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Were you there when the region was still building Metro?

My dad worked for the Urban Mass Transportation Authority, now the Federal Transit Administration, in the late 1970s. As a result, my family went on several tours of the new transit system. My mom recently brought me this promotional item from a tour in 1980 or 1981.

The text says,

I saw partially completed stations with:
  • Free floating mezzanines standing clear of the walls
  • Installations for edge-platform lights which will dim and brighten to signal the approach of quiet Metro trains
  • Air conditioning ducts and public address speaker openings
  • Train halls long enough to hold the Washington Monument on its side with 45 feet left over
  • Direct sight lines and open visibility with no columns to block my view
  • Huge coffered station arches to be painted with indirect light from below the platforms
  • Acoustical panels being installed to quiet the stations
  • Floating slabs resting on elastomer pads to quiet train noise and vibration from the surroundings
It took me ___ minutes to walk it. By train, the same trip will take ___ minutes.
Were you there? Any other readers have cool photos or souvenirs from this era? Send them to!
Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities. She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC. She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation. 


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I came here to visit in 1988. At that time, I rode the train in from Addison Road to the Smithsonian and loved it. I suppose at the time there was no green line, and the blue line was not complete, but I don't really remember. By the time I moved here in 2001, the system was more or less complete except for a few extensions.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 25, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport


by Brent on Apr 25, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Hah cool. First "new station" I used was probably Columbia Heights circa 2001. Quite likely I went through New York Avenue around the time that station was under construction but I don't really remember it.

by BTA on Apr 25, 2014 10:47 am • linkreport

If you are in the Washington region right now, then you can say "yes". After all, Metro's Adopted Regional System might have been completed in 2001, but the system continues to grow, with the Silver Line soon* to open.

*"Soon" is a relative term.

by Matt Johnson on Apr 25, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

My first metro ride was in the mid 90's when we visited my cousins who had just moved up here from Richmond and we rode Metro to the zoo. I actually remember a lot more from the metro ride than the actual day at the zoo. The super long escalators, the flashing red lights, being apprehensive about falling on the tracks, how dark it was, etc.

It's funny because as an adult I was told they lived in Ashburn and me realizing that's a long ways from the metro (not for long though I guess).

by drumz on Apr 25, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

Ha, I wasn't even born yet. But infant me rode the Blue from Crystal City to McPherson so mom could show off the new baby at the office in mid-1982. Only took 28 years for my second Metro trip to take place, on a vacation that turned into a permanent residence.

by Another Nick on Apr 25, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

All my friends and I went down shortly after opening and rode the Red Line, end to end, several times.

A few years later, we snuck into the unfinished Woodley Park station and walked the tracks all the way to Dupont Circle.

by Crickey7 on Apr 25, 2014 11:14 am • linkreport

May, 1978 on a school field trip. Air & Space Museum if I recall.

by Mark on Apr 25, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

I grew up here and as a kid heard all the arguing over the routes and how to fund it. I'd visit my father's office on 15th Street with all the downtown streets dug up and covered over with wood. I rode the trains on the very first day, in 1976 - we boarded at Union Station, smart since the line-end stations (Rhode Island Ave and Farragut North, IIRC) had mobs of people who waited in long lines. In high school we played on the subway when it was just those first few stations. My family lived PG County & I remember the long fights over there the southern Green Line should terminate; they picked the location nearest our house although the station didn't open until long after I'd moved from that house. I am sure that all this was a major influence on me becoming a city planner.

by Planner on Apr 25, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

My first taste of the metro wasn't actually me riding it, but it was memorable. It was 1991 and I was only 4.

I told my dad I really wanted to go to Disney World so he played along by saying we'd take the train there. What he did was take me to a metro platform as we watched the trains go by from the upper mezzanine levels. Maybe it was somewhere in downtown. I just remembered being underground. We hobbled slowly as to let the trains depart before we could even make it to the down escalator.

After a few 'attempts' he conceded that we missed the train to Florida and we couldn't go anymore.

Still, it kept me from crying as I was told I was more fascinated by the trains moving than feeling defeated at the thought of no longer going to Disney World.

To this day I'm still in love with those trains. Too bad they don't go to Disney World.

by swftkat on Apr 25, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

Oh - I also had the chance to tour parts of the system while still under construction:
I walked through the Green/Yellow tunnel from Archives to L'Enfant with the Smithsonian Associates, and climbed down the construction ladders to the Congress Heights station with the National Building Museum.

by Planner on Apr 25, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

I love how they clearly thought of the indirect lighting and recessed walls as improvements. I guess they didn't have a brook flowing from the walls at Farragut back then either, though.

by Tom Veil on Apr 25, 2014 11:49 am • linkreport

I was too young to remember my first ride. We used it often to get to Farragut North from Silver Spring for doctors appointments, and Silver Spring opened the year before I was born. The first time I rode solo, though, I was eight years old.

