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Santiago shows a low-cost way to solve Metro crowding

When passenger crowding becomes problematic, many transit agencies look toward expensive engineering solutions. But sometimes, the situation can be improved with some low-cost techniques and education. That's the approach Santiago took at one of its transfer stations.

Tobalaba station is a transfer point between two lines in the Santiago Metro. The layout of the platform is that the transfer exit is in the middle of the platform, and the direct street exit is at the "head" of the platform, toward the front of the train.

The problem is that some transferring passengers riding in the front half of the train head toward the middle to transfer, while some exiting passengers riding in the back half of the train head toward the front, and the two groups collide, causing significant congestion.

The real issue for the transit agency is a reduction in capacity. Due to the platform congestion, the next train can't be platformed until the platform is clear. That had resulted in a train througput decrease from the 24 trains per hour (TPH) design capacity to just 22 TPH.

So, instead of opting for an expensive engineering solution, agency officials decided to try education. They installed a staffed gate midway along the platform. Anyone who is in the front half of the train must exit. There is no access to the rear half of the platform. Anyone who exits from the rear half of the train can only proceed to the direct exit after the platform has cleared.

As a result, people who exit from the front of the train can head for the direct exit unimpeded. People who exit from the rear of the train headed for the transfer are unimpeded as well. And everyone learns which part of the train to be in.

More importantly, the interval between arriving trains has dropped from 2 minutes and 40 seconds to 2 minutes and 10 seconds. The carrying capacity of the line has increased by 15%, or 4,000 more passengers per hour.


While an approach just like this might not work on Metro, it does show that innovative low-cost solutions can help. Gallery Place has severe crowding problems, especially on the narrow Shady Grove-bound platform. The Green/Yellow platform isn't centered under the Red Line, instead being located at the far eastern end of the Red platforms.

As a result, passengers crowd under the crossvault, and especially when 6-car trains come in, waiting customers rush along the platform toward the end of the train, colliding with people exiting Red Line trains to transfer to the Green and Yellow Lines downstairs.

WMATA does nothing to encourage people to move down the platform. At Gallery Place and other transfer stations where exits aren't optimally situated, like Fort Totten and Union Station, signage, announcements, or other solutions could reduce dwell times and increase customer satisfaction.

Of course, given the growing crowds at Gallery Place and the narrow platforms, an engineering solution is likely to be necessary in the future anyway. But WMATA could easily take steps to more evenly distribute customers now.

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. Heís a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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That is very intriguing. I'm trying to picture this at a station like L'Enfant as well on the lower level platform, which is wholly inadequate.

by JDC on Feb 12, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

The great thing about these types of solutions is that, while it may upset people at first, they can adjust their routine to board the car that gets them to the stairs they prefer.

I think the problem we have more often is overcrowding in certain train cars while cars at the front or back (especially on 8-car trains) have plenty of space throughout the trip.

Many people get on whichever car is next to the escalator when they enter the platform. I know this is common with the 6th car heading outbound at McPherson Square and Farragut West.

Others make sure they are on the car that best positions them at their exit or transfer.

Maybe there are some low-cost solutions for this?

by jh on Feb 12, 2014 3:25 pm • linkreport

triple the fare! I'm sure that will work! Seems to do brilliantly for HOV lanes and the ICC.

by charlie on Feb 12, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

Interesting parallel with this post today on Atlantic Cities.

Also reminds me of the Orange Line conductor who quite assertively reminds people to spread out along the platform. Interesting but it would require some finesses and planning. If you make people miss trains even while increasing overall efficiency, many customers will just get pissed off.

by BTA on Feb 12, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

So I assume that the station has more then one elevator ? As some stations have only one elevator in many places.

A simpler solution would be to plan stuff in the beginning; some issue are present from the get go and could be solved.

Take Gallery Place on the Metrorail the biggest issue are one the elevators if a elevator was built into the original plan there would be no issue and no shoe horning an elevator into an already present building

The second the design of the station the uppercase T shape of the station is the problem due to everyone transferring having to go the same way this issue is also present at Fort Totten the best solution would have been a cross or a lowercase t shape or an uppercase H shape.

