Greater Greater Washington

Ask GGW: Why no Silver Line lights?

Reader (and contributor) Bradley Heard wants to know why Silver Line trains don't have silver lights in their destination signs like other lines do. Why is that?


Sign on a 6000 series car. Photo by Ben Schumin.

Brad asks:

I noticed the Silver Line Metro trains don't have the silver light preceding the text of the line. Any idea when/if those are coming?
The short answer is that they don't have silver lights because they're not capable of showing that color. When the current cars were manufactured or rehabilitated, there were only 5 colored lines, and those are the colors the signs can show.

Right now, trains say "silver" on the front, though without the colored stripes. On the sides, they say either "Wiehle Reston" or "Largo," again without the colored stripe.

However, the 7000 series cars are indeed capable of displaying a color for silver. Those cars have white LEDs that will be used to show the color silver.


Sign on a 7000 series car. Photo by Ben Schumin.

But the 7000s won't go into service until this fall (and it will be a slow trickle over the next several years). The older cars, however, will also operate on the Silver Line, and many of them will be around for a while.

WMATA staff is currently looking into the possibility of retrofitting the older cars' signs, but they haven't yet decided whether or not that's going to happen.

The 1000s and 4000s will be retired in the next few years, so they probably won't have retrofitted or new signs. But the 2000s, 3000s, 5000s, and 6000s will be carrying passengers for many years to come, and it might be helpful for those trains to be able to show the silver color on signs. Whenever WMATA decides, we'll be sure to let you know.

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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. 

Comments

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It's okay, we've seen WMATA's true colors shining through.

by The Truth™ on Aug 7, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

In the 6000 pic, it looks like there may be enough LED's to show small letters like "SLV" or something helpful.

by The Truth™ on Aug 7, 2014 11:13 am • linkreport

I think they kind of get silver lights on the front of the trains.

It's just regular lights but they're very close to the destination display and create the effect of a silver light for the Silver Line.

by drumz on Aug 7, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

I'd rather have them spend money on more service or more train cars than spend money to retrofit LED lights so that people can see a Silver bar on the destination signs. I mean, really, this is the highest priority for the limited transit dollars available in the region?

by Dave on Aug 7, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

+1 Dave.

There are far more tangible priorities than a row of color LED's to me.

by Lord Baltimore on Aug 7, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

Also, the signs don't have yellow lights as well and so it shows it as orange.

by Davin Peterson on Aug 7, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

They just need to install Microsoft Silverlight...

I'll show myself out.

by Dizzy on Aug 7, 2014 11:40 am • linkreport

Lord Baltimore - don't worry, they'll fix these lowest priority stuff first.

by asffa on Aug 7, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

I, for one, am happy that the 7000-series shows small/large letters. Somewhere I heard that it is actually easier to read signs (like on highways) when large and small letters are used, rather than just ALL CAPS.

by JDC on Aug 7, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

Is it possible to do an ask GGW about f purple line or Columbia Pikje streetcar could end up being heavy rail metro lines?

by RailRider on Aug 7, 2014 12:00 pm • linkreport

@ RailRider - good question, one I asked previously (not sure if it was GGW or another transportation blog). The short answer is no, not really. First, the systems that support streetcars and light rail are completely different. It's not a matter of swapping out one and putting Metro in its place.

To be more specific, the Columbia Pike streetcar will be operating in the road right alongside buses and in traffic. Metro, as heavy rail, would never do that because it operates in its own ROW that would not interact with existing traffic.

As to the Purple Line, same issue. It operates in its own ROW but it also at times crosses intersections, where it would stop. Once again, Metro is heavy rail and needs its own ROW and one that does not involve stopping for traffic.

I was told that light rail could be converted to heavy rail, but the process involves starting from scratch and rebuilding pretty much everything - Metro needs platforms, higher power capacity, different rails, etc. And, to put Metro where the Purple Line would operate would require someway of bypassing intersections, thus tunnels or elevated rail.

by JDC on Aug 7, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

+2 Dave. There are more important things than color of the name on a train.

by JB3 on Aug 7, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

Where did someone suggest that this is a priority above all others? That type of response has no end.