In high school, I remember our band class being occasionally interrupted by dynamite blasts for the tunnel between Wheaton and Glenmont.

I also remember my freshman year of college taking the Green Line shortcut between College Park and Farragut North. Later that year, I remember taking the Green Line from College Park to get Ben's Chili Bowl, and how awesome it was I didn't have to transfer.

I also remember in 2005 the first time I took Metro to FedEx Field. The Redskins of course lost to the Chargers in overtime.

by Dave Murphy on Apr 25, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

Actually, I did not see any new construction but I did have the privilege to be one of the first users of the Redline coming out of the last stop at Brookland! I was in college in an internship at L'Enfant Plaza. circa 1977! By July, the L'Enfant Plaza Station opened, brand spanking new! It was hot and so was the L'Enfant Plaza underground Mall! Exciting times!

by edESTESdesign on Apr 25, 2014 12:09 pm • linkreport

I've been a fan since 1977 when the Blue Line made it's debut between Stadium/Armory and National Airport .... Through the years, I've been able to acquire many rare items showing Metro's unique history, including a wall map showing the Green Line going to Rosecroft (not Branch Ave. these were on the trains for less than a year in the 80's) and an original Roll sign that was used on the Rohr cars (1,000 series) when the system first opened. I know Sand Box John has seen both to validate. They are truly two of my most prized possessions amongst other things, including an original wall map when the system first opened (showing Gallery Place closed). Oh, and for what it's worth, the first station I ever entered was Rhode Island Ave (at that time, the terminus of the Red Line and the closest for us coming in from Howard County)

by coneyraven on Apr 25, 2014 1:13 pm • linkreport

I remember touring one of the downtown stations, I think it may have been McPherson Sq while it was under construction. I rode very early on, but not the first day. As a kid, we would joy ride through the nascent system, watch the planes from the platform at National Airport etc. and return out of the same gates we entered.

by Andrew on Apr 25, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

I still have a Metrorail map from 1985.

by Rrrr on Apr 25, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

Took my first ride in the summer of 1977 before my freshman year at Gonzaga. Still hard to think of Gallery Place and L'Enfant plaza stations as transfer stations because there was no Yellow or Green lines. Of course the map in 1977 did have the transfer symbol at those stations.

by MikeH on Apr 25, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

While my first Metrorail trip had been a few years earlier, the early memory about the system that will always stick with me was from the early 1990s when the U Street station was under construction. For some reason, my great uncle's funeral procession from Foggy Bottom traveled along U Street to Prospect Hill Cemetery off North Capitol Street, right over all the wooden planks and metal plates holding U Street in place above the cut-and-cover station hall underground. I will always remember that very bumpy ride, seeing all the cars from the funeral procession trying to navigate the difficult mess of construction along U Street.

by Michael_G on Apr 25, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

I was visiting a friend at Georgetown. I had to search hard the next morning to find him to get my ride to Union Station to catch my train back to school. Found him still kinda drunk sleeping in the dorm shower. Dragged him to his car and we proceeded to drive most of the way across town on Mass Ave, which was a plankington road: Cut and cover construction of the Red Line. Heavy boards covering a hole that cars drove across, carefully, a bumpy ride.

by Trulee Pist on Apr 25, 2014 3:13 pm • linkreport

I remember vividly riding the red line for the first time with my dad in '84. Growing up a New Yorker in the '70s and '80s, Metro felt like a pristine Disney attraction compared to the Subway we were used to. I remember how much in awe he was of the cleanliness, relative quiet, and no eating/drinking rule.

Funny and a bit sad how times change: I ride Metro daily now, but also took several trips on the NYC Subway a few months back. I was blown away how clean and well designed the current cars were, including announcements you could actually hear.

by sproc on Apr 25, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

My dad took us on the red line the first weekend it was open in, I think, 1976 when I was 11 years old. They let people ride free on that first weekend. My dad was really cheap, so anything free seemed a good family activity to him. But we all thought it was pretty cool.

by Greg on Apr 25, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

I remember my first attempt to ride Metro - I had just arrived by train from NYC, and was trying to figure out the farecard machines. The largest bill they took back then was 10$, and I only had 20s. So I took a cab to get home instead.