The best solution would to be plan in the first place or use a common design at transfer points so that everyone can know the layout easily.

by kk on Feb 12, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

Sometimes the train driver will announce to people on the platform to please use all doors (or something along those lines). I've even heard somewhat snarky statements after the train started moving again, to the effect of "reminder to the large group of folks on car 3, you won't be separated from your party if you enter through different doors..." Any such announcement, even if well-meaning, is too late. Better signage is needed to educate people before the train pulls in.

While we're at it, can Metro educate people to please. stand. on. the. right! :-)

jh: "Others make sure they are on the car that best positions them at their exit or transfer."

I do this when transferring from RD to BL/OR (and vice versa) at Metro Center, but it took me a week or two of commuting to learn this. It fuels an undeserved sense of smugness on my part. :-)

by AL on Feb 12, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

kk makes a good point. You can kludge some of these kinds of improvements but the basic problem, especially at Gallery Place, was the failure to design the station right.

Similarly the between the tracks platforms in places like the lower platform in Gallery Place, or at Union Station.

Like the issue of only two tracks, the way that station capacity was designed in terms of throughput, clearly the system wasn't really designed to accommodate more than one million people per day, even though that's what the projections say.

E.g., there is no way that the Union Station platform can accommodate significantly more people that would come from a tripling of Union Station's railroad services without adding another subway line and significantly changing the design of the access to the platforms from the station.

There are other similar chokepoints in the system.

2. One thing I keep advocating for are 4-door cars and other changes on the interior of the cars to speed entry and exit. It's terrible that the new series of cars didn't do this.

It's not unlike the original Weese design not thinking through the demands of a one million + passenger per day system and operation when all the cars aren't brand new, therefore having to take breakdowns into consideration, etc.

You design for the capacity you expect to reach at the outset, without having to do serious retrofit.

by Richard Layman on Feb 12, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

+1 for Richard's "You design for the capacity you expect to reach at the outset, without having to do serious retrofit."

@BTA - I love that Orange line operator. He often signs loudly after a stop where no one paid attention to him. It's things like that I will miss when we go to automated announcements. The garbled, unintelligible messages I will not.

by JDC on Feb 12, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport

I do find that the layout of many stations makes for very poor circulation. Bethesda, Columbia Heights with its one entrance on the far north end of the platform and Rosslyn come to mind (though they've improved the Rosslyn situation now). I can't believe they didnt design a system where every station had at least two entrances at the very least for safety reasons. And I don't count elevators unless they can move dozens of people a minute.

by BTA on Feb 12, 2014 4:09 pm • linkreport

Yeah that guy makes my day sometimes. But by the time the train gets there it's usually too late to do anything about how people are standing.

by BTA on Feb 12, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

I, too, am familiar with the Orange Line operator who notifies passengers on the platform that it's an 8 car train (with 24 doors) and that they should spread out. However, I don't then see many people spread out and go to the 8th car.

Related to the overcrowding topic, there's something I really don't understand. Just about every day when I get to L'Enfant Station, there are three consecutive Orange Line trains within about a 6 minute span. The first of these 3 trains is usually about 6 minutes after the previous Orange Line train. (Everyone once in a while a Blue will be sprinkled into the mix in this span.) What I fail to understand is why the first two of the three trains are 6 cars and the 3rd is 8 cars. That seems to happen a lot. That first 6-car train is crowded every afternoon while the 8 car train doesn't come close to being full since two other trains have already picked up Orange passengers just a couple minutes earlier. Please, WMATA, make the first train the 8-car train and the last two the 6-car trains.

by jh on Feb 12, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

Another issue that could used to fix stuff is the placement of stairs and escalators at the stations.

I use West Falls Church station about 3 times a week and every time I'am there people have issues getting to the escalators. The station is designed horrible in terms of placement of elevators and escalators.

