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A cheaper route to Metro core capacity, part 3: More complex service patterns

If Metro separates the Yellow and Green Lines to add capacity across the Potomac, we could align service various ways. What about a hybrid of the two?

Squalish diagrammed a potential service pattern where some Blue trains take the 14th Street bridge, while others go past the cemetery to Rosslyn. Likewise, some Silver trains go through the Rosslyn tunnel, while others go past the cemetery the other way to 14th Street.

Squalish's diagram shows most (2/3) of the Blue and Silver trains going past the cemetery, but fewer could as well. Most trains would follow the more direct route into DC, but a few would use the cemetery track to switch places. We'd have some service past Arlington Cemetery, allowing people to transfer, but not so much as to let the merges and unmerges slow the whole system down.

To make things simpler for riders, we should give a single color to all trains following a particular route through Arlington and DC. If one color follows two paths, it should only do so at the periphery. I recommended the same for the proposed "Blue Line Split".

Click to enlarge.

Nevertheless, this could definitely confuse riders. There are now, eight services, six involving the Virginia side: Dulles-New Carrollton, Dulles-MV Square, Vienna-New Carrollton, Franconia-Largo, Franconia-MV Square, and Huntington-MV Square. Whereas calling Franconia-Greenbelt service "Yellow" only affects those going to the four stations south of King Street, none of which draw tourists, this would also affect the 14 stations on the Orange and planned Silver Lines, including everyone going to Tysons or Dulles Airport.

Most likely, Metro would need to begin giving trains secondary designations, such as numbers, as New York does, with one number for the Orange Line to Vienna service and a different number for the Orange Line to Wiehle Avenue or Route 772.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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If Metro is going to start adding more services to existing tracks, then it's probably time to abandon the color-only based naming system.

by Alex B. on Jul 1, 2009 2:41 pm • linkreport

My fear on this sort of setup is that the two lines which serve Arlington Cemetery would have too great a headway at rush hour. We're likely talking about 10 or 12 minute headways on the Blue and Silver lines (which means you'd have to divert some Orange line trains to Largo or you'll have riots on PG County Blue line platforms). That's a long and frustrating wait for someone who wants to go to (say) Farragut from King St. and has to watch several Yellow line trains go by before he sees a Blue.

by jim on Jul 1, 2009 2:47 pm • linkreport

In Boston, all the lines are referred to by color. But the Green Line splits into the B, C, D and E lines and the Red Line splits into the Braintree and Ashmont branches. Tourists can handle it just fine, though it is a smaller system overall.

by Noah Kazis on Jul 1, 2009 2:54 pm • linkreport

Metro could do something like the Kick Map (, where each line gets a band of similar colors.

by tom veil on Jul 1, 2009 3:23 pm • linkreport

But then tourists from New York wouldn't be able to complain that Metro schematics are "too Fisher-Price", tom. You'd take away an age-old pastime!

This said, I think the cheapest short-term fix to maximize capacity in the Metrorail system would not necessarily be to build a new Yellow Line tunnel down 8th or 9th Street but to utilize and/or build out switches so that Silver Line trains run from Wiehle to Courthouse to Arlington Cemetery, then run up the 14th street Bridge, then merge with the Green Line at Waterfront and double back at Anacostia.

I know that sounds a bit confusing, but I'll upload a map in a little bit.

by Daniel M. Laenker on Jul 1, 2009 3:36 pm • linkreport

Daniel: Oh, wow, that is brilliant. I'd almost forgotten about the proposed "baseball train" switches. Yes, please do share a map!

by tom veil on Jul 1, 2009 4:00 pm • linkreport

A cheaper (?) alternative to the separated Yellow line, which has something in common with Daniel's proposal, would be to build another Potomac crossing between the Pentagon (there's a switch and a stub tunnel just south of the station) and the DC waterfront. Cross the Green line at Waterfront, cross Orange and Blue at Federal Center SW, then take two lanes from the 395 spur to run up to New York Ave (maybe put a station at Mass. Ave), then a very short tunnel along M St to abut the Convention Center station.