For example, there are a lot of people that need food and basic sanitation in the world before we start worrying about a second phase of our wastefully luxurious silver and gold trains. These trains exist solely to feed our selfish capitalist lifestyles, whisking us about in endless circles from work, to the ATM, to Walmart, and back again. Our only stops are at the decadent booth filled feeding troughs lining the path. Sushi, please, with a side order of disposable consumer electronics. No ice.

by The Truth™ on Aug 7, 2014 12:36 pm • linkreport

If the lights are unable to display silver/white on older cars, can the color part instead display an "S" to denote silver line trains? At least that way, in the above photo, a Metro-user will see "S WIEHLE-RESTON" instead of " WIEHLE-RESTON"

by bobco85 on Aug 7, 2014 12:43 pm • linkreport

Other than consistency, I really don't see the problem. The terminus is much, much more important to know than the color of the train, really.

by FBJ on Aug 7, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Dizzy: Ya, but with WMATA, that's a plausible reason.

by gimbels lover on Aug 7, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

@bobco85

No, the color part is made up of 10 columns of individually colored LEDs (2 columns for each color). They are not meant to, and I suspect are not capable of, displaying letters. Plus, an "SV" designation would need to be used as "S" could be inferred as "south."

I think the message boards on the 7000 series have RGB LEDs that are each capable of displaying a wide spectrum of colors which is why those boards are able to show a silvery white color band.

by Mr. Johnson on Aug 7, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

I've never heard of, much less seen, a silver or grey bulb.

What would be done if, sometime in the future, there is a Black Line?

by Frank IBC on Aug 7, 2014 2:30 pm • linkreport

Silver doesn't work well as a "color" on a sign. That just looks like some white lights on the sign, like it's a decorative band or something. WMATA has already wasted too much staff time and money on this issue by even looking into retrofitting the old signs.

by massysett on Aug 7, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

The Truth (tm) wins the Ad Absurdum Argument of the Day award. Why bother prioritizing anything indeed, TT(tm)?! Just throw money at everything randomly.

Thanks for your useful contribution here.

by Dave on Aug 7, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

Frank IBC - I'm guessing (for obvious reasons to anyone who has lived in America for any length of time) that there will never be a Black Line, a White Line or a Brown Line (outside of the pre-existing one in Chicago) introduced anywhere in America ever. Atlanta had a hard enough time introducing a Gold-that-looks-more-like-yellow Line as it was. So don't worry about it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Line_%28MARTA%29

by Dave on Aug 7, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

The solution to the sensitivity issue Dave describes is to still give the lines colors to make them stand out on a map (white is probably out regardless because of its use as a background, borders, etc.) but give them other names. Could do numbers or letters (New York, Paris) or descriptive names (London). Given that DC is the capital, a more London-like naming convention seems to make sense, at the risk of pressing into service words that have been worn into meaninglessness through overuse.

Red = Constitution Line
Blue = Capitol Line
Orange = Republic Line
Green = Independence Line
Yellow = Democracy Line
Silver = Federal Line

Done and done.

by Dizzy on Aug 7, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

I could see one of those proposed loops becoming the "Loop Line" if it ever happens, but ehh, I see the colored lines for the main routes staying for the foreseeable future. Prefer it to those USA buzzwords, anyway.

by FBJ on Aug 7, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

Oh don't you worry, FBJ. We'll still have plenty of time/room for the America Line, the Victory Line, the Freedom Line, and, most importantly of all, the Ronald Reagan Washington National Line.

by Dizzy on Aug 7, 2014 3:45 pm • linkreport

@ JDC

Thats not exactly true you can

"I was told that light rail could be converted to heavy rail, but the process involves starting from scratch and rebuilding pretty much everything - Metro needs platforms, higher power capacity, different rails, etc. And, to put Metro where the Purple Line would operate would require someway of bypassing intersections, thus tunnels or elevated rail."

For several reasons that is not entirely true.

1 You have many pre-metros running all over different parts of Europe

2 The actually trains cars could run on the same tracks as an electric and diesel train can. The issue is how the train attains power is it via a third rail, catenary wires, diesel, steam, or something else.

