #2, aside from having train cars available, is the power supply needs. I am not sure if WMATA has upgraded the system (yet, I think this is in the works) to handle added 8-car trains, either along the Orange Line or system-wide.

What will be interesting to watch is if WMATA gets the new 7000-series train cars in time for the opening of the Silver Line to Reston and what any new rail car delivery delays would mean for the fleet.

by Transport. on May 24, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

. I am not sure if WMATA has upgraded the system (yet, I think this is in the works) to handle added 8-car trains, either along the Orange Line or system-wide.

I am very worried about the crush at rush hour with the Rush Minus service on the blue line between L'Enfant en the Pentagon. I sincerely hope that since they can run 8-car orange lines, they can also run 8-car blue lines. Otherwise, the blue line will be the new sardine line, especially from say Foggy-Bottom to the Pentagon (and vv).

by Jasper on May 24, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Another great piece Matt. Important to emphasis that the number of cars devoted to each line is a function of the length of the line and the ridership on that route.

In the FY2013 capital budget passed today there is a small new capital project to pull together the many loose ends at WMATA detailing what enhancements to the power system and station access are required to move towards more 8 car trains (where demand warrants). In addition, there will be a need to exercise one or more of the car options in the 7000 series car contract.

by Steve Strauss on May 24, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

Steve,

In addition, there will be a need to exercise one or more of the car options in the 7000 series car contract.

That's in addition to the 1000 series replacement, yes?

So, all told, the 7000 series could serve to:

a) Serve the Silver Line
b) expand the fleet's capabilities for 8-car operation
c) Replace the 1000 series cars

by Alex B. on May 24, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

@ Steve & @ Alex

Don't forget that Sarles wants to scrap the 4000 series and procure 100 additional 7000 series cars to replace them....

What WMATA should do is as the 7000s come online begin a detailed inspection of all the 1000 & 4000 series and keep the top ~1% as "ready reserves" to be called into service during URGENT needs

by Roger B. on May 24, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

The 4000 series hasn't had its midlife rehab yet. They're still relatively young.

by Alex B. on May 24, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

@Alex

GM Sarles stated during I believe the March 8th meeting that he wanted to forgo the 4000 midlife rehab (which was to be to 7000 specs) and just replace them with brand new 7000s.

by Roger B. on May 24, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

There was an article about the 4000 series order:
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/5332/wmata-delays-7000-series-order-to-make-it-larger/

The 7000 Series are for:
64 cars for Silver Line phase II to Dulles/Loudoun
130 cars to get to 75% 8-car train operation
300 cars to replace the 1000-series.
90 cars to get to 100% 8-car operation

They will also be rehabbing the 4000 series as part of the contract.

by MLD on May 24, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

@MLD, @Alex B.
I am aware of the comments that Roger B. is referring to. At a Board meeting a few months ago, GM Sarles said something about replacing the 4000-series that sounded a lot like scrapping them and just getting 100 new 7000-series cars.

As far as I know Metro has not renegotiated their contract with Kawasaki, and adding 100 cars would be more expensive than just rehabbing some.

So I don't know whether Sarles misspoke or whether the plan has changed.

by Matt Johnson on May 24, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

Also, where the heck is Sand Box John? He should be all over this comment thread!

by MLD on May 24, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

@MLD
I'm Here.

@Matt Johnson
Interesting stuff, thanks.

I'd Be curious what the fleet requirement would be with the headway reduced from 6 to 4 minutes?

Any information on how many substation still need to be upgraded?

Prototype Delivery & Acceptance (4)
Serial Production (124) Phase I and II Silver line
Growth Railcars 75% 8 car trains (130)
4000 Mid-Life Rehab. Railcars (100)
Fleet Enhancement Railcars (300) 1k replacement
Growth Railcars 100% 8 car trains(90)

I think the issue with replacing the 4k cars with 7k has more to do with difference in the additional cost of making them more crash worthy compared to the cost of building replacements.

by Sand Box John on May 25, 2012 12:10 am • linkreport

Thanks both Matt and MLD. Easy answers to stupid questions.

by dcd on May 25, 2012 8:24 am • linkreport

What would it take (rolling stock or otherwise) to always run Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten? Or even Greenbelt (because I know Totten doesn't have the pocket track)? Those rush hour Green Line trains running north of Mt. Vernon are always PACKED.

