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Have you ever used Metro’s power outlets?

If you find yourself on the Metro and the battery to your smart phone, iPad, Kindle, or even electric wheelchair is running low, don't worry. For those that know where to look, throughout the Metro system, both on trains and in stations, are multiple outlets in which you can recharge.

A power outlet at Wheaton. Photo by the author.

I was reminded of this in recent weeks as I ran into an old acquaintance who listed with precision and pride every imaginable outlet within the stations on the Red Line from Glenmont to Union Station. Just days later I struck up a conversation with a man in an electric wheelchair who reliably uses the Metro's public outlets. He suggested a survey would show that thousands of people borrow juice from Metro's power grid every day.

After Hurricane Sandy struck New York City and New Jersey last year widespread power outages precipitated pop-up charging stations which became the "new face of disaster relief."

In the midst of the impromptu neighborhood response, Brightbox, a New York City-based startup that creates mobile charging stations, seized the moment. At a usual cost of $2 to $4 to charge up, Brightbox put extra units on the street at no cost.

This same electrical charity is available daily to all Metro riders, emergency or not. However, it is mostly personal emergencies that cause people to power up on the Metro, said two teenagers huddled in the Red Line's grimy, damp, dark front northbound corner of the Gallery Place-Chinatown station charging their cell phones on an evening this past weekend.

Other riders are not as inconspicuous.

"I was on a Metro train recently where somebody in an electric wheelchair explained that he charged it using an outlet on the train, below the seats," said Miriam Schoenbaum, who was riding on the Red Line's Shady Grove side. "I probably wouldn't even have noticed if he hadn't talked to the whole car about it."

What about you? Have you ever needed to charge up on the Metro? Where have you found outlets?

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


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After the derecho, when I had no power at home (and I realized I had just missed a bus, and had a 30 minute wait), I used an outlet on the platform at Shady Grove to charge up. A Metro Transit Police officer asked me what I was up to (since a Glenmont train had left, and I was still on the platform). I told him about the outlet, and he just nodded and told me to be careful. They are fantastic for those emergencies, but I don't think I'd use them all the time.

by Justin..... on Jan 17, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

Police officer asked me what I was up to (since a Glenmont train had left, and I was still on the platform). I told him about the outlet, and he just nodded and told me to be careful.

Suicide prevention techniques at work.

by MLD on Jan 17, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

I briefly used the outlets at West Falls while waiting for trains after the derecho. Do all stations have them?

by Steven Yates on Jan 17, 2013 5:25 pm • linkreport

It's correct that the 2000, 3000, 5000, and 6000 series railcars have 120V outlets under some of the seats. However they are under the control of the train's operator and per SOP are turned off while in revenue service. They are provided for technicians to plug in their laptops and other test equipment while troubleshooting and repairing the cars. You may get lucky and find one left on, but I wouldn't count on it.

by dcmike on Jan 17, 2013 6:09 pm • linkreport

Now if only convenient and plentiful outlets could be placed in areas where you may spend several hours and need a charge. Like, I dunno, airports? I once charged my cell phone in a bathroom at O'Hare. Protip that least the ladies rooms have numerous outlets in the counter above the sinks. Haven't been through there in almost 2 years, so MAYBE they've installed power poles or something, but if not, there's where you can find working outlets.

by Ms. D on Jan 17, 2013 6:32 pm • linkreport

larceny of public electric power?

reminds me of this passive aggressive note i saw online:

by awesome on Jan 17, 2013 10:20 pm • linkreport

Never charged a phone or laptop using any of those outlets. I did however use an outlet at the surface entrance to the State Center Metro station in Baltimore in 2002 to download pictures from a early generation digital camera to my laptop.

by Sand Box John on Jan 17, 2013 10:29 pm • linkreport

Id be wary about using the ones on the train as voltage might fluctuate.

by JJJJJ on Jan 17, 2013 11:45 pm • linkreport

Hmmm I guess I have never noticed power outlets in trains... I assumed there were probably a few in stations, though I didn't think the'd be easily accessible... but trains?! Hmm... good to know if I forget my battery pack.

by Matthew on Jan 18, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

I love how many people expect a free outlet... like power is free... Come on folks, you can't get something for nothing, in a non-emergency situation, you should respectfully pay for power you consume. Common sense. If I were Metro, I would not provide free outlets except for charging of medical devices, wheelchairs, etc. I would however provide pay-for-use charging stations or get private companies like electronics makers to put in ad-based charging stations to help promote their products or services (like most Airports with their Samsung-branded charging areas).

by MLS on Jan 18, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

And people should pay for the A/C on metro. Its not free. If you dont want to deposit payment at a box, use the car without A/C!

by JJJJJ on Jan 18, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

And people should pay for the A/C on metro. Its not free. If you dont want to deposit payment at a box, use the car without A/C!

You forgot to add the lights. It costs to use the lights on the train...opt for the dark ones.

by HogWash on Jan 18, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

No no that's a ridiculous argument and you know it. You don't pay for the AC because that energy is part of the ride, which your fare pays for. Charging your damn cell phone is NOT part of the ride, and is not something a reasonable person can expect to be included in the cost of fare. Buy a battery case or portable charging solution if you're that concerned about it. Don't expect WMATA to provide you free energy for your phone (which is for your personal use as opposed to for the use of service like energy or the trains and A/C is). Sheesh!

by MLS on Jan 18, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

I was once in Union station, with my kid who was off a bus from NYC, and had an assignment that needed to be posted by midnight, and his laptop was out of power. We found an outlet somewhere in the building and he plugged in and posted. He only did that for an emergency, and had their been a pay to charge station he would have used that.