3 Someone railways in Africa have a mix of two different types of cars running on the tracks.

In some countries you could find trains that resemble the Wash Metro & Amtrak sharing the same tracks.

4 Metro does not mean heavy rail it means underground train in an urban area. Many metro systems around the world are infact just lightrails in a damn tunnel

The biggest issue with converting a lightrail or premetro to metro would be, platforms (if it was sharing tracks with other lines), installing faregates, and the power system.

Think about the Paris Metro some trains run on tires, others metal wheels, some look like streetcars some like our metro.

What we have is actually just a subway using rail cars that could be converted to cover Amtrak like distances. If you went to Japan, South Korea etc our metro cars look exactly like the intercity rail cars in some places except for the seats and signs.

by kk on Aug 7, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

@ Dizzy

The "named" lines like in London are a nice idea. However, I think that it would be confusing to use names of major streets (Constitution, Capitol, Independence) unless those lines follow their respective streets for a significant distance.

DC should have used the silver line to instead start leaning towards a New York style of naming where different "lines" have different alphanumeric identifies, and each core line has a different color. i.e. Orange and Silver would both be shown as Orange on the map, but Vienna to New Carrollton would be for instance the "1" train, and Wiehle to Largo would be the "2" train, etc. If DC metro does build new lines in the future and doesn't eliminate interlining, this will be the necessary naming/coloring solution. Imagine if every NYC subway line had a different color/line shown! All of Midtown Manhattan would just be one continuous blob of color with 1,2,3,4,5,6,A,B,C,D,E,F,M,N,R,Q all running generally north/south from Houston up to 53rd street.

by Andy L on Aug 7, 2014 3:51 pm • linkreport

If I had to design the Metro system from scratch, I would have included the following:

1) Overhead wires (or overhead third rail) with AC current, to allow interoperability between light rail, subway and commuter rail lines. Also allows higher voltage and less risk of fire from debris.

2) Fully enclosed platforms for safety, noise and climate control. All stations island-platform. Ceiling vault starting at edge of platform, not outer edge of tracks.

3) Lines follow Wisconsin Avenue, 7th Street/Georgia Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue, H Street/Benning Road, and old trolley lines in general.

by Frank IBC on Aug 7, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

It's actually too bad that the color segment can't display letters. A red R, yellow Y, and so on would be kinda neat.

by Another Nick on Aug 7, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

@ kk

BART's new "eBART" extension of their Pittsburg/Bay Point line is being built to support DMUs (diesel multiple units), which are pretty much light rail even if not electrified. The extension is designed to be convertible to standard 3rd rail BART in the future given sufficient funding and ridership.

So it is possible to convert light rail to heavy rail, but only if you put in place the necessary rights of way, grade separation, track gauge, platforms, etc. (i.e. many of the specifications that make heavy rail more expensive). Unfortunately, streetcars (Columbia Pike, DC, etc.) and the Purple Line will never be able to be upgraded to WMATA's Metro heavy rail standards. Heavy rail could be built adjacent to the streetcars/purple line in the future (similarly to the proposed Crystal City streetcar providing local service parallel to the Blue/Yellow line), but they would be separate systems.

by Andy L on Aug 7, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

@ Andy L

It can be upgraded to heavyrail whether or not it meets WMATA standards is entirely different !

I never said it was not possible to convert lightrail to heavy rail! In fact you are not converting anything unless you are retrofitting the cars. The tracks are probably already the same gauge in many countries and the only different would be the type of car being used on it.

I have seen places where you have heavy rail trains have road crossing with traffic in Europe and it has worked out fine the only difference from here is they dont have ground level third rails.

It can be done yes does it meet the standards of WMATA maybe no but that does not mean it can not be done. Just look at the Metro systems of many cities in Europe; pretty much all of them were not built as Metros.

The underground in London was many different different lines ran by different companies and to this day some trains can not be ran on some tracks.

Platforms dont matter you will build that regardless of type of train or vechile it could be a bus (high level buses need platforms also), streetcar, lightrail, Metro type trains, Amtrak type train etc.

by kk on Aug 7, 2014 4:28 pm • linkreport

Not just in London, but in New York as well.