I remember another ride on Metro in the days before the Green line opened. I encountered some tourists from NYC trying to figure out how to get to the waterfront, and I had to tell them that the line as shown on the map was not yet open.

by JackRussell on Apr 25, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

Good to learn about the air-conditioning ducts.

by Turnip on Apr 25, 2014 8:43 pm • linkreport

I don't really remember the first time I was on Metro but it would have been the early 80s. I felt like a real adult for the first time when I had a job in the city and rode Metro every day. Even with the hassles I miss it.

by James Hare on Apr 25, 2014 8:59 pm • linkreport

Certainly remember how old downtown was torn up and streets boarded over for so many years before the Red line finally opened. I had just moved back from school outside San Francisco and had been through the same disruption of Market Street for BART there so I went through a good decade of torn-up downtowns.

When the green line finally opened I tried using it to get to work but it was too slow. In the past 30 years I've used it maybe 30 times, just to get to DCA. Otherwise living in the central city it's pretty worthless to me, although it did get the bus herds off K.

 photo Met-hist08.jpg

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 26, 2014 12:57 am • linkreport

I was in elementary school in 1970 or so when, as a field trip, we visited the parking lot in Seven Corners shopping centre where there was a full scale model of a metro rail carriage that we could walk through. I don't recall much except that it seemed very futuristic.

by Strozzapreti on Apr 26, 2014 5:16 am • linkreport

Ed Tennyson was on loan from the Pennsylvania DoT in 1962-63 for three days per week for the planning of what became WMATA Metro.

He helped develop policy choices (he argued for 10 car platforms, but was told that if they EVER filled up 8 car trains, they would just build more lines).

He did not submit lines, but evaluated lines proposed by others.

He and I have been working on plans to 1) almost triple urban rail passenger miles for the Greater DC area while 2) reducing the operating subsidy (i.e. the additions operate at a marginal profit).

The first is easy, draw lines all over the place. The second is VERY difficult, but possible (Hint: transfer high subsidy bus riders to low subsidy Metro, use empty time slots on existing lines, provide multiple paths in congested areas, and more).

Ed remembers many lines rejected 50 years ago that look better today, plus more.

I am a little behind in updating the latest changes, but our plans are at:

by Alan Drake on Apr 26, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

I rode Metro the first day, in March 1976, from Union Station to Farragut North, then back to Rhode Island Avenue, and back to Union Station. The rides were free, and Cody Pfanstiel, Metro's Public Affairs Spokesman, was in the same car at Rhode Island Avenue when one of the doors stuck at "open," so he pulled on it and it freed up and closed. I particularly remember the huge piles of gray, primordial stone that were brought up out the shafts dug on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, along the stretch that's on the back side of the Chevy Chase Club -- incredibly gray and primitive. Also the slick driving on wood street surfaces downtown when the Red and Blue Lines were being dug using cut-and-cover to build the tunnels. They were very treacherous to walk or drive on in rain or snow. Seemed like they were there forever.

by Publius Washingtoniensi on Apr 26, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

I began riding the new blue-orange line daily in 1977, and the lowest fare was 45 cents. Ridership was low, so trains moved fast and efficiently.

by slowlane on Apr 26, 2014 4:37 pm • linkreport

My first ride on Metro was about a month or so before it opened. I was an associate editor of the old DC Gazette and they gave the Metro board members their first ride and had the press as well.

I remember we started at Rhode Island Station. As we were heading underground at Union Station, one of the staff asked the District's rep Rev. Jerry A. Moore, Jr., if he would like to say a prayer. Jerry looked up and simply said "I already did."

FYI, the first paying customer on Metro was Sue Morrison, who is still a friend.

by Carl Bergman on Apr 26, 2014 8:11 pm • linkreport

I sat on the platform at Catholic University, next to the real train tracks and before the subway tracks were laid, and drank a bottle of wine with my high school classmate. We talked about how good it would be to finally ditch the buses. I had been to Boston often and dreamed of having a similar system here in DC.

DC Transit was terrible. We were jumped by gangs of black kids regularly, it took and hour to go across town, and did I say we were beat up regularly?

