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Video: Early days of Metro

While some of us can't imagine living without Metro, at one point in time not all that long ago it was brand new. This 1976 promotional video, via PlanItMetro, shows the system's earliest days:

Some areas have drastically changed since Metro arrived, like Rhode Island Avenue, which was surrpunded by parking lots and is now the site of mixed-use, transit-oriented development.

The video also features 2-car trains, which seems unimaginable in our era of 6- to 8-car trains.

What do you notice?

Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  


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There is so much potential snark, but this really brings back a lot of memories. I remember having a tour of the Metro Center station while it was under construction and marveled at the concrete waffle ceiling, and routinely riding 2 care trains.

by Andrew on Jun 6, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

My buddies and I snuck into the Woodley Park station and walked the tracks to Dupont Circle.

by Crickey7 on Jun 6, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

I consider myself lucky that, Thanks to Lem Proctor-- I have a one of those roll signs from the old Rohr Cars. (1000 Series)

by Coneyraven on Jun 6, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

Every single one of those trains seems to be moving PAINFULLY slow.

by kidincredible on Jun 6, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

Priceless soundtrack.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jun 6, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

"No waits, just train after train"

by Rob on Jun 6, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

One thing I really often wonder: why did people in the 1970s think it looked great for everything to be brown?

by David Alpert on Jun 6, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

I suspect this was filmed before the system opened. Most of the shots seem to be at Rhode Island Avenue and Metro Center. No other stations appear in the footage.

At 11:30, you can see at Rhode Island Avenue that no globe lamps have been installed on the pylons.

People also seem to be dressed for warmer weather, so the film was probably shot in the fall of 1975. Metro opened in March of 1976, and winters tend to be a little cold here.

by Matt Johnson on Jun 6, 2013 10:43 am • linkreport

My favorite part - working escalators!

by Thad on Jun 6, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

Did some searching of the title and found a snipped on page 39 of this:

The quote in the search says:

"This photo by Ron Derter. at Metro Center Station, was actually taken earlier when several Washington Chapter members served as extras in the filming of a publicity movie, "Metro — Here and Now." Since then a second line has started ..."

Given when these things were published and what people are wearing it would seem it was filmed in late 1975 like Matt says.

by MLD on Jun 6, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

A coworker spotted someone being taken up an escalator in a Wheelchair near the end!

by A. P. on Jun 6, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

I think the man who did the voice over was on a lot of such promos and reports back then. Resisting the snark for sure.

by Jay Roberts on Jun 6, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

What Troy McClure wasn't available to host this? "You may remember me from such transit promotional videos as...."

by jj on Jun 6, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

Bet WMATA blew the budget making this too

by Jack Jackson on Jun 6, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

It is interesting to see how much extra capacity was built into the system. If the system started with 2-car trains, they built it for at least a four-fold expansion, on top of any increased frequency. Can you imagine the howl of budget clowns now if we built something that had a potential capacity increase of fourfold?

No, now we make everybody walk a couple of hundred feet extra to cut a bit of money out of the budget of the Dulles station.

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

Unfortunately, Metro is still using those same antique 1000 series cars today, which they should have retired years ago

by Davin Peterson on Jun 6, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

Obviously this was filmed prior to opening, but I really noticed that there were no system maps or advertisements inside the rail cars. The only wayfinding was a line map - evidently rail cars were to be used on one specific line.

by Doug on Jun 6, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

The line maps were part of the rollsigns. So when the train sign on the outside said RHODE ISLAND AVE, the rollmap on the inside showed the Red Line.

Similarly, when the sign on the outside said BALLSTON, the map on the inside showed the Orange Line.

The trains could be used anywhere in the system.

by Matt Johnson on Jun 6, 2013 12:03 pm • linkreport


Actually, the roll signs were designed so that if the destination on the outside of the car was for a Red Line station, the strip map on the inside would be for the same color, same thing for the other lines ....

by coneyraven on Jun 6, 2013 12:05 pm • linkreport

Sand Box John made a comment on a GGW post a few years back about this video:

Next time you do an event like this you should screen the 1975 WMATA produced promotional film "Metro Here and Now" for historical perspective. The film is in the Rebecca Bean papers of the Smithsonian Archive (Box 16).

Cody Phanstiehl's personal secretary was the primary character in the film. Primary shooting was done on two separate days at Rhode Island Avenue and Metro Center. Last time I saw the film was in 1977. I have no idea if WMATA still has a copy in their record archive. I would love to have someone make a digital copy of it and post it on the internet. I and a friend of mine were extras in the film.

by 7r3y3r on Jun 6, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

@David: the only alternatives were avocado and harvest gold, brown and burnt orange were really the best available options

by Mike on Jun 6, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

Definitely noticed the wheelchair riding the escalator at the end.