Where the steps are there should be escalators, then stairs, elevator and two more escalators. They should all be facing the direction of the exit when you are up on the platform; presently when you go up the escalators you have to make a u-turn when you reach the top and you have on coming people from the stairs thats a bad design.

NOMA, Largo Town Center & Morgan Blvd share the same problems (these 3 were built at the same time)

The only station I could say has a good design in terms of ability to get people around the station would be Farragut North but it also has a problem the entrances are too close together creating the same problem as Gallery Place funneling everybody the same point.

@ Richard Layman

Gallery Places issues could be solved now somewhat easily. They would build a canopy over the Red Line tracks between the Upper level with the G Street entrance connecting it to the 9th Street entrance. That way if someone gets on the 9th Street entrance and wants to get on the Green/Yellow line they would not crowd the Red line Platform.

The elevator issue could have been solved before the new buildings were built on top the station along 7th Street. The Green/Yellow line platform and 7th & H faregates are directly under 7th Street.

The bottom of the second escalators is almost directly City Sports, Beyond Bath & Bath and the other store which doesn't come to mind now they could have put an elevator there before construction on that building.

by kk on Feb 12, 2014 5:02 pm • linkreport

kk -- 1. great ideas. I thought I had some decent ideas for Union Station once upon a time, but your Gallery Place ideas are outstanding... 2. I used to write about the placement of stairs and escalators a bunch. Years ago, the WMATA board scotched some WMATA planning proposals to fix some of those issues, along the lines you discuss.

(Union Station definitely needs stairways as well, which the board specifically rejected.)

But I don't think their proposals were nearly as creative as yours.

3. speaking of capacity, sadly the barrel vault is another capacity limit. If the vault was rectangular and taller, you could probably have double deck cars. It wouldn't address the track redundancy issue, but would allow for a 50% to 75% increase in capacity, but would have required double level platforms to not lengthen dwell time significantly.

by Richard Layman on Feb 12, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport

Toronto has these signs at its overloaded transfer point:
47:365 Move down please
They also use staff and barriers to direct passengers down the platform at peak hours.

by Payton Chung on Feb 12, 2014 7:20 pm • linkreport

@"WMATA does nothing to encourage people to move down the platform."

Whether or not WMATA takes this approach, the underlying problem is the frequent use of 6 car trains. It's just not enough, especially on Gallery Place's redline platform where exits are at only one end of the platform.

WMATA knows this is problematic, but continues using 6 cars during rush hour...

by Burd on Feb 12, 2014 8:01 pm • linkreport


WMATA either hasn't enough trains, or enough power capacity, to run only 8 car trains. I don't recall where things stand at present. However, its certainly in the plans to acquire that capacity in the next few years.

What is incredibly asinine and negligent is their policy of stopping the trains at the end of the platform, for a nominal safety concern. Clearly the situation at Gallery is hazardous. Someday a passenger will fall on the tracks there, or at Union or F North, due to this incredibly stupid policy. But WMATA does not care, because that accident won't be blamable on operator error.

by DavidDuck on Feb 12, 2014 9:17 pm • linkreport

Absolutely right, GGW! This would probably never happen in DC, because we will NEVER, EVER have this:

"That had resulted in a train througput decrease from the 24 trains per hour (TPH) design capacity to just 22 TPH."

Even in the mythical 2025, WMATA will still probably not be running any line with 24 TPH, let alone the degraded Chilean service of 22 TPH.

by James on Feb 12, 2014 10:41 pm • linkreport

What Gallery Place needs is an elevated walkway atop the red line tracks that allows users needing to exit to the east to not walk through people waiting for the red line trains and vice versa.

by NikolasM on Feb 13, 2014 10:17 am • linkreport

I've often wondered if, when the system was originally designed, if any thought was put into escalator/elevator/entrance position related to the tracks so that people would be automatically spread out?

By that I mean, if all stations had their entrances and escalators at the front of the trains, we could reasonable expect the front of all trains to be more crowded than the back of trains.