And that's actually awesome news that some day we might have 100% 8-car trains. What's the timeline on that?

by GWJ on May 25, 2012 9:33 am • linkreport

@ Sand Box John:I'd Be curious what the fleet requirement would be with the headway reduced from 6 to 4 minutes?

Isn't that easy? If you want to go to 2/3 of the current headway, then you need 3/2 as many cars.

On the other hand, I am not sure 4 minute headways would fit on all lines. On the combined yellow/green, yellow/blue and blue/orange parts, you'd end up with trains every 2 minutes, and I do not think the system can handle that. Simply because a station stop costs more time.

by Jasper on May 25, 2012 9:34 am • linkreport

@ GWJ

You would need roughly 8 additional Yellow line trains to run rush hour to Greenbelt, that's 48 additional cars. And you are correct there is no way to really turn trains at Ft. Totten during rush hours. Rush+ service will somewhat attempt to perform this starting on June 18th.

As for the crowding I would need to see the passenger flow patterns, there might be another solution... Such as running trains between Greenbelt and Mt. Vernon Sq / Shaw????

by Roger B. on May 25, 2012 9:44 am • linkreport

@GWJ

The problem with extending the Yellow to Ft Totten is not really a lack of railcars. The problem is that there is no pocket track at Ft Totten for trains to turn around in - they go directly from the outbound track to the inbound track to turn around. During rush hours the headways are too tight to allow turning around without a pocket track.

The solutions to this would be: 1. Build a pocket track at Ft Totten (not sure if this is possible) 2. Run all (or more) Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt during rush hours. With Rush+ we will see more Yellow trains going to Greenbelt during rush hours.

@Jasper
I believe under ATO the system is supposedly capable of 90 second headways. Also with more trains you'd have fewer people on the platform so station stops would take less time.

by MLD on May 25, 2012 9:48 am • linkreport

God, if Metro just implemented these solutions from above:

- 100% 8-car trains
- 90-second headways
- All Yellow Line trains from Huntington to Greenbelt
- Ditching the 1000-series

That might go a looooong way towards restoring its image and providing minimum acceptable standards of service. And just to recap, the barriers to this are respectively:

- Not enough cars or substation power capacity
- ?? (Needed system upgrades, etc.?)
- Not enough cars
- Not enough cars

I feel like I've found our culprit here, for the most part...

by GWJ on May 25, 2012 9:54 am • linkreport

Oh, I should add replacing all the transverse seating with longitudinal, and eliminating those ridiculous barriers next to the doors (especially the ones in the middle of each car). Seriously, I don't understand why Metro continues to insist on so egregiously reducing capacity.

by GWJ on May 25, 2012 10:01 am • linkreport

@GWJ, @Roger B.:
Regarding extension of the Yellow Line, in 2006, Metro studied the alternatives. The report is here: http://tinyurl.com/dxkvajp

To extend the Yellow Line to Fort Totten during rush hours (if a pocket track was built), it would require 30 additional railcars beyond the current peak vehicle requirement.

To extend the Yellow Line to Greenbelt during rush hours, it would require 60 additional railcars beyond the current peak vehicle requirement.

by Matt Johnson on May 25, 2012 10:07 am • linkreport

DAJ, I'd say the higher-than-necessary spares is part of a gradual ramping up to new requirements including rush-plus and in particular the Silver Line. It's not practicable to have the many cars they need for the Silver Line delivered all at once. Metro has to test every car as it arrives and formally accept it per contract provisions with the car manufacturers. That takes a significant amount of time, especially because it happens on the right-of-way at night when revenue service is down. Car testing is one more use for the right-of-way that must be balanced with the access work crews need to conduct maintenance & replacement of rail, signals, switches, power cables, etc.