While waiting to pick him up, I purchased things from the vendors there. If thats not enough, I will do so again to make Union Station whole.

by desperateforKWs on Jan 18, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

@desperateforKWs I think that's fair. I don't think it's wrong to use power outlets if they're made available (i.e. not locked down or otherwise indicated as not for public use)... what my issue is with those people who EXPECT to be given access to an outlet as if they're entitled to use power at no cost. If a company or business wants to make power available, more power (hah) to them.... but no business or company should be obligated to provide you free electricity--and while you may not be demanding or expecting that--a lot of people these days do seem to be that misguided.

by MLS on Jan 18, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

Don't expect WMATA to provide you free energy for your phone

Is anyone saying Metro should install loads of power poles? No--it's impractical anyway, because you hope not to have to wait a long time in a Metro station.

As for OHare - terrible outlet situation there, at least in the UA terminal when I've gone through. They seem to have intentionally covered up outlets or put them in places where they're totally inconvenient to use. They provide a few places where you can charge things, but they're as crowded as the smoking lounge and are laid out so as to minimize the number of people who can use them at once.

by ah on Jan 18, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

Meant to add - just how much power does charging an iPhone draw? It's miniscule, not even worth charging for by itself.

One calculation says charging an iPhone or similar costs about 50c/year:

by ah on Jan 18, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

for those worrying about electricity, to run my Android phone, it has a little 5 watt charger, plug in for an hour, that's 5 watt hours.

now electricity here is about 12 cents/Kilowatt hour, so thats 5*12/1000 or
about 0.06 cents.

While it may technically be larceny, it's not really a measurable thing.

even my big laptop with the 600 watt charger is only 3 cents.

by pat b on Jan 19, 2013 8:23 pm • linkreport

Fellow UA flyer, I see, ah. Yep, that was my first and only domestic-to-domestic transfer at ORD. I didn't encounter any outlets that were blocked or taped-over, but did find a few that didn't work before I headed off to the restroom to take care of business and found the outlets above the counter. I had flown international through ORD before and knew of the charging/computer use stations, but, at that point, knew they were far away and there were only a few of them (and only had an hour layover where I was hoping to charge up sufficiently to get into my rental car before I plugged back in).

I wouldn't have a problem with paying a small amount to access a charge in airports or other places where I might find the need for such. Like others have posted, the ACTUAL electricity cost is pretty small, but installing the outlets/stations isn't free. I *would* be offended if I were asked to pay AND the charging station were sponsored by an advertiser (like the Samsung charging stations at DCA and IAD). I would *also* be indignant about paying a noticeable amount (SFO's "rapid" charging stations...cough). But I'd be perfectly happy to pay $.50/device for a little juice. That should cover their electricity and installation costs and a little profit. No matter how bad things are, it's rare that I spend more than 5 hours in an airport (that's the longest standard transfer I've endured, and about the longest time I've waited for a cancelled flight before they either found me another flight or gave up and sent me off to a hotel to wait for a morning flight), and I don't need a charge for the *whole* time. Given the right equipment/outlets, I can juice up in 30-60 minutes and be on my way.

by Ms. D on Jan 21, 2013 8:32 pm • linkreport

I noticed the outlets on the NoMa platform a couple years ago when the cover on one of them broke off and way lying on the platform. Hasn't been repaired since.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jan 22, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

I saw a passenger and airport employee almost come to blows over an outlet before. The passenger had his laptop plugged into a "free" outlet in a corner and the employee needed to plug in his vacuum cleaner.

It was an interesting argument with the passenger claiming that as a paying ticket-holder he had a right to use the outlet, he had very important work to do, and besides nobody wanted to be disturbed by the vacuum cleaner; while the employee tried to point out that he has a schedule to keep and needs to get his job done.

At first most of us sided with the passenger. The flight was delayed, we were already upset at the airline, and none of us wanted to have to hear the droning of a vacuum cleaner (not to mention having to lift our legs when it came by our seats). But then things began to turn, basically the passenger was acting like the bigger jerk, and people realized that the maintenance guy didn't work for the airline and probably wasn't making nearly enough money to deal with this.

Besides, as a general rule, when people loudly claim that their work is so important that they must inconvenience others, it never is.

In the end, one of the gate agents came over and ruled in favor of the vacuum cleaner over the laptop, our flight was called, and life went on.

by dcdriver on Jan 22, 2013 5:45 pm • linkreport

I've always thought they could add an outlet or USB port to CaBi stations. Power generated by the solar panel could first go to running the station and then charging the battery. But the excess power (and there must be excess since it works even in the depth of winter) could be shunted to the outlet. Most of the time it would just be a small public service, but in a catastrophe it could be huge.

by David C on Jan 26, 2013 5:04 pm • linkreport

Too bad SWA does not serve O'Hell; every SWA gate, including at Midway, has a laptop table with outlets.

by George B on Oct 3, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

MLS i suppose would also charge for using the Toilet at a Metro Station
and sell Toilet Paper by the square.

by pat b on Oct 7, 2014 10:55 pm • linkreport

I am constantly running out of power on the metro and needing to coordinate a ride from my stop so when I first learned of the secret outlet located somewhere in each car (Always located under only one of the 4 sets of middle seats that sit back to back) I had thought it was a myth. Like a unicorn. And btw it almost always has worked for me. I have only encountered 2 that were off or broken.

by Eric Evans on Oct 8, 2016 9:50 pm • linkreport

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