The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


7000 series designs sacrifice capacity for vague safety

The team working on the 7000 series, the next generation of Metrorail railcars, has chosen to keep the current "transverse" seating instead of switching to a "longitudinal" arrangement based on unquantifiable safety benefits. In doing so, they've given up the opportunity to substantially increase Metro's capacity as overcrowding gets worse.

Early designs for the 7000 series had two possible seating arrangements under evaluation. The first, transverse seating, is what Metro uses today. The new cars make some specific changes to the current layout, including moving the end doors closer to the center and therefore having more seats at the ends and fewer in the middle. In general, though, it's what we're all used to.

The other option, longitudinal seating, involves a row of seats facing the center on each side. Many transit systems around the world use this seating arrangement. It has the advantage of holding more standees, as there is more open space in the center.

7000-series transverse (left) and longitudinal (right) seating arrangements.

The longitudinal arrangement does sacrifice some seats, though surprisingly not very many. It seats 122 per pair of cars, compared to 126 per pair in the current (transverse) 6000 series, and 130 per pair on the 7000 series in transverse configuration. But it holds more people standing. If trains started using longitudinal seating, the seats would fill up scarcely faster than they do today, but trains wouldn't become crush-loaded as much.

Similarly, Metro decided not to explore having 4 doors per side on each car. Many other systems have 4 doors on cars of this length. New York even has 4 doors on many 60-foot cars, compared to Metro's 75-foot cars. More doors mean the car can load and unload faster, reducing dwell times and keeping trains moving. That increases capacity as well, because the faster each train gets in and out of the busiest stations, the sooner another train can come in and the more trains Metro can run overall.

Why has Metro chosen to forego this opportunity? They say it's because of safety. According to Debo Ogunrinde in a presentation made to the Riders' Advisory Council, the engineers believe there's some safety benefit to transverse seating. Having seats in front of and behind some riders could keep them from sliding into other riders or flying toward the end of the railcar in the event of a crash.

The argument is similar for doors. Fewer doors mean stronger car walls. Of course, the wall strength wasn't the problem in the June 2009 Red Line crash, where the cars telescoped, but there could be crashes where it matters.

That's probably right. But is it worth sacrificing capacity? Consider that overcrowded platforms and escalators present their own safety hazards. And overcrowding is a certainty, while train crashes are hopefully avoidable.

And the more crowded Metro gets, the more people will drive. If they do, they're much less safe. After the crash, BeyondDC calculated that driving Metro is 34 times safer per passenger mile than driving. Is the benefit of transverse seating 34 times greater than longitudinal?

Unfortunately, Metro's engineers don't have (or haven't been willing to share) any sort of quantifiable assessment of the safety value of transverse seating. It's just "some." But we can't tell if it's more of a safety benefit than the safety benefit of less crowded platforms and escalators. And we don't know if it's more of a safety benefit than the benefit of moving a few more people by rail instead of by car.

Mr. Ogunrinde said that Metro felt if there were anything it could do, no matter what, to improve safety, then they would be remiss in skipping it. But is that really true? Why haven't they designed the cars with seatbelts? What about four-point harnesses like on military jets? Airbags? Padded walls? If fewer doors is stronger, why are there still windows on the cars? Why don't the cars have foam peanuts filling their space, which riders can worm their way through? Maybe Metro should run every train at 10 mph?

When the FTA first announced its desire to regulate trainsit safety, I worried that this shortsighted tradeoff is exactly what would happen. Regulators whose sole responsibility is to prevent deaths or injuries in crashes would push transit systems to make changes that reduce the risk of crashes but increase other risks, like crowding and driving. That's what happened when the Federal Railroad Administraton over-regulated commuter and intercity railroads to make cars heavier and therefore slower, harming the overall value of rail passenger service.

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff has assured everyone this is not what the FTA would do. He said,

We must remember that, despite WMATA's safety challenges, every Washington area commuter is safer traveling on WMATA than they are traveling on our highways. Thus, we cannot allow any degradation in WMATA's reliability and performance such that commuters opt to abandon Metro in favor of our already congested highways. We must also caution against any proposals that will reduce significantly WMATA's existing capacity, forcing more commuters onto our highways. Any actions or proposals pushing WMATA riders onto our highways simply will degrade safety and worsen congestion in the region.
Hopefully he's right and the FTA will avoid following the FRA's path. But Metro is going ahead and doing the same thing all by themselves. I can understand the viewpoint of the railcar designers as well. If someone is hurt in a crash, people might ask why the railcars weren't designed differently. But if people are hurt in stations, the questions won't revolve around the railcars. And if people die out on the roads, nobody (except maybe us) asks why that person couldn't have been on transit, where they would have been safer.

I don't know if the current political climate allows Metro to design its railcars for the maximum capacity and with the overall transportation safety picture in mind instead of the narrow goal of safest railcars at any operational cost.

Certainly Congress keeps hammering at safety without really analyzing the big picture. Yesterday, a Senate committee approved this year's $150 million federal contribution, but Senator Barbara Mikulski attached conditions that all money be spent on safety and WMATA report quarterly on its progress on safety. The focus on safety is important, but the big picture is more complex than a sound bite.

The Board is supposed to take the broader view. Can they? Is it politically feasible to approve railcars with higher capacity, which will cut down on unsafe overcrowding and reduce reliance on dangerous cars even though some engineers say that transverse seating is safer to some, undetermined and vague degree?

Hopefully they will, asking staff to go back to the longitudinal seating as well as evaluating whether it would bring additional cost to build railcars with 4 doors. Riders in 2030 would be glad they did.

Update: What about articulated cars, where the doors between some cars are replaced with flexible sections creating, in effect, double-length cars or even making the whole train a car? Mr. Ogunrinde said they had rejected that for three reasons.

First, security agencies say it would make things more difficult, perhaps by letting a suspect roam through the train to evade capture. That seems a little dubious. Second, there aren't examples in the US of these working in heavy rail environments. However, there are plenty of examples around the world. But third, and the one that is somewhat persuasive to me, Metro's existing facilities aren't set up to be able to handle articulated cars, making it very costly to switch.

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. 


Add a comment »

I believe this sentence needs to be modified:

"BeyondDC calculated that driving is 34 times safer per passenger mile than driving."

by Rob on Jul 22, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

"Why don't the cars have foam peanuts filling their space, which riders can worm their way through?"

This actually sounds fun.

How many more standees do you get eliminating the 8 seats peer pair?

I often cringe when the rationale for an action is some vague sense of "safety," so I agree that that is a poor reason to choose transverse seating. Though I wonder if longitudinal seating would drive away some riders, particularly those from further out who are more likely to drive. My reasoning here is that people traveling from, say, Vienna to Metro Center will be less willing to make that trip facing sideways.

by Steven Yates on Jul 22, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

I agree with Steven on the transverse seating issue. I really dislike sitting in longitudinal seats (particularly on buses, but that's not what we're talking about). There are trade offs with each, and maybe the longitudinal should win out, but this is definitely a drawback.

by Reid on Jul 22, 2010 10:50 am • linkreport

Sideways seating is going to be fun if they are still running herky-jerky manual control. Everybody will be fast friends with their neighbors. Plus, I don't like the thought of having to sit exposed like that with everybody checking out my junk.

by Lou on Jul 22, 2010 10:59 am • linkreport

How about they actually do something innovative and creative for a change, and design the new cars so the seats can be reconfigured in either longitudinal OR transverse layouts, depending on the system's needs. Oh yeah, I forgot, it's WMATA we're talking about.

by Ron on Jul 22, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

But if the odds are that you're not going to find a seat every other day, wouldn't you rather take the hit from longitudinal seating in order to facilitate better capacity utilization that comes from more standing room and ease of navigating the car?