My theory is that someone did think of this but it was either never seriously considered or it was never really an issue as the layout of each station is determined by geography and engineering concerns. The end result is a somewhat "random" placing of escalators/entrances throughout the system.


by Alice on Feb 13, 2014 10:31 am • linkreport

@ NikolasM

I already suggested that further up in the comments

by kk on Feb 13, 2014 11:05 am • linkreport

What Gallery Place needs is an elevated walkway atop the red line tracks...

Metro's looked at this before. It was studied as a part of the pedestrian tunnel between Metro Center and Gallery Place:

I believe the Metro 2025 plans include the pedestrian tunnel; they could include this as well.

My theory is that someone did think of this but it was either never seriously considered or it was never really an issue as the layout of each station is determined by geography and engineering concerns.

They certainly did consider it, but it is one consideration among many.

speaking of capacity, sadly the barrel vault is another capacity limit. If the vault was rectangular and taller, you could probably have double deck cars. It wouldn't address the track redundancy issue, but would allow for a 50% to 75% increase in capacity, but would have required double level platforms to not lengthen dwell time significantly.

Two things here:

One, the stations are not the constraint to your concept here, the tunnels are.

Two, the concept makes little sense. Is there a single example of tunneled mass transit that uses double-height platforms for double-decker trains anywhere in the world? That is an absurd amount of complexity and cost for a minor increase in capacity when a more reasonable and beneficial capacity change is to simply run the trains more frequently (see line 1 in Paris - automation for more frequent trains, etc).

by Alex B. on Feb 13, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

@ NikolasM
I already suggested that further up in the comments

@kk Sorry, didn't read all the comments before posting...

by NikolasM on Feb 13, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

I agree that the big part of the problem at Gallery Place is the stopping of the trains at the front end of the platform. I was commuting on the Red Line before and after the 2009 Red Line crash. Before the crash, the trains pulling up to the GP platform in the Shady Grove direction used to stop in a good position for people transferring from the Green/Yellow lines. I saw how the situation worsened when the policy changed.

As far as the layout of the various stations goes ... how much was driven by the need to shoehorn at least some of those stations in between existing buildings, major water and sewer mains, and whatever else lurks under a major city? Perhaps Gallery Place is T-shaped because something blocked the designers from creating a cross-shaped station like Metro Center and L'Enfant?

by Greenbelt Gal on Feb 13, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

I know it's not a direct fit, but I'm reminded of how complaints about slow elevators were solved by installing lobby mirrors. Problem solved.

by Norman Metzger on Feb 13, 2014 1:03 pm • linkreport

@ Alex

No train system (heavyrail, lightrail, tram, etc) uses double-height platforms for double-decker trains. First of all there are no trains built like that with doors on both floors. Second it would just be asking for suicides on the platforms as the top level would be exposed to the bottom level.

The closest you will find is either a system that uses double decker railcars with a single platform or double stacked platforms and tunnels .

There are some systems that uses double decker railcars but not that many are subway most are either trams or regular intercity trains.

In the case of double stacked platforms and tunnels those are in use around the planet the only stations that come to mind are Lionel-Groulx & Snowdon in Montreal and Guting Station in Taipei. I know there are more but I can not think of them off the top of my head.

Double stacked platforms are better when it comes to transfers but have way more complex construction and usually more expensive.

by kk on Feb 13, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

@ Greenbelt Gal

You have a point with the station designs but that also brings the question of why put it there in the first place if there are so many issues.

Take Farragut North & South they were planned to be one station but could not get a tunnel built under Farragut Square. If they really wanted one station why was the station not moved east or west to avoid the park. It could have been moved in the planning stages or they could have moved the Blue and Orange lines up to L Street with a platform crossing over the Red line.

by kk on Feb 13, 2014 2:37 pm • linkreport

Another issue preventing spreading is the inconsistent handling of escalator direction. I travel to Potomac Ave, which has one lone escalator at the front of an outbound train. This makes it ideal to find my car and leave right to the escalator 4 out of 5 days because it's usually going up in the evening. 20-25% of the time, though, it's going down and all the passengers who pre-planned for an up have to trudge through the whole station to get to the only way up. If this happens too much, everyone will just crowd the middle and not spread.

by jyindc on Feb 13, 2014 11:28 pm • linkreport

Especially on the narrower platforms, there simply aren't enough escalators to get people away quickly enough. Rosslyn and Pentagon come to mind, where there's one escalator at the far end of the platform (useless if you're debarking from a 6-car train), and only a single one towards the other end, which immediately gets swarmed by an entire train converging on a single chokepoint.