One could run the Silver line from Dulles to K route to Courthouse to C route to Pentagon and then up this new route.

Existing Orange and Blue traffic run through the existing C-K junction.

by jim on Jul 1, 2009 4:18 pm • linkreport

If where going to be wasting money with the yellow line crap why not add new stations along the way.

Perhaps building a new junctions could fix some of the problems

1 Building one at L'Enfant Plaza so that blue lines trains could go there normal route til L'Enfant Plaza and follow the yellow line to VA. That way you could still serve people in PG County and in the Eastern portion of DC who want to go to Alexandria.

2 Buid junction along New Blue line split that allows the switching between Blue and Red Line (some Red Lines could go to Rosslyn from NW DC)

3 New Blue Line split but add a new portion through the middle of DC so that you could go from Rosslyn - Adams Morgan, Columbia Hgts and Greenbelt and route the silver line that way.

4 Build Junction around Gallery Place so that you could have trains running from Union Station to VA.

5 Just switch the damn system to a number or letter based naming system, don't bother with having a two or three different orange line trains or 2 blue line trains.

One of the good things about the system is that you can get on whatever color train and know that its going where you need to go (except for July 4th and when they decide to pull a fast one and end trains in the middle of a route).

Right now you can usually hop on a Blue Line and know that its going to Largo Town Center or Franconia Springfield all you have to go is look at the color with having two trains with the same color will result in confusion, you would have to look at color then make sure its going where you need to fo; if you have to do that you better off going with numbers or letters.

Every last option on here seems to be useless for people in eastern DC and PG County how about adding a mix of routes that dont penalize residents of these places.

by Kk on Jul 1, 2009 6:03 pm • linkreport

Since we're living in a fantasy world ... with a real world twist ...ultimately, I'd love to see both the realigned Blue Line (Through Georgetown and eastward as envisioned in an earlier map, plus, a second north-south route (probably Yellow) servicing the 14th St. corridor, meeting with the Green at Columbia Hts, then continuing northward, then east ward to a junction with Silver Spring and continuing out Columbia Pike to Burtonsville --- but, here's a thought, as it goes north of Columbia Pike, create a spur that would vear west to connect with the Red around Van Ness (I know that would be a tunneling nightmare, thanks to Rock Creek Park) but both would create some redundancy so that, God forbid, there's another accident, the system will less likely have isolated sections --- Just the rantings of an old man

by coneyraven on Jul 1, 2009 10:42 pm • linkreport

We manage just fine with same-number bus routes that have different termini (some rush hour 42 busses from Mt. Pleasant go all the way to Metro Center, and others terminate at Farragut). It would also be nice to put in some kind of skip-stop service on the silver/north orange branch. Otherwise, that's a loooooong ride in from Dulles.

by Matthew on Jul 4, 2009 12:04 pm • linkreport

While it seems logical to promote better use of the existing capacity of the Arlington section of the Blue Line and the Potomac River Bridge, I would suggest that the "9th St." subway be pushed closer to the Golden Triangle - rather then duplicating the path of the current Green/Yellow route up 7th St.
Using the 11th Street access right of way from highway 395, the new route could pass under the current Smithsonian Station with a transfer, then proceed under the Mall and to C and Virgina Ave - giving the State Dept and Interior Dept a stop. Then under 19th St. with a stop at Pennsylvania and a link to Farragut West, then Dupont and 19th before heading up to U and 16th. Between Dupont and U I would put a third (turnaround) track - then link it to the Green/Yellow.
This secondary north/south route would be much closer to the business core and shift a tremendous amount of transfer passengers that crowd red line trains from the Green/Yellow. It might also completly shift tranfering activity at Ft Totten to be towards the Yellow and Green.
The routes from the north would likely shift. Yellow might stop again at Mt. Vernon while a new route from Greenbelt might be the silver. With the added middle track at U St. and 16th the Green Line from Branch Ave could then double their service.

by bob previdi on Nov 30, 2009 5:45 pm • linkreport

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