One map showed Yellow to Van Dorn and Blue (I think it was blue - definitely not yellow) to Hunington.

I don't get the part where they circled some of the people. Were they basically saying: "Look, white people and black people together!!!"

by jh on Jun 6, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

Also interesting from the maps at the beginning, that they had the current system pretty much planned out from the beginning. Since then, not a lot of additional vision has been finalized.

by jh on Jun 6, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport


The original plan was for the current Yellow-Blue branches past King Street to be switched. But when the National Airport-Huntington branch (originally supposed to be Blue) was opened, the Blue line would have been very long and the yellow line into the core very short. So they made the Airport-Huntington section served by Yellow trains while Blue trains turned at National Airport.

by MLD on Jun 6, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

@jh...note that the circles in the original maps were white or blank. They filled in the black circles once the stations were operational. So the pans on the map in this film had th stations unopened.

by Andrew on Jun 6, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

@jh: It's because every time a vision of Metro 2040 comes out, everyone sees the price tag and cringes.

Metro was built using free money, money that came from cancelling a highway system that the local population opposed. I don't see a $10B pot of free money sitting around anymore.

by Michael Perkins on Jun 6, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

I like how none of those proposed trips can be done in the stated time even today.

Wheaton to Stadium Armory in 32 minutes? Must be joking.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 6, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

Those clothes are a real trip!!!

I'm also struck by the video narrator's emphasis on Metro serving the "people." He even uses the phrase "the common good" once or twice. Such a film made today would emphasize how the Metro system would benefit EMPLOYERS. It wouldn't be about "people" choosing to live in one part of the metro area and working in another. Nope, it's all about the corporations.

by Greenbelt Gal on Jun 6, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

@MLD and JH --- To add to what you were saying as to what caused the Blue & Yellow to switch --- The true reason was that to make Huntington Yellow at the time was because it required fewer cars/trains to run the line than blue ... there was a labor strike at (correct me if I'm wrong SBJ) and brake manufacturing plant preventing the cars needed. If it would've stayed blue, it would've meant a delay in opening.
In another observation, I enjoyed seeing the reference to the Zoological Park Station (now Woodley Park-Zoo)

by coneyraven on Jun 6, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

Serving the people? That's an almost comical statement ... The line that would serve the most in terms of those that rely on transit, ended up being the last one built ... the Green Line .... of course, you can blame that on lawsuits, thereby delaying construction. This applies to both, the section below Anacostia and the portion between U Street and Fort Totten ...., and even, to a lesser degree, between Ft. Totten and W Hyattsville, that was a tunnel vs. aerial debate... obviously, the tunnel won.

by coneyraven on Jun 6, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

@Dave A: "why did people in the 1970s think it looked great for everything to be brown?"

I would attribute it to the fact that good taste went completely out the window back then. I lived through it, and I really have no idea what we were thinking back then. The love of brown was actually one of the least tacky things about the 1970s, a decade that included disco music, afros, handlebar mustaches, sideburns, ties wide enough to be used as bibs, platform shoes, "leisure suits," and rayon "dress" shirts with pictures stenciled across them, to name just a few things. Those of us unfortunate enough to grow up in that era have hideously embarrassing pictures of graduations, proms, family events, etc. When I see young people today getting excited about "retro" nostaligia for the 70s, I think "WHY?!" At least the retro versions of some of the 70s fashions tend to be more toned-down and tasteful than the original.

by mike on Jun 6, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Brian Fantana sighting at 2:14.

I remember having a few pairs of those knee high striped tube socks back then.

by A. P. on Jun 6, 2013 3:06 pm • linkreport

@JH, "Since then, not a lot of additional vision has been finalized." What about the 23 mile Silver Line extension, the extension to Largo, extension to Shady Grove (which was a mid 70s decision), the NoMA infill station?

That the system laid in the original late 1960s plan was completed is arguably a miracle. Compare the outcome in DC to the heavy rail transit metro system plans for Baltimore, Atlanta, and Miami. Baltimore started with a plan for a 71 mile Metro system and ended up with a single line. Miami has a single line with a new short branch to the airport. MARTA ended up with more of a system than than the other two, but a smaller system than originally planned as suburban counties opted out.