God forbid there's ever, you know, an emergency in the station requiring evacuation, or people are actually going to die.

by LowHeadways on Feb 14, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

@ LowHeadways

If there is ever a real emergency I would say about 60% will be injured. The mostly likely candidates for someone dying in are the deep stations Rosslyn, Wheaton, Forest Glen, Pentagon, everything between Dupont Circle & Medical Center and every station that has two sets of escalators to get to the mezzanine. And everybody that needs to use an elevator or can not walk/run up the escalators is screwed.

Speaking of Rosslyn & Pentagon stations who the hell designed them that person should be blacklisted. Both stations have enough room to be one level; the only reason I could think for the design is the buildings around them mostly the Pentagon at the Pentagon Station.

Other stations are as just as close to a river and are underground Anacostia with its north entrance and there is a good chance that is built on reclaimed land. L'Enfant Plaza is a station similar which two lines split/join so that also is not an issue for the semi stacked design.

by kk on Feb 14, 2014 2:38 pm • linkreport

Pentagon and Rosslyn are the way they are because the tracks have to cross over each other where the lines come together. So in order to keep inbound/outbound separated you have to have them at different heights.

by MLD on Feb 14, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Right, but that doesn't mean you couldn't put in more stairs and/or escalators between the two levels.

As it is, I don't believe Rosslyn has any stairs between them, only escalators which are, of course, often out of order and blocked completely.

by Gray on Feb 14, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport


I know WMATA's excuse is power supply capacity, but my point is that the $149.7 M investment in the upgrade should be made. It's a matter or priorities.

But yes agree that the stopping trains at the end of platform is silly, especially at Chinatown.

by Burd on Feb 14, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport


I don't mean to be argumentative, but silly is not the word we should use for endangering people like they do at GP. It's negligent. If I ever get squeezed off the platform I'll lawyer up...

by DavidDuck on Feb 14, 2014 3:42 pm • linkreport


You don't have to have the station like that take L'Enfant Plaza or the many other stations around the world where lines split it could be done in the tunnels not involving the station at all.

by kk on Feb 14, 2014 5:06 pm • linkreport

Matt Johnson's excellent article on how Santiago, Chile, solved a subway problem of platform crowding with a "low cost" solution reminds us that there are probably many more such "low cost" transit solutions just waiting to be discovered. Thanks for the inspiration.

by Dan Peacock on Feb 17, 2014 6:22 pm • linkreport

@kk: the difference is that L'Enfant is two separate sets of track running perpendicularly to one another, whereas Pentagon/Rosslyn/etc. are two sets of track splitting and merging (rather than merely crossing).

But what those stations really prove is the utter folly of interlining, and provide a great argument for separating not just the Blue Line but all the lines.

by Low Headways on Feb 18, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

@kk, @Low Headways:

Low Headways, kk is referring to the upper level (GR/YL). The Green and Yellow Lines diverge south of the station, yet they were able to be on just one level.

The reason that Pentagon and Rosslyn have the inbound and outbound tracks on separate levels is because the BL/OR and BL/YL diverge *immediately* adjacent to the station. There's no room for one of the tracks to climb over the other between the station and the divergence.

So the only way to make it happen is to have the two directions on different levels. (Or to have moved the station to a different location).

In the case of L'Enfant, the YL/GR divergence is far enough south that the platforms could be on the same level. And yes, the GR/YL switch is actually right next to the platform at L'Enfant, but the YL actually parallels the GR for a little before the inbound track dives under the GR line.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 18, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

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