To answer your question, the extras are committed to future service increases, and if they were to put out more trains right now, well...that's hard to back down from when they need those cars later on for their intended purposes.

by Brian on May 25, 2012 11:16 am • linkreport

@ Brian

Metro is suppose to be constructing a ~ mile long test track at Greenbelt

And I'm sure that if the cars aren't ready at the time of the silver line opening Metro will probably cut some 8 car trains back to 6 and lower the target spare car ratio to free up the needed fleet, as had been done in the past.

by Roger B. on May 25, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

I like the transverse seating and carpeting (however nasty). It makes the ride a lot more comfortable.

by andrew on May 25, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

@andrew

Well, this might just be personal preference, but I would definitely take lower odds at finding a seat if it bought me a few more inches of breathing room when I have to stand.

by GWJ on May 25, 2012 1:32 pm • linkreport

andrew,

I like the transverse seating and carpeting (however nasty). It makes the ride a lot more comfortable.

I don't mean to be terse, but this isn't a matter of likes. This is a matter of math. Bench-style seating offers more total capacity, easier ingress and egress from the cars, etc.

Metro needs to make the change, and make the change ASAP.

by Alex B. on May 25, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
I'm don't buy that you can't fit that many trains through the trunk portions of the system argument. All of the literature I have states that the signaling and train control system is designed to accommodate 90 second headway.

Prior to the Yellow line opened south to Huntington in 1983 WMATA operated 3 of the 5 lines on 90 second headway. They ran 90 second headway on Independence Days as recently as 1999. I have seen WMATA run trains at 90 second headway with my own eyes.

The only reason why WMATA can't run trains daily at headways under 6 minutes is because they don't have the rolling stock to do it.

To me logic would say shorter headway would result in less crowded platform, less crowded train and less time need to board and discharge passengers resulting in the ability to shorten dwell times.

by Sand Box John on May 25, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

Great article! Now if only Metro went back to 2.5 min headways on the Red Line, and stopped the 6 car (and off peak 4 car trains) at the center of the platforms!

by King Terrapin on May 25, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

@King Terrapin:
There are no 4-car trains operating in the system, save for the Money Train.

by Matt Johnson on May 25, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper & SBJ

Only major problem with that would be educating the passengers to stop trying to cram themselves on board trains. That is what cause the bulk of delays and train bunching.

I would recommend Metro institute a policy where the train operators sound one warning chime and upon the second to close the doors and NOT reopen then.

Sometimes people & passengers need to learn the hard way.

by Roger B. on May 25, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

One thought I have had about Rush+ (which won't affect me as a Red Line commuter) is this: There's no particular reason a service has to be signed with the same color in both directions.

I would recommend, for example, that a train leaving Franconia-Springfield bound for Greenbelt be signed as a Yellow Line train (or even Green, since currently only Green Line trains go to Greenbelt and that would be an even clearer signal to folks in Virginia that this is a different service pattern). When that train returns from Greenbelt, bound for Franconia-Springfield, it should be signed as a Blue Line train.

In the same way, a train leaving Vienna bound for Largo should be signed as a Blue Line train. When it leaves Largo to return to Vienna, it should be signed as an Orange Line train.

WMATA should realize that in passengers' minds, colors are tied more to destinations than to service patterns. I think this would considerably reduce confusion and the likelihood of people getting on the wrong train.

by TimK65 on May 25, 2012 7:31 pm • linkreport

@Roger B

I would go further, establish the appropriate dwell time. Heavenly advertize it. Start the door close cycle so the doors are closed when the count down clock strikes zero, then depart. No holding for stragglers.

by Sand Box John on May 25, 2012 11:22 pm • linkreport

@TimK65:

The problem with that setup would be that someone boarding your south-bound blue line train at Columbia Heights may believe that she can ride that same train to Foggy Bottom-- and she can't.

Likewise someone boarding your east-bound blue line train at Courthouse may believe that he has a one-seat ride to Crystal City-- and he doesn't.

This would be even worse for customers at L'Enfant Plaza, where the blue line would call at three platforms on two levels.