All of us see the capacity problems we have today. The throngs of people who end up crowding Metro Center and Gallery Place because of packed (inefficiently occupied) cars are a bigger safety risk to my non-expert thinking.

The process flaw here to my mind is thinking about railcar safety (presumably preparing for the crash) rather than system safety, which would also take into account how perilous the situation on our platforms appears to be - thanks to overcrowded trains which have seats that take up too much space.

by HM on Jul 22, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

There are compromise solutions that make parts of the cars traverse and parts longitudinal. Capacity should be the only thing that matters in a capacity-limited system. "Safety" is why stupid decisions are made all over the place in governmnet. (See BRAC for example... at least in my mind "Security" == "Safety")

by Allan on Jul 22, 2010 11:18 am • linkreport

And we're only days past our seat-hog 'crisis'. No need to aim for aisle seat or start the 'I'm getting off at the next stop' dance in longitudinal seating.

by HM on Jul 22, 2010 11:24 am • linkreport

@HM, yeah but with longitudinal seating a seat hog could take up more than just two seats. Think I'll take a nap!

by ah on Jul 22, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

Or, Allan, combining cars of the different types on each train. How about the two (or four) middle cars use longitudinal seating, with the end cars using transverse for the longer-distance riders for whom such seats are more comfortable.

by ah on Jul 22, 2010 11:29 am • linkreport

Are the transverse seats cantilevered, giving room under them for bags and such? People setting their duffel bags down in the circulation path is another my pet peeves on Metro.

by Lou on Jul 22, 2010 11:29 am • linkreport

Thank you for coming around to my thinking, More doors equals faster boarding and discharging enabling shorter dwell times.

I will also note that closer headways could possibly do the same as closer headways would allow less time for station platform to fill to capacity.

More doors equals more weight.

The 7k cars are of a more traditional design. Body on frame as opposed to the monocoque/unibody extruded aluminum design of the existing fleet.

The body on frame design eliminates the possibility of shearing off the combined truck bolster end collision posts from the car body as they are an integral part full length frame.

I am not that big of a fan of full length longitudinal seating, I could live with reducing 2 pairs of transverse seats, one pair on either side at each door opening or alternating longitudinal seats with transverse seats, longitudinal seats with transverse seats on the left side at one end of the car and the opposite on the other end. But then that might cause weight distribution issues.

by Sand Box John on Jul 22, 2010 11:30 am • linkreport

The problem with WMATA's argument is that it exposes a reactive, rather than a proactive, approach to safety.

A reactive approach to safety takes a single safety incident (the red line crash) and focuses all system investments in prevention of that incident. A proactive approach lists all investments that could be made to improve safety system-side, based on root cause analyses of past incidents and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) of possible future incidents. The list of investments are then prioritized based on cost and based on the severity and likelihood of incidents they would prevent.

It sounds like this list doesn't exist at WMATA. Will NTSB ask WMATA about its use of FMEA and other operations management best practices?

by Ken Archer on Jul 22, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport

The number of additional stationary passengers that can fit in a longitudinal arrangement is nothing compared to how much less effort and shuffle it takes a longitudinally seated passenger to get in and out of her seat. You lose four seats per married pair by seating longitudinally, but consider how many seats are unoccupied in crowded transverse seated metro trains now because passengers know how difficult it would be to egress from a transverse seat (particularly if you find yourself in the window seat); I'll bet a nickel it's at least four.
For each window seated passenger who needs to exit, at least three times as much space must be cleared for her egress as would be necessary in a longitudinal arrangement (the seat she vacates, her neighbor's seat, the space her neighbor needs to occupy during her egress). How much more efficiently would trains run if they could load passengers without the need for all this?

by Lucre on Jul 22, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

4 doors instead of 6 means more room for seating, like in San Fransico's Bart. Metro should design for more seats. Why doe METRO have to design their railcars different from everyone else

by Davin Peterson on Jul 22, 2010 11:40 am • linkreport

Seriously, are you know favoring less seats in metro, because metro is overcrowding? We need more lines, more trains, and more metro to alleviate overcrowding.

Please Dave, keep your eye on the ball, and don't get lost in the details.

A few more standing spots or a few rerouted blue lines are not going to do anything do alleviate overcrowding on metro. The only thing that's gonna help the overcrowding it more trains, more lines, more metro.

by Jasper on Jul 22, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

the FRA mandates are the reason why no US company makes passenger rail vehicles anymore and why high-speed rail won't ever be as fast and efficient as the European trains. If they focused on accident avoidance instead of just survivability we wouldn't be in this situation.

by chris on Jul 22, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

Once again: Why wasn't an articulated design considered? Better safety, more usable room for seating, and more capacity. It's a win-win-win.

Although I agree that 99% of Metro's safety efforts should be on accident prevention rather than damage containment, the cars should preferably be designed in such a way that collisions are survivable for at least some of the occupants in the leading car (with crash tests performed to verify this -- even the most basic of tests should have revealed the telescoping problem, which has presented 3 times so far across a wide range of rolling stock)

by andrew on Jul 22, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

Oh god. And I thought we were finally going to have our transit system move from the "kitschy comfort oriented" approach, which is popular on European long-distance trains, to something that was designed to serve people riding on crowded trains.

The transverse arrangement is great... if your train is half full. On the other hand, during rush hour, which is when the vast majority of train users are riding Metro, it's a disaster.

It's impossible to get anywhere when the train is busy because the aisles are barely wide enough to pass a single standing person. Getting in and out of seats is like being on an airplane. As a result, many riders have no interest in moving out of the boarding area, since they might miss their exit while trying to get back there.

It's a disaster this way, it's not at all practical for the 2nd busiest transit system in the U.S.

For once can't we just accept that New York did something right and copy them?

by Jamie on Jul 22, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

I'm all for more standing space. It's not like you can get a seat past WFC on an orange line inbound commute anyway. More standing room and less shuffle would be welcome. Is there a post that compares the car design and capacity of major cities? I'd love to see the rundown between SF, DC, and NY.

by Shawn on Jul 22, 2010 11:50 am • linkreport

>A few more standing spots or a few rerouted blue lines are not going to do anything do alleviate overcrowding on metro.

I think you're underestimating just how many more people can fit standing on a railcar with flanking seating rather than rows. It's something like twice as many standers. That's a big deal. It's a massive increase in overall capacity.