The old IRT lines use one type of car (narrower) and the BMT and IND lines use another type (wider).

by Frank IBC on Aug 7, 2014 5:19 pm • linkreport

Also, Tokyo's subway has two different types of line - Japanese AKA "Cape" gauge (1067 mm) and standard gauge. The latter lines have through running with private railways which also use standard gauge.

by Frank IBC on Aug 7, 2014 5:21 pm • linkreport

BART's new "eBART" extension of their Pittsburg/Bay Point line is being built to support DMUs (diesel multiple units), which are pretty much light rail even if not electrified. The extension is designed to be convertible to standard 3rd rail BART in the future given sufficient funding and ridership.

Interesting as BART uses wide gauge trains, if their new eBart is going to also be planned to be upgrade able it will also need to get DMUs that are in wide gauge

So it is possible to convert light rail to heavy rail, but only if you put in place the necessary rights of way, grade separation, track gauge, platforms, etc. (i.e. many of the specifications that make heavy rail more expensive). Unfortunately, streetcars (Columbia Pike, DC, etc.) and the Purple Line will never be able to be upgraded to WMATA's Metro heavy rail standards. Heavy rail could be built adjacent to the streetcars/purple line in the future (similarly to the proposed Crystal City streetcar providing local service parallel to the Blue/Yellow line), but they would be separate systems.

The purple line could actually be converted fairly easily in 15+(more likely 30+) years if ridership numbers made it necessary. Almost all of it is in it's own ROW and has a lot of grade separation. It would require all new stations and cars to service those stations. It would require numerous over/underpasses for all the major roads it crosses and probably a tunnel through the University of Maryland, but it could be done. It wouldn't be compatible with METRO unless they also changed the power from overhead to third rail.

by Richard on Aug 7, 2014 6:16 pm • linkreport

"Almost all of it is in it's own ROW and has a lot of grade separation."

West of Silver Spring, where it runs along the former (and current) railroad right-of-way, yes. An overpass will be built at Connecticut Avenue, leaving Jones Bridge Road the only at-grade crossing (possibly with the exception of some small streets in Lyttonsville). That section could just as easily be built as heavy rail.

East of Silver Spring, not so much.

by Frank IBC on Aug 7, 2014 7:00 pm • linkreport

@ Dave

I think we tied for the prize, today. You deftly manufactured an issue out of nothing, by suggesting that upgrading the LED signs was suddenly "the highest priority for the limited transit dollars available in the region." Of course that was not even hinted at by anyone, ever.

As you pointed out, my message was a purposeful exaggeration of your own hyperbole. I mean, the "when we have x real problems to deal with" game of one-upmanship has no limits.

I think everyone here agrees that LED signs are not high on the list of pressing issues with the Metro. The point of this whole post (article) is about if, when, and what will be the fix to the system uniformity issue.

I must say that I did enjoy my exercise in depressive commentary when I wrote that comment, earlier. I was inspired by recent "Fight Club" quotes. ;-)

by The Truth™ on Aug 7, 2014 8:04 pm • linkreport

I remember years ago I was in a Metro station, and I overheard an obvious New Yorker asking for directions. Some wise-acre told them that they needed the local and not the express...

I have to admit that I like the idea of named lines a la London, but it is probably too way late to try and change the whole system over.

by Eric on Aug 7, 2014 9:05 pm • linkreport

eBART is going to use standard gauge I believe. The "upgradeable" thing is bogus - it can be upgraded just like any other ROW. To use a completely different technology (BART) it would have to be redone to fit those standards.

by MLD on Aug 8, 2014 8:36 am • linkreport

@kk: I think it's pretty clear in context when someone asks on GGW whether something can be upgraded to metro, they mean washington metro (heavy) rail--not some foreign definition of metro that has no relevance to a US context. The definitions of streetcar, light rail, and heavy rail are pretty well understood in the US context, and trying to bring in other definitions is more confusing than helpful.