It is fortunate the DC Metro system design was set and construction started when it did. If it had started a few years later, there could have been a series of cost cutting measures, 450' long platforms, fewer station entrances, drop the Green Line, a major switch to lower capacity light rail, and so on. DC will have a 129 mile heavy rail rapid transit system in 2018, all built in the last 50 years. Impressive accomplishment compared to the post-1960s transit results in other major US cities.

by AlanF on Jun 6, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

What can't brown do for you?

by Chris S. on Jun 6, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

The music is also impressively 70s! I'm pretty sure the intro music was used in other promo films of the era (Progress Island, USA, anybody?)

@Greenbelt Gal: It's not by coincidence that Zach Schragg equated the system with the Great Society programs. People sincerely believed that collective effort could accomplish positive results, and that created the will to take on enormous projects. I'd trace nearly all of Metro's current problems back to 1) chronic underfunding of upkeep and 2) its own success. If you don't really believe in collective action, you wouldn't want to address either of those issues. Because, you know, screw it, we need tax cuts.

by Distantantennas on Jun 6, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

4:47: "East Falls Church to Farragut West - 12 minutes"

WMATA trip planner - 20 minutes.

by Kolohe on Jun 6, 2013 9:40 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins
Lets cancel some highways!

by BW on Jun 7, 2013 9:22 am • linkreport

I have been waiting for years for this film to be published on the internet! It appears to be a different cut from the version that was produced and released by WMATA before the first segment opened.

I participated in the production of this film. The seens in the stations were shot over two separate weekends. Rhode Island Avenue on the first, Metro Center on the second. Supplemental lighting was used at Metro Center. The surface entrance escalator seen was shot on a weekday shortly after the Metro Center shoot at Judiciary Square F street entrance. The woman riding up the escalator is Cody Phanstiehl executive secretary.

I appear in the in this version at 4:14 - 4:19, blond kid on left in blue printed T shirt. I also appeared in the preopening version discharging from a train at Metro Center. I was 16 years old at the time.

The preopening version was shown as part of the presentation Cody Phanstiehl gave prior to the tunnel walk tours from Judiciary Square to Metro Center that the then WMATA Office of Community Service gave prior to the opening of the first segment of the system.

The Rhode Island Avenue shoot was the first time I road aboard the trans. but not the first time I boarded a metrorail car.

After the shoot at Rhode Island Avenue we all boarded the train and made a speed run south hitting top speed of 81 MPH before stopping short of the New York Avenue overpass.

by Sand Box John on Jun 7, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

81 mph! High time Metro introduced some express trains.

by Chris S. on Jun 7, 2013 10:28 am • linkreport

Gotta love that "whocka-whocka" guitar midway through. Almost thought Johnny Wadd was gonna make a cameo.

Seriously though. It just shows how Metro really hasn't evolved much from the 1970s.

by 17BOBTreyO on Jun 7, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

@Chris S

At the time of the filming trains were being run in manual mode with ATP disabled.

by Sand Box John on Jun 7, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

I actually still like the brown, the Helvetica, and the brutalist concrete. It just looks bad when poorly maintained. But still much better than most other systems I've seen...

by Wilson on Jun 7, 2013 7:37 pm • linkreport


You are correct.

For those commenting about the trip times between various station pairs, many here may not remember that the civil speed limit has been reduced throughout the system. Prior to the reduction of the speed limits trains operated at speed above 70 MPH along many segments of the system both on the surface and under ground. In the early years trains ran at speed up to 65 MPH between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom.

The primary reason why speed have been reduced it to extend the life of the rolling stock.


The roll signs could be set at up to 100 different positions, mind you not all of the positions had destination on them.

At the time the 1k car were delivered from Rohr the destination sign rolls contained virtually all of the destination that WMATA planned to use on all of the lines as segments were added to the system. There was even a Dulles Airport destination sign.

The strip map and the destination station name were adjacent to each other on the same roll, the station name appeared in the window of the exterior sign box, the strip map appeared in the window of the interior sign box. A florescent tube was placed in the sign box between the exterior station name and the interior strip map. Some of the destination had no strip maps and simply showed the station name in both exterior and interior sign boxs

Because of their length the sign roll were a maintenance headache. WMATA ended up truncating the sign rolls before they eventually abandoned them for flip dot signs.

Here are pictures of coneyraven truncated destination sign roll.

Truncated WMATA Rohr Roll Sign


The quality of the print used to make this video is not that great. The blue has been wash out.

by Sand Box John on Jun 8, 2013 12:14 am • linkreport

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