Likewise, patrons would not always be able to take a round-trip on the same line. Currently, while it isn't always in the patrons best interest to take the same line coming and going, every single trip can be repeated in reverse-- no small detail for novice riders.

That would not always be the case in your proposed arrangement. I would expect that there would be some tourist sitting at Chinatown all day, waiting for that blue line train to take him back to Columbia Heights.

All passengers really need to know two details: what color line calls at their origin station (at the time of travel), and what color line calls at their destination station. If those colors aren't the same, some passengers also need to know where they can transfer between lines.

Finally, most passengers need to know the final destination of their train, but only for purposes of directionality: a passenger arriving at a station needs to know if he should board trains calling at platforms to his left or right, for instance.

If the current terminus station names are too unwieldy, we can switch to a Singapore-style method (every possible terminus has it's own number), but that doesn't mean that we should change the current line color scheme.

by Steven H on May 26, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

Steven's points are right. Also, the new system of having 2 termini for some Blue and Orange trains only affects people going east of Stadium-Armory or south of King Street. Those are not very visitor-heavy sections.

It won't get harder for almost any casual visitor or rider who doesn't go to those stations to navigate Metro; the Blue Line still runs where it used to. It's only people at those branches, who are mostly commuters and are already accustomed to what their terminus is; anyone on the Franconia-Springfield branch of the Blue Line already is used to taking a line to Franconia-Springfield.

by David Alpert on May 26, 2012 12:08 pm • linkreport

@StevenH:

"The problem with that setup would be that someone boarding your south-bound blue line train at Columbia Heights may believe that she can ride that same train to Foggy Bottom-- and she can't.

"Likewise someone boarding your east-bound blue line train at Courthouse may believe that he has a one-seat ride to Crystal City-- and he doesn't.

"This would be even worse for customers at L'Enfant Plaza, where the blue line would call at three platforms on two levels."

Those points are well taken.

"Likewise, patrons would not always be able to take a round-trip on the same line. Currently, while it isn't always in the patrons best interest to take the same line coming and going, every single trip can be repeated in reverse-- no small detail for novice riders."

I completely disagree. For both novice and experienced riders, not being able to reliably correlate colors and destinations/directions is a much bigger problem.

The potential confusion for novice riders from the new service pattern as WMATA has currently laid it out is considerably greater than any potential confusion that would arise for this reason from what I proposed.

"Finally, most passengers need to know the final destination of their train, but only for purposes of directionality: a passenger arriving at a station needs to know if he should board trains calling at platforms to his left or right, for instance.

"If the current terminus station names are too unwieldy, we can switch to a Singapore-style method (every possible terminus has it's own number), but that doesn't mean that we should change the current line color scheme."

Most current riders identify trains primarily by color, not by destination (they rely on the color to guarantee a destination, or at least a direction). Once you sever the link between those, you're asking for trouble.

What WMATA really, ideally needs to do is to use completely new colors to identify the two new patterns of service, but (1) I don't know what colors they could use, and (2) I don't think this is possible with the current rolling stock and sign software.

@David Alpert:

"It's only people at those branches, who are mostly commuters and are already accustomed to what their terminus is; anyone on the Franconia-Springfield branch of the Blue Line already is used to taking a line to Franconia-Springfield."

The point is that people between Greenbelt and Mt. Vernon Square who see a Yellow Line train are likely to think it's going to Huntington, when it's actually going to Franconia-Springfield. If the train were signed as a Blue Line train, that would be an immediate signal that the train was doing something out of the ordinary.

Both regular commuters *and* novice riders use colors as a guide to what direction the train is running in. WMATA's failure to provide clearer designations for different service patterns ill serves both categories of rider.

by TimK65 on May 26, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Steven H, TimK65

Reading and understanding the station ahead strip map should eliminate any confusion as the what terminal a given train is going to. AKA your Columbia Heights passenger will not see Foggy Bottom on the station ahead strip map, same for your Crystal City bound passenger at Court House.

by Sand Box John on May 26, 2012 11:04 pm • linkreport

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