by Mike on Aug 8, 2014 9:21 am • linkreport

@Frank IBC: there's basically zero value in having streetcars, light rail, and commuter rail having interoperable traction power. The signalling will necessarily be different, the safety parameters will be different (stopping distances, etc) requiring different physical design, the platforms are different, the scheduling regimes are different, and (probably most importantly) the regulatory structures are different. Making them compatible in terms of track gauge makes it easier to move things around occasionally, but beyond that it's more headache than it's worth for rolling stock that will likely always be customized to its specific purpose.

by Mike on Aug 8, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

In Europe, a pre-metro line is designed for later upgrading to heavy-rail rapid transit if the demand warrants. The Purple Line is not being designed with such conversion in mind, as far as I can tell. Also, I think that letter labels on trains, such as S for Silver, might be less than helpful to visitors from cities such as New York that have some lines designated by letter. Those passengers might think that they are boarding an S train, not knowing that the S only means Silver.

by Steve Dunham on Aug 8, 2014 9:39 am • linkreport

I feel like this could be fixed with software, or perhaps a little re-wiring if these signs aren't microprocessor controlled. They can already show Red, Green, and Blue. When you show all of those together, you get something that looks like white, which will be easy enough to interpret as "silver". No new signs necessary, just use all the LEDs at once!

by Kevin M Combes on Aug 8, 2014 9:52 am • linkreport

"Those passengers might think that they are boarding an S train, not knowing that the S only means Silver."

It's not like people wander down into stations and get on random trains. They'd look at a map, find their destination, look at the map, see they need to get on the Red line, they wait for their train, and a train with a red R on it shows up. They then think...this must be an R not a red? That's crazy talk.

They already brand the lines as OR, SV, and so on! No one is going down into Metro stations looking for the OR line then getting confused when a train says ORANGE on it.

by Another Nick on Aug 8, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

@Kevin M Combes: the existing colors are discrete strips, not interspersed in the way you'd need in order to create new colors. At best you'd have a "rainbow line" rather than a "white line".

by Mike on Aug 8, 2014 11:28 am • linkreport

The solution is simpler than you think..Replace the YELLOW line LEDs with white ones (every line has its own color strip on the Destination Sign) as so: |||||||Greenbelt. Since the yellow line uses the same color as the actual words used in amber on the sign, no need to add LEDs.

by duh on Aug 8, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

@duh: so, basically, resolder every sign in the fleet (by hand?) and then (somehow, you skipped this part) change the controls--including the intra-train signals--to reflect this new scheme. that would almost certainly take longer and cost more than refitting the cars with a new signage package.

by Mike on Aug 8, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

@Mike

There have also been times on here trains from NYC, Bart, Atlanta, Chicago etc have came up some there is a need to say which cars and also stop being so narrow minded !

by kk on Aug 8, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

Yep petty concern that is utterly inconsequential so you write a whole article about it.

by getreal on Aug 8, 2014 5:56 pm • linkreport

Is this why the Silver Line hasn't shown up in Google Maps yet? Because it's too hard to distinguish from the gray in most of the transit map?

by Dave G on Aug 8, 2014 7:10 pm • linkreport

@ Dave G. -

The Silver Line, specifically, the route, is visible on Google Maps. However the five new stations are not.

by Frank IBC on Aug 9, 2014 12:27 am • linkreport

Frank, yes you can see the dark gray lines that are the Metro tracks, just like any other railroad that's shown in Google Maps. But turn on transit and the Silver Line is not among the Metro lines shown.

by Dave G on Aug 9, 2014 6:49 am • linkreport

@Dave G
Boo hoo, sledgehammer the Google Maps offices for perpetuating this unthinkable travesty. We Washingtonians deserve better than this disgraceful snubbery.

by getreal on Aug 9, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Dave G. - Yes, and that's very disappointing.

by Frank IBC on Aug 9, 2014 8:22 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by getreal on Aug 10, 2014 12:48 am • linkreport

I'm sure it's only a matter of time until it's added to Google Maps. It will be interesting to see how long it takes. And how well the color silver shows up against the background which is already gray to start with. Will depend on what shade of silver is used, of course.

by Dave G on Aug 10, 2014 8:49 am • linkreport

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