Anyway, this isn't an all or nothing debate. I don't see why we can't have some railcars with flanking seating and some with rows. Put the one with higher capacity in the middle of the train, where there's the most crowding.

by BeyondDC on Jul 22, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

If you really can cram twice as many people standing in those rail cars, I wonder if there will really be that much time saving as people try to disembark. The reality is these cars will be filled to capacity at times, and I think the gauntlet of standing people may be just as hard to navigate as the current setups. More doors is the only sure way to improve that.

by Lou on Jul 22, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

Sadly, yes, BDC and others are right. We need a few of these cars in the middle to take out some pressure at stations.

In terms of doors, I think if there was more room inside cars boarding would be quicker. Also, if you had computer controlled cars again the trains stop at the same place and people know where to stand.

I'm sure, however, WMATA will come back and say "it's to hard to put a pair of cars in the middle of the train".

by charlie on Jul 22, 2010 12:06 pm • linkreport

if you contrast the MTA's R160B car with the proposed plans for the WMATA 7000 series with transverse seating:

R160B is 15 feet shorter, has an extra set of doors, and offers an extra 62-65 people per car.
That's an extra 480 people per 8 car train.
That would sure as hell help out with the orange crush.

by Shawn on Jul 22, 2010 12:09 pm • linkreport

I'm very glad they didn't change to longitudinal seating. It sucks to sit like that being pulled left or right by the forces of the train accelerating/decelerating, having to stare across in some morons face, or having people constantly step on your feet. Most (but not all) of the subway cars on the NYCTA subway are like that.

by King Terrapin on Jul 22, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

If they are going to stay with transverse seating, at least they could get rid of that aisle-side armrest so that it would be quicker/easier to slide in and out of the seat.

by ksu499 on Jul 22, 2010 12:16 pm • linkreport

Damn you Metro.

Fire Sarles!

by Redline SOS on Jul 22, 2010 12:21 pm • linkreport

@King Terrapin - yeah that side-to-side motion thing is a real bear. And having to look at other people on a train. The horror.

Given that the major problem metro is facing now is overcrowded trains, and capacity limits, though, for the vast majority of riders, regardless of configuration, you'll be not only staring at someone else, but probably smelling their bourbon from last night, and not have a seat at all.

So this would basically would be making a decision that doesn't improve things for 90% of train users, so that the handful of people who are riding mostly empty trains at off-hours don't have to stare directly at someone 8 feet away from them on the other side of the train and feel side-to-side motion.

by Jamie on Jul 22, 2010 12:24 pm • linkreport

Of course, this comes back to the original sin of combining suburban rail with an urban subway.

I'm with the proponents of mixed trains - what's not to like about that? Even better, run longitudinal cars on the abbreviated rush-hour services (SS<->Grosvenor).

by HM on Jul 22, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

What are these Metro officials smoking? All we hear about is how Metro will be over capacity in the next few years (and already is on some lines). And now, finally, Metro has an opportunity to make a minor adjustment to seating that will provide far greater capacity on trains and what happens? It's turned down. Ridiculous.

What other plans does Metro have to meet the current and future capacity issues? Even running more 8-car trains is a temporary fix... we're running them now (sort of) and barely making a dent in the congestion. Getting more people in trains is the only real solution.

In addition, the longitudinal trains are a benefit at off hours since there will be more room for bikes, strollers, and luggage... these trains are going to be used on the Silver Line to Dulles, right?? Did nobody think that people taking the long-haul flights that typically fly out of Dulles are going to have large pieces of luggage? More Metro stupidity at its finest.

by Adam L on Jul 22, 2010 1:01 pm • linkreport

@BeyondDC It's not anywhere close to 2x the capacity. The total capacity for longitudinal is 376, while transverse is 359. So we're talking about 17 people per pair, or 68 people per 8 car train. The seat difference is 10 per pair, or 40 per train.

by jcm on Jul 22, 2010 1:12 pm • linkreport

Thanks, David for the update on why Articulated designs weren't chosen. The third option seems dubious to me as well, though: Didn't Metro make the claim that the 7000 cars were sufficiently different from the existing stock to require new maintenance facilities anyway?

Transit systems around the rest of the world are moving to this new technology, thanks to the many benefits it offers. Metro would be wise to lead the US toward doing the same.

by andrew on Jul 22, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport


I echo andrew's thanks on the articulated cars update. Would it be possible to get a more in depth post on the subject? I agree with you that the first two points don't seem to be that substantial but maybe there is something we are missing. And what specifically is the maintenance facility issue, since the cars are in married pairs anyway?

by Steven Yates on Jul 22, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

@jcm Where are you getting those numbers?

by BeyondDC on Jul 22, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

Even if jcm's numbers are correct, it assumes that it is possible for a car to reach maximum capacity during normal use.

The bottleneck imposed by the aisles makes this impossible, except on Inauguration Day when everyone is getting off at the same place, and the trains stop at each station for 10 minutes.

Anyone who has ever ridden the train during rush hour and gotten on closer in than, say, West Falls Church, knows this to be true. You don't go into the aisle if you want to be able to get off when your stop comes.

by Jamie on Jul 22, 2010 1:58 pm • linkreport

Yes, capacity is just one issue. Passenger flow, ingress and egress are also big issues. Longitudinal seating helps with all of these, which can help reduce station dwell time.

I'd also note that under crush loads, you can cram more people into standing room space. You cannot cram more people into a seat.

by Alex B. on Jul 22, 2010 2:07 pm • linkreport

What's the impact of not having a cab in every other married pair (i.e. the reason why these cars can only operate as 4 or 8 car trains)? I would think a design like this would make articulation more feasible, since there are only two optional configurations. If you're going to have 4 cars that must stay together anyway, why not at least have articulation between the pairs without a operator's cab?

by Sebastian Dangerfield on Jul 22, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

Absolutely on point. Official capacity estimates are often far below what a space can actually accommodate, especially in regards to standing room. Just look at any packed D.C. bar on Saturday night...

by Adam L on Jul 22, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

Jasper made a comment which I found inspiration in:

"The only thing that's gonna help the overcrowding it more trains, more lines, more metro."

Isn't this the exact same argument highway people use to justify building more roads?

Building more roads/metro lines will create induced demand - people will drive/ride more when you make the system easier to use. More roads? More drivers. More Metro? More metro riders. I'd take more Metro over more roads any day!

Of course, I am preaching to the choir here when I say we could never build enough roads to handle the demand but, given the "density" of trains (people per sq. foot of transit infrastructure), we could certainly get a lot closer to that ideal with trains.

I won't even begin to touch on the well known economic and environmental benefits of more transit in lieu of more roads...

by EZ on Jul 22, 2010 3:03 pm • linkreport

Yes, induced demand applies to both roads and transit.

The key difference is that transit use creates positive externalities, while road use tends to create negative externalities.

by Alex B. on Jul 22, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

Why not have both!?

Why can't the A car be transverse seating and the B car be longitudinal seating? The everyday riders will know which is which and will be able to pick and choose. Metro could then also say - bikes are welcome on board - but only on the longitudinal car. This allows the long distance commuters - those coming from the end of the line into the city to face a direction the car is moving towards or away from.

And seriously while they are at it - why not purchase a few cars with 0 seats which can be deployed during major events?

by Todd D. on Jul 22, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

Inadequate road infrastructure is, itself, mostly likely one of the major drivers of urban renewal.