However, we both eventually purchased cars and the rest is history (because public transportation still stinks here - but slowly getting better).

by NE John on Apr 26, 2014 10:25 pm • linkreport

Bu coincidence, my family visited DC for a week only about 3 months after the initial opening of the system (when it was something like 3 stops). It is clear evidence of child abuse that they not only didn't take us for a ride on it but they never even told us it existed. And *that* is why my life has been in a downward spiral ever since. ;-)

by Missed It on Apr 28, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

In 1975, I was 14 and my father got an underground tour by General Graham along with Dr Werner von Braun and his son. I was fortunate to be able to tag and along and still remember it.

by Matt on Apr 30, 2014 3:22 pm • linkreport

I visited the area as a child in 1985 and camped in Greenbelt Park. We visited the monuments and museums for a couple of days, and after the first day realized that parking was a pain - so we took the orange line metro from New Carrolton. I still remember riding past RFK stadium - as a kid from a rural area that was nowhere near big cities, just seeing (from the outside) a venue where a professional sports team played was a big deal. At the time, the green line was not finished on the north end; now folks camping at Greenbelt Park can walk to the College Park station.

by John on May 1, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport

I remember visiting DC as a kid (when I was about 12) around 1981 or so -- and I especially remember riding Metro when it was all fresh, and still (seemed) brand new! It definitely felt "modern" (a LOT more modern than the 'El' in Chicago, the only other mass-transit rail system I'd ever been on before (at that point).

And I it's funny how similar it still feels today -- and how my first impressions of the DC Metro system (as a 12-year old) haven't changed nearly as much as I might have predicted -- even with daily use now for going on 3 years (and owning no car).

I does seem more crowded, and has reliability issues (sometimes), but otherwise -- the design and other aesthetics of the system remain strongly similar -- and very evocative of a specific time ('70's) and place (Washington, having one of the only US metro systems in the country that was developed in the 60's and 70's).

I tend to be a fan of late 60's and early 70's design (both good and bad), and Metro remains a prime exemplar of good design from that era.

by Rooster_Ties on May 13, 2014 2:00 pm • linkreport

I was in high school when the regions signed off on the original MetroRail agreement. It was exciting when the first Red line trains were launched but even more eventful when the Blue/Orange lines went into service. A new milestone was set with every new opening.
If it were not for some NIMBY's I believe that the system would be a lot more larger than it is today.

by Joe on Mar 4, 2015 2:50 am • linkreport

I lived in Washington throughout the construction project. Hereweith are a few impresssions: To achieve the Downtown cut-and-cover, the streets above were usually paved with heavy wood planks -- no kidding! The wood was very slick in rain or snow, and pedestrians were liable to take a nasty spill. I definitely remember a cab skidding across the wood pavement at about Connecticut Ave. and Farragut Square and ending up hanging precariously over the abyss. The Post may have covered this incident. Another vivid impression was the huge piles of primordial, gray stone that had been lifted up through the work shafts and deposited along the red line right of way, for subsequent removal. There were one of two of these shafts along the east side of Wisconsin Avenue, by the Chevy Chase Club back fence. I read later that w/ all the stone from the deep tunnels, rock landfill was a drug on the market in the Metro area throughout the construction project. One of the first Metro motormen was an African American who had started as the "pit boy" at Wisconsin and Q Streets in Georgetown. His job was to unhitch the underground electric cable when the streetcars transferred to overhead wires at that location. He later became a bus driver, one of the first African Americans to do so, I believe. This, too, may hav been covered in The Post. Finally, a buddy and I went to Union Station to ride Metro the first day it opened (March, 1976, I think), It was free, so we rode to Rhode Island Avenue, then to Farragut North (I think) and back. As the train left Rhode Island Avenue, one of the doors stuck open and the train stopped. Unbelievably, Cody Pfanstiel, the Metro PR Director, was in the same car. He simply tugged on the rubber grommets until the door closed, and away we went.

by publius washingtoniensis on Mar 4, 2015 10:56 am • linkreport

I was born in May of 1975, just shortly after the nearly 600 WMATA AM General Metropolitan buses were delivered to the DC, MD & VA area, it wasn't until the mid to late 1980's as to where I witnessed the construction of the Yellow Line in which during that timeline, it was extended further up 7th Street and Georgia Avenue N.W. to include service to Archives-Navy Memorial, Gallery Place-Chinatown, Shaw-Howard Univ. Station and U Street-Cardozo Station, I would hop on Route 70, 71 or 73 at that time, back when the GM Fishbowls and the Flxible New Looks were the dominate buses of that time and we would have to detour from Georgia & Florida Avenues to Florida Ave. and 6th Street, the buses would continue on through Chinatown on 6th Street and then turn from 6th and I to I and 7th Streets, SW and continue to either L'Enfant Plaza, Half & O Streets, Buzzard Point or Fort McNair. During that timeline, I was a true fanatic of the WMATA and we all can attest; that the Bus Operators were far more respected back then based in comparison to how things are today, but personally, the love for the system will never fade.

by Jermaine Raffety on Mar 11, 2016 12:46 am • linkreport

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