While I can't argue that Metro's having problems, the thing is, the closer in to city center that you live, less important transit issues are. Because you don't have to go as far.

I live in Columbia Heights. I can take metro, ride a bike, drive, bus, cab or walk to almost every destination I typically go to. I choose one based on any number of factors including what traffic or metro service is like at that time and between those points; or the weather; or whether I'll be drinking; or if I can get a ride afterward; or if parking is a problem -- whatever.

Also, when you live in the city, even just for driving, you have far more options. There are at least a half-dozen relatively distinct routes from where I am to almost everywhere else, and my experience has taught me which ones to use on which days and times. I am not restricted to arteries, because my trips are short, and I am familiar with much of the city and know good routes that avoid traffic and congestion.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've sat in any kind of traffic in the last year.

So while more city residents does add more demand to the transit infrastructure, at the same time, you have far more options and there are far more alternatives. It's easy to adjust when things get bad in one area. Things would have to get far, far worse than they are now before I would ever consider transit around the city to be in any way inconvenient or at the edge of practicality.

by Jamie on Jul 22, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

For once, I agree with David Alpert on something. I used to be against longitudinal seating, but the crowding lately leaves no other choice. There should always be a few reserved seats for elderly and disabled people, of course.

Incidentally, we could already fit more standing riders if we would insist that people stand sideways (like surfing), back to back down the aisle. It's also a far more stable way to stand.

EZ: Great point comparing transit expansion to highway expansion. I think the reason both simply get clogged up by more people after they expand is the increased development near them.

I think transit advocates need to stop tying the idea of more transit to development. The point of transit (or highways) is to serve the people already living somewhere--not make someone else rich by bringing in more people who will make the transit or highway almost unusable.

More development = more riders = more overcrowing. Not everyone can live in the DC area. At some point, someone has to say "No, the infrastructure can't support more people here. Move to Cleveland." Or address overpopulation by taxing people based on the number of children they have. A broader issue--but one that society will someday have to address.

by JB on Jul 22, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

As far as I can tell, opposition to longitudinal seating comes chiefly from those who sit. Support comes from those forced to stand.

So yet again, parochial suburb (sit) vs. urban (stand) disputes color opinion. IOW - if you get on at Vienna and enjoy the comfy seat all the way to Metro Center, screw those suckers who crammed on at Rosslyn and have to hand off the roof.

In a system struggling for capacity, foreclosing an option that sacrifices a lousy 4 seats in order to get a ton more people on the train is just stupid.

Metro, however, is a public entity subject to our lousy political system. So you can't possibly expect it to run smoothly or make reasonable decisions.

by Glenn on Jul 22, 2010 3:33 pm • linkreport

@Glenn, well yes. And it nice to sit on short rides -- I don't think WMATA should make all their cars that way.

But having that option on a rush-hour trains on the red/orange is essential. And those people from Vienna have to deal with waiting for 3-4 trains for the platform to clear when they are going home.

No need to turn this into a city-suburb fight.

And keeping some spare standing room only cars for big events is very smart.

by charlie on Jul 22, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

I wonder if these "safety" people would have a heart attack if they ever had to ride the "big red" subway cars in Boston. No seats, standing room only, to allow for higher capacity.

I wonder what will happen if someone tried to bomb the metro. Metal detectors and xrays at every entrance? Knee jerk reactions are always the best.

As for the seating, I think a mix would be better. I think there's a metro car that has 50% of each type of seating. One of the many trial cars floating around the system.

by J on Jul 22, 2010 4:43 pm • linkreport

FYI, Metro's tried some weird seating arrangements in the past. I kind of like the idea of short stretches of longitudinal seating near the doors, with some extra transverse seating thrown in. Longitudinal seating sucks for long trips!

(Also, speaking of things that suck: Linoleum floors and cloth "bus seats." Not a fan of either on the two cars that got retrofitted. Uncomfortable, easily-stainable seats, and LOUD, dirty-looking linoleum.)

by andrew on Jul 22, 2010 4:55 pm • linkreport

"I wonder if these 'safety' people would have a heart attack if they ever had to ride the "big red" subway cars in Boston. No seats, standing room only, to allow for higher capacity."

Or how about the San Francisco cable cars? What incredible fun those are to ride--especially when you get to hang off the side.

by JB on Jul 22, 2010 5:08 pm • linkreport

@ BeyondDC Sorry I took so long to respond. The capacity numbers came from this Wiki article.

I agree, though, that longitudinal seating makes it easier to completely fill the aisles.

by jcm on Jul 22, 2010 5:20 pm • linkreport

OK - your original supposition "the total capacity for longitudinal is 376, while transverse is 359"

From my reading of the Wiki article, you're doubling everything to begin with. A and B cars do not combine into a single car, they are just two different types of cars that hook together in different ways. But there's only 8 total on an 8 car train. Each has a total capacity of 175 or 184.

Also, interestingly, I just read/searched through the documents referenced as sources for that section in the wiki article, and was unable to verify the total capacity numbers that are cited, only the number of actual seats. They do not seem to appear in the presentation or solicitation documents, anywhere, so I wonder where they come from.

I'm not saying that whoever put that on Wikipedia just made those numbers up, but I'm just sayin'.... something seems fishy and unusually difficult to verify.

I suspect that "184" is probably around the largest number of people you could ever physically get on a train car with no seats at all, and in practice you would never get anywhere near that on a train with transverse seating.

by Jamie on Jul 22, 2010 5:41 pm • linkreport

"Or how about the San Francisco cable cars? What incredible fun those are to ride--especially when you get to hang off the side."

Those are a blast. Last time I rode one, the cable car in the other direction which passed us was full of drunk people who insisted on yelling and giving everyone on our car a high five as they rolled by.

I can't recall reading about anyone getting killed on one of those, and the only thing between you and speeding cars is....nothing. Lose your grip, and you may find yourself under a taxi.

Safety people always, ALWAYS underestimate most people's resolve to stay alive.

by J on Jul 22, 2010 6:12 pm • linkreport

@Jamie. A and B cars operate in married pairs. The reason B cars have more seats is because they don't have a cab for the operator. When you're looking at capacity, it makes sense to look at A+B, since they will always be together.

Capacity is just based on seats plus available standing space. Metro uses 3 sqft per passenger to calculate capacity. That's just a theoretical capacity, of course. A train that actually filled that far would obviously be terribly uncomfortable.

If you're really interested, feel free to spend $25 on this study and tell us what it says. It has actual data on all the questions we're discussing.

by jcm on Jul 22, 2010 6:58 pm • linkreport

Yeah, it'd be great if WMATA could mix the cars; the best arrangement would likely be to have longitudinal seating on the Red, Orange and Silver Lines, and transverse on the others (except for the Green Line during ball games). However, it's probably considerably more expensive to split an order between the two seating arrangements, or to order cars that could be converted from one type of seating to another.

by jakeod on Jul 22, 2010 6:59 pm • linkreport

I really hate longitudinal seating. Jerky automatic control means the one guy at the end who rolls onto his neighbor will have a fun domino effect the whole way down the line. Oh joy! Sweaty strangers leaning all over me at weird intervals, and I get to look at someone's butt or crotch standing in front of me the whole trip. There's something to be said about capacity, and another to say about reasonable comfort.

by Matt Glazewski on Jul 22, 2010 7:03 pm • linkreport

My reaction to this post (yes, my actual out-loud reaction): NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! After riding the subway in Japan for the first time a few years ago I have consistently said that what metro really needs to do to increase capacity was longitudinal seating. I was so excited when I read the old plans for the 7000 series...

by Raika on Jul 22, 2010 9:34 pm • linkreport

I have a somewhat related question re: capacity and the future of METRO.

With the new Silver line supp. opening in 2014 to Tyson's and then 2016 to Dulles, and the plan for that new line to "shadow" the blue/orange line all the way from New Carrolton to Dulles-won't that cause HORRIBLE overcrowding (not just of people on trains, but back ups of trains themselves) with 3 lines sharing a two track system for a very long distance?

Also, I thought I read somewhere (on here?) that some of the Silver trains will be labeled "express" and therefore only stop at certain stops on their way to Dulles--if so, how the heck is that going to work with Blue/Orange line trains in front of the Silver trains stoping at every stop?

In essence, wouldn't passengers on the Silver line be waiting between stops in the dark tunnels (that's always so much fun) while the Blue/Orange lines service the stations ahead therefore eliminating any "express" feature.

And what about the huge increase in ridership on those lines, as folks who are going to Tysons and Dulles blend with the folks just grabbing the next train to get to one of the regular Orange/Blue stops on the same track?

If all this is true--we can forget the set up of the cars, longitudinal or transversal or elliptical or matter how you cut it, the trains will be filled to capacity and virtually impossible to board.

Oh and as for those who complain about longitudinal cars are "weird" to ride sideways--I haven't actually SAT DOWN on a metro train in over 10 years. Every single time I've gotten on a train (mostly rush hour), all the seats have been full. So honestly, maybe it's selfish of me, but since I stand always anyhow, I'd rather have more space to do that standing.

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 22, 2010 9:59 pm • linkreport

An articulated design is not an option. The maintenance infrastructure is configured for 75' semi-permanently coupled pairs on trucks that are on 52' centers. The cost to retrofit sufficient numbers of maintenance bays to maintain any thing other then pairs would be cost prohibitive.

@Steven Yates
The 7k cars are fully compatible with WMATAÂ’s maintenance infrastructure, 75' coupled pairs.

by Sand Box John on Jul 22, 2010 10:56 pm • linkreport

@Stefan Sittig:
How the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines will fit together:

And no, Silver Line trains will not be running express. They will make all stops, just like all the other Metro lines.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 22, 2010 11:00 pm • linkreport

@Matt: Thanks for the link, but I still don't see how it won't be a congestion nightmare, both in clogged tunnels and stuffed trains? I've read the article 2 times and still am totally confused.

And if there is no express train, then has anyone calculated how long it would take someone to metro from say, Metro Center to Dulles once everything is up and running?

Let me see--I travel daily from Clarendon to Farragut West, a mere 4 stops, and it often takes 15-20 min during rush hour (on a good day with no issues). I can only imagine how long it might take to travel from MC to Dulles??!! Even in the best of circumstances, it would probably take at least 2 hours, probably more. Why would anyone want to take that long of a ride standing with a suitcase (or two), in a crowded train with no a/c (the a/c has not been on in trains I've been on all summer), when they can just metro to Rossyln and take the bus to Dulles and still be there in much less time and see some light and have at least some fresh air and room to sit and stretch their legs?

The biggest problem with this METRO system is and will continue to be the two track system. No flexibility, no ability to re-route trains around broken down trains and no ability to expand service in any meaningful way.

Until the system adds at least 1 track, it's doomed to suffer congestion problems. Yes, expensive thought, but worth it for the long run and yes, I'd be willing to pay more taxes to make it happen (am sure I am the only American who will volunteer to pay more taxes, but there you go.)

The Silver Line is just going to make it much much much worse, at least until you get to Vienna and most of the non-Tysons/Dulles commuters get off the train, and then you still have to deal with going through Tysons and the several stations planned for Reston and Herndon.

And if the D/M/V area continues to grow at the rate it is growing, I can only imagine what a mess we will have in 6 years by the time the Silver Line is completed out to Dulles.


by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 12:00 am • linkreport

"Capacity is just based on seats plus available standing space. Metro uses 3 sqft per passenger to calculate capacity."

OK, if so, then clearly there will be a much more substantial difference in practical capacity between transverse and longitudinal than the numbers from the Wikipedia article indicate.

This formula counts the space between rows of seats equally with the wide-open space, and so the calculation only accounts for the minor increase in space from a couple fewer seats.

Obviously, the space between rows of seats is not useful for anyone except the same person who is already in a seat in the transverse configuration, and in practice you would get many more passengers in the longitudinal configuration. This space should be excluded from the calculation completely to get a more accurate comparison between the two.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 7:47 am • linkreport


By saying this:
"The Silver Line is just going to make it much much much worse, at least until you get to Vienna and most of the non-Tysons/Dulles commuters get off the train, and then you still have to deal with going through Tysons and the several stations planned for Reston and Herndon."

It sounds as if you believe the Silver Line will run all the way to Vienna. I may have just misinterpreted - but the Silver Line will break off from the current Orange Line tracks (heading towards Dulles) just after the East Falls Church Metro. That leaves 3 stops on the Orange Line that the Silver line will not have to go through (WFC, DL and Vienna).

True it will take some time to get out to Dulles - I don't think taking a bus over the metro will be faster. Granted I believe the bus may be much much less crowded for a passenger and his/her bags. The current trip planner says it's about a 45 min trip from Rosslyn to Dulles. This bus has to sit in traffic on 66 in both directions between Rosslyn and 267 - since you live in Arlington like I do - you know how 66 can be.

I'm guessing the trip via the Silver Line from Rosslyn to Dulles will take on avg about 45 mins as well. At least with that you don't have to get off in Rosslyn and hope you time it well with the bus.

by Todd D on Jul 23, 2010 7:48 am • linkreport

@ToddD; MWAA projects that less than 5% of Dulles passengers will arrive by rail.

Taking the Silver lIne to Dulles from DC will be insane. Much more than 45 minutes with stops. And heavy congestion.

The 5A from Rosslyn is actually quite quick. During rush hour 66 moves quite nicely and gets jammed up during non-HOV times. And the 5A takes the Dulles Access Road rather than 267 except for stop in Reston.

People who work in Tysons and Reston will benefit from the Silver Line to Dulles. Those of us in Arlington will benefit somewhat. DC and other points will not be taking metro to Dulles.

And the shame of it is once the SIlver Line is built, the 5A and Washington Flyer bus service will get cut. The Washington Flyer bus, in particular, will also be faster than the Silver Line because of no stops. And you have room for luggage.

by charlie on Jul 23, 2010 9:38 am • linkreport

"MWAA projects that less than 5% of Dulles passengers will arrive by rail."

Kinda makes you wonder what the point is. Why on earth are they going to CUT 5A service when it seems painfully obvious it needs to be expanded? So we spend a couple billion on adding not-especially-needed rail service to Dulles, and cripple a very useful, and far less expensive, way to get there?

The Rosslyn bottleneck is obviously going to be a major problem going forward. It seems ludicrous that we would ignore this while building a major new feeder to the orange line.

This project should have had a bigger scope that included another river crossing, possibly adding a metro stop somewhere in Georgetown and following or replacing the Whitehurst freeway. I don't have a sense for what land use or other concerns might have been but it seems clear that we are not going to have the capacity to get people into the city on the Rosslyn tunnel that we need in a few short years. It's stupid to ignore this now, however difficult it may be logistically.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 9:46 am • linkreport


Thanks for the stat on the estimated passengers arriving by rail.

I am curious though - which 66 are you taking during rush hour?

66WB during morning commutes will clog (on a decent day) only around the Ballston exit and on ramps (sometimes past the on ramp). Hopefully some of the spot improvements coming to 66 will help that. On bad days it can back up to Spout Run easily.

66EB during evening commutes especially for a bus coming off the airport access road is probably 80% of the time backed up to the Tysons area after 5pm. Granted if you are coming from Dulles you're not sweating missing a flight - but maybe dinner @ home!

I'd be willing to bet if the 5A (if it still existed in the same format) and the Silver Line both left IAD at 5:30pm - the Silver Line would reach Rosslyn first. I'm not saying it'd be the most comfortable by any means. I'm just a believer that it will be quicker. Rosslyn would be the 14th stop from Dulles. How long does it take to get from Vienna to Smithsonian (14th stop from Vienna)? Metro estimates 32 mins. Okay do I trust metro's estimation? Not all the time. But it makes me believe that it would be only an extra 15 minutes from Dulles to Rosslyn.

And you are right 66 clogs during non-rush hour times. Including weekends.

I have taken the Dulles Flyer from WFC and agree it's a decent service now and not crowded at all. I also agree that sadly these services will diminish or completely go away as you noted when the Silver Line opens.

These are just my humble opinions!

by Todd D on Jul 23, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

With all due respect to fellow GGW readers, and none to WMATA: Fuck Metro.

Don't get me wrong - for 25 years I've used Metro and have been happy to do so. It's saved me countless amounts of cash by not having to ever own a car, and so much more convenience, if not costing a little bit of extra time. Still, the Orange and Red lines (the two lines I happen to use to get to work) have become un-rideable during rush hour. If they could increase capacity by 60 people per train, that makes it about an additional 900 people/line/hour. As it stands, I often have to wait for several trains to pass through the station in order to even get on at Clarendon. I'm honestly considering going out to buy a car for the first time in my life.

As long as we have people who don't take Metro making decisions that affect those that use Metro daily, I'll continue to hate the entire WMATA agency as a whole.

by Max D. on Jul 23, 2010 9:57 am • linkreport

@Todd - you have to change trains which adds five minutes or so. Also, Rosslyn is not the final destination for many 5A users. When I have taken it, I go to L'Enfant Plaza and get on the green line and then metro to Columbia Heights. That's another 7 stops on the metro and another train change.

For me, then, it would be something like 25 stops on the train and two changes to do it entirely by rail. Or, 6 stops to L'Enfant plaza, stick by suitcase on the rack, and a 45 minute bus ride via 5A.

No comparison - the train trip would suck. The overall times might not be a lot different (assuming the bus only comes every half hour) but the experience would be far worse. I doubt many people living anywhere other than the orange line will be doing that.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 10:00 am • linkreport

@Jamie -
Sorry - I don't know where you are getting the idea that you would have to change trains to go from Dulles to Rosslyn. You won't - you'll ride the Silver Line the entire way.

I also realize that Rosslyn isn't the 5A's terminus - but just wanted to compare a route that I would be more familiar with. Once the trains/buses enter the district I'm not as knowledgeable about how long it takes to get to specific places.

by Todd D on Jul 23, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

@Todd, my experience of 66 during rush hour is once HOV kicks in things move pretty quickly. It jams up early and late (3 and 7).

Remember, we are talking about a 26 mile trip from Rosslyn to Dulles -- much much much longer than to trip to Vienna (16 miles?) to Smithsonian.

Jamie, the line was sold was "metro to dulles" but it clearly is metro-to-tysons that is the kicker. I expect that will get a lot of traffic. And as I said, for Reston and Tysons residents it will be an easy metroride (with no parking) to Dulles. That is a win.

The sad part, as I've said, is with reduced Blue Line service to Rosslyn, it will no take longer for Orange lIne arlington residents to get to National. Perhaps only 8-10 minutes more, but I except a lot more people will drive or take a taxi.

by charlie on Jul 23, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

"for Reston and Tysons residents it will be an easy metroride (with no parking) to Dulles. That is a win."

I agree, but for people who only live about 10 miles from the airport, getting to Dulles has never been a problem in the first place. That's a lot of infrastructure to help people who already have extraordinarily convenient airport access.

If I lived out there, I'd be a lot more likely to get someone to drop me off and pick you up than you are to take the train for 30 minutes or so. Or take a cab or whatever.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

@Max D - get a Vespa.

by Paul on Jul 23, 2010 10:33 am • linkreport

You guys are arguing that the Silver Line to Dulles is going to be slower than the bus?! Can't say I believe that. I guess I could entertain the possibility that if you're just going to Rosslyn and that's it then the bus will be faster. But take into account the fact that 1. the bus comes at it's most frequent every 30 minutes and on the weekends it's every hour and 2. the transfer time from bus->metro once you get to Rosslyn and I think the train will be faster overall.

Just taking a quick glance at the schedule the fastest bus from the airport to Rosslyn takes 35 minutes and the fastest bus to the airport is 40 minutes. Also, how full is the bus usually? I have only taken it from the airport in on the weekends, and I would be wary of relying on it to get TO the airport since I wouldn't want it to be full and miss my flight. Every time I've taken the B30 from BWI to Greenbelt we have had to leave people at the airport.

by MLD on Jul 23, 2010 10:33 am • linkreport

@Charlie -

True when HOV is in effect it can help sorta - depending on which way you're going. If you're trying to make a morning flight at Dulles the 5A has to sit in WB non-HOV traffic. When I used to drive to work in Tysons (from Courthouse) that drive took 35 mins on average. Via the Silver Line I estimate it will take 20 mins to reach the first stop in Tysons (again from Courthouse). Right now if I metro to WFC it takes about 12 minutes. Since the Silver Line will break off between EFC & WFC I'm just adding another 5 to 7 minutes to reach that first stop on 123.

If you're coming home from Dulles in the evening the same applies - 5A is going against rush hour and without HOV and the bus would be crawling from the point where the access road dumps onto the 66 spur (near 123) and would have to crawl in that traffic - onto 66 until it gets closer to the Ballston exit.

However - if you're doing the opposite - flying into Dulles in the morning or trying to make an evening flight out of there - the HOV totally works in 5A's favor.

And again - I'm not saying I think the train will be more comfortable for any passengers. In fact the first time I went to London, I took the Tube from Heathrow into London and I was bear hugging my bag for dear life on a very packed morning train. Since then I have just paid the money to take the Heathrow Express which costs a pretty penny but saves a lot of time. I do hope they will keep the bus services to Dulles after Silver Line opens - but it's Metro - so they probably won't do what makes sense.

by Todd D on Jul 23, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

@ Stefan Sittig,
The number of trains passing through Rosslyn, providing WMATA doesn't change the number of trains per hour, will remain the same. A selected number of both Blue and Orange line trains will become Silver line trains. The Blue line trains that will changed to Silver line trains will be diverted up the Mid-city E and F route to Mount Vernon Square or terminals to the north. The only reduction in service will be to passenger boarding west of East Falls Church.

The approximate running time between Metro Center and Dulles Airport is 71 minutes.

by Sand Box John on Jul 23, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

@Paul - if only it were that simple. Yes, I ride a bike when I travel short distances. My commute is also too far (though granted, not impossible) to reasonably use a bike and/or Vespa.

by Max D. on Jul 23, 2010 11:10 am • linkreport

IÂ’m hoping that someone can clear something up for me. Often Rosslyn is cited as being the bottleneck on the Orange/Blue lines. It is stated that if there were a second river crossing, the problem would be solved. It seems to me that a simple second river crossing between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom would just push the problem back to Foggy Bottom. IsnÂ’t the real bottleneck the capacity of the Orange/Blue lines in the core? To truly resolve the capacity issue, wouldnÂ’t we need to completely separate the Orange and Blue lines so that they run on separate tracks and use separate platforms at any stations they both serve?

by James on Jul 23, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport


A second river crossing implies completely separating the Orange and Blue lines through DC. When people say that, they are talking about an entirely new Metro line.

by Alex B. on Jul 23, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

That is correct. In order to solve the bottleneck at Rosslyn, several things would need to occur:
  1. Rosslyn would need to have at least 4 tracks. Orange and Silver would share and Blue would get its own tracks.
  2. A new Potomac crossing would be needed if all trains serving Rosslyn were to continue downtown.
  3. With new tracks at Rosslyn for the Blue Line, it would be possible to terminate trains there, in which case, the downtown subway wouldn't be as congested. But that has problems too.
  4. So, if Blue trains are to continue downtown, one would need a new subway line at least partway across downtown.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 23, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

@James -

There are two river crossings shared by three lines, it's that simple. At peak times, it would be possible to get 50% more people to the border than you can get in to DC because of that.

The rejiggering of the blue line simply redistributes some demand to a less-used tunnel. But overall, the system can accommodate more passengers on the blue+yellow+orange lines than it can carry into the city.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 11:39 am • linkreport

"A second river crossing implies completely separating the Orange and Blue lines through DC. When people say that, they are talking about an entirely new Metro line."

I think a better solution is another river crossing that is used by the orange and/or silver line, alleviating demand on Rosslyn, which could accommodate more blue line expansion.

Because the orange/silver line is so long, you could use this to create an express train on separate tracks that skipped (for example) Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarnedon, Ballston. It would enter the city by another crossing near key bridge or upriver, and could possibly stop at the west end of Georgetown, serving the university and g'town, and then go underground to Metro Center.

The tunnel would be expensive, of course, but it's only about a mile & a half and would not only solve the bottlneck problem but create an express route to the airport and points farther out.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

@Todd D: You wrote

"The current trip planner says it's about a 45 min trip from Rosslyn to Dulles. This bus has to sit in traffic on 66 in both directions between Rosslyn and 267 - since you live in Arlington like I do - you know how 66 can be."

I have taken the 5A several times from Rosslyn to Dulles for a flight. I've found it efficient, fast and quite comfortable and in several instances it actually arrived early (less than 45 min travel time--one time, granted it was at 10am on a weekday, it arrived in less than 40 m.)

I'd take it any day over Metro (unless conditions of overcrowding and TIME lags improve greatly.)

@Sand Box John just wrote:

"The approximate running time between Metro Center and Dulles Airport is 71 minutes."

That's over 1 hr to get from MC to Dulles! I could bike to Dulles faster!

Technically, I could take the Metro (Orange or Blue line) from MC to Rossyln and then take the 5A bus and still get to Dulles faster or close to the same time. Yes it would require getting off the train and getting on a bus, but it would still be a more pleasant and faster trip I think, even w/luggage.

Rightfully, some others have mentioned that the Silver line to Dulles will really only be useful for folks West of Arlington, which I agree with completely, as it's being planned that will be the case. And if they cut the 5A that would be a disaster in my view!

Which builds on another point I'd like to make if I can. There is absolutely NO SENSE in making the Silver Line shadow the Orange/Blue lines all the way into the heart of the city/system and all the way to New Carrolton.

The logical choice in my view, would be to make the Silver line start at WFC and then head out to Dulles. Wasn't that the original plan anyway for Tysons/Dulles? Makes more sense to me. When I later heard that the Silver line would go all the way through the system to New Carrolton I was shocked/baffled. Without building a third track? NO WAY! And I sincerely hope the new parts of the Silver line WFC westward are being built with a third (middle) track? If not, it's insanity--Metro is repeating the same mistakes over and over and expecting different results.

Starting/stopping the Silver line at WFC, would prevent the clogging at Rosslyn and the rest of the O/B lines in the city (which is already a problem as is).

My prediction is that this is what will eventually happen. Once they realize how unfeasible the idea of having the Silver line overclog the already clogged Orange/Blue lines, they will eventually switch to having the Silver line trains just leave and terminate from WFC.

Yes, it would mean having to change trains in WFC, but it would keep the Silver line out West where it clearly belongs...and I think passengers would rather change trains in WFC (especially if there's no express train), than deal with overcrowding and craziness.

Final result: People will continue to DRIVE to Tysons and Dulles, because honestly, if I have to choose between spending 1 and 1/2 hours standing on a smelly, hot crowded train or spending 2 hours in my personal air-conditioned car...I think I'll choose the later.

And yes, sorry, in my previous post last night I said Vienna when I really meant WFC as the splitting point for the Silver line.

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport

@Stefan Sittig:
The Silver Line joins the Orange Line after WFC, making EFC the first shared stop heading into DC. Silver Line trains would have to terminate at EFC to do what you propose and there is no Pocket Track or Third Track at EFC. A turnaround plan like you suggest would significantly complicate operations.

by kidincredible on Jul 23, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

Sorry, yes, I meant EFC as the first (or last depending on the direction).

I just took another look at the map of theWMATA plans for Metro

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

@Stefan Sittig:
Looking at the satellite photos on Google Maps, there is only a double crossover after EFC. Trains coming in off the Silver Line would have to enter EFC, pass the station while switching tracks, then pass back through the station to head back down the Silver Line.

The logistics of such an operation are probably undesirable at best. Hence the Silver Line taking over a percentage of Orange Line service.

by kidincredible on Jul 23, 2010 12:16 pm • linkreport

I obviously don't know enough (or much at all) about engineering.

I don't understand why a the track can't just start at EFC and head out to Dulles and then back. Everything they are building West of EFC is new construction/stations anyway, so why not build the necessary crossovers from there?

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

@Stefan Sittig:
1: There is roughly 2 miles of distance between EFC and where they are constructing the spur off the Orange Line down the Toll Road.
2: There are only two tracks going through EFC.

Building new trackway or a new set of tracks through EFC to allow the station to be a turnaround would probably cost too much. Even if crossovers were added to the west side of EFC, the logistics of switching tracks at EFC probably isn't best (what happens when a Silver Line is birthed eastbound in EFC, an Orange Line westbound is on the other side and an Orange Line eastbound is waiting for the Silver to clear? I'm sure there's operational concerns more complicated than that that I don't even know about.)

by kidincredible on Jul 23, 2010 1:27 pm • linkreport

Thanks for trying to explain it in more detail.

As costly as that solution might be, I think it's worth it myself for the future of the system.

Either that, or separate the blue from the orange in the city as was part of the WMATA 2030 proposal map.

The problem is, they are building the silver line first, and then leaving the orange/blue line overcrowding issue to later and that I think is not good forsight.

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 1:33 pm • linkreport

What is the purpose of terminating the Silver Line at EFC?

Are many riders going to ride all the way from Ashburn to downtown? No. But many will probably ride from Ashburn to Tysons. If and when Tysons adds more residential, a lot will likely ride from Tysons to Arlington or DC. You'll probably get a lot of reverse commuters from Arlington and DC to Tysons as well.

All that terminating the Silver line at EFC does is create an operational nightmare and add a transfer for riders.

by Alex B. on Jul 23, 2010 1:34 pm • linkreport

It's a 1 train transfer. Seems like not a lot to ask for someone who is commuting over 25 miles.

I know many people currently riding in the system that have to transfer 1 time and they don't think it's that big of a deal.

As for operational nightmare..there is a technical solution for everything. Get the right engineers and the willpower behind it and it can be solved.

The purpose of terminating/originating the Silver line at EFC would be to prevent the overclogging of Orange/Blue line tracks.

Another plus would be the ability to them make an actual "express" train on the Silver line, so once you did make the transfer to Silver, you can ride an express all the way to Tysons and or Dulles and save yourself the 10 min (max) you may have lost during a transfer.

In any case, it's a dead point--since they are not doing that and well, we just have to live with what they are doing--which is going to totally overclog and push the system way way past capacity.

So in essence, they will be ruining it for everybody by expanding out because they aren't planning for true ridership numbers.

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

Stopping the Silver line at EFC and turning it around doesn't do anything to alleviate crowding at Rosslyn.

The Silver Line will replace X% of Orange Line service, since it duplicates the Orange Line from EFC in. Once the Silver Line train gets to EFC it is for all intents and purposes exactly the same as an Orange line train (except it will turn around earlier at Stadium). This works because not everyone who rides the Orange Line is coming in from Vienna. Lots of the people using the orange line are getting on at EFC, Courthouse, etc. So you're not increasing the clog at Rosslyn, it's just that some trains that are Orange now at Rosslyn will be Silver in the future.

If you stopped the silver line at EFC all you're going to do is dump a bunch of people there on the platform who have to wait for another train. It's much better just to reduce service from Vienna and have the Silver Line continue in.

by MLD on Jul 23, 2010 2:30 pm • linkreport

"So you're not increasing the clog at Rosslyn, it's just that some trains that are Orange now at Rosslyn will be Silver in the future."

No.. you are increasing the clog at Rosslyn because there are now a dozen more stops (essentially) on the orange line.

I agree that it doesn't matter whether or not the silver line terminates anywhere inside or outside DC, but it will certainly cause more congestion and its remarkable that we would build such a thing without caring about that.

I feel really bad for anyone who thinks they will be able to get to work by Metro from anywhere inside EFC once the silver line opens...

I am reminded of the laughs I had trying to take the 42 from Adams Morgan. Whenever the weather was bad, I think most people must have walked to the end of the line to get a seat, because you just couldn't get on it. That is how it will be in Arlington.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

Ending the Silver Line at EFC would also mean people coming from any line but Orange would have to transfer twice, something currently not necessary anywhere in the system.

On the subject of the Rosslyn bottleneck, might it make more sense to have Silver get its own tunnel across the river? Since the ridership on the lines will likely be greatest on Orange, then Silver, then Blue, wouldn't it be more efficient to keep running Orange and Blue together, rather than switch to Orange and Silver?

by jakeod on Jul 23, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

This goes to both Jamie's and jakeod's concern:

I'm talking about the clog in terms of the TRAIN bottleneck, not the people. The fact that you have to use the switch to allow Blue and Orange trains to come through means you can't run trains as fast as you possibly can. If you split the Blue line out you get rid of this problem at Rosslyn, because Orange and Silver will be on the same track coming in. That also allows you in the future to increase the capacity of the Silver and Orange lines by running more trains.

Personally I think dire predictions like "I feel really bad for anyone who thinks they will be able to get to work by Metro from anywhere inside EFC once the silver line opens..." are overblown. The capacity of the system can be increased - but the reality is that for some reason people aren't really willing to pay for that increase.

by MLD on Jul 23, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

Why do you think these concerns are overblown? As it is today, it's already a nightmare by all accounts, and the number of stations that feed trains going through that tunnel is going to more than double.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

Fact: The Red Line carries more people than the Orange Line. But the most crowded section of the Metro system (at peak periods) is on the Orange Line. How can that be?

Answer that question, and then we'll move to the next topic.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 23, 2010 2:54 pm • linkreport

The red line does not share tracks with another line. As a result there are fewer possible orange line trains in any given time period between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory, than there are Red Line trains (anywhere).

I am confused by your question. I thought this was the entire premise of this discussion: a bottleneck caused by two lines sharing the same track.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 3:05 pm • linkreport

“If you split the Blue line out you get rid of this problem at Rosslyn, because Orange and Silver will be on the same track coming in. That also allows you in the future to increase the capacity of the Silver and Orange lines by running more trains.”
DoesnÂ’t the problem just get pushed out to EFC where the Silver and Orange lines now share a track? If we eliminated the Blue line altogether, would the number of trains per hour serving Rosslyn change at all once the Silver line opens?

by James on Jul 23, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

The answer is twofold. The Red Line does not share tracks with any other lines, which means it can run more trains to the same places. But another major reason is that the ridership is more evenly distributed.

The Silver Line will have similar characteristics. It will have many reverse commuters. It will also have people who do not ride the full length of the line (like a Shady Grove->Bethesda rider). And it will increase the amount of north Arlington->Downtown trains.

The Silver Line will have several effects downtown. The number of trains running between downtown and...:

  • Rosslyn will remain the same.
  • Court House - East Falls Church will increase.
  • West Falls Church - Vienna will slightly decrease.
  • Arlington Cemetery will be cut in half.
  • Pentagon and points south will remain the same (although some will be coming across the Yellow Line Bridge).
  • north of Mount Vernon Sq will increase slightly.

Also note that the number of trains operating on the line between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory will remain the same.

Now, with those facts in mind:
Downtown will have the same number of trains it has today, although more will probably be 8-cars long. The crowded Rosslyn-Ballston corridor will have more trains. Blue Line riders coming from the Metro Center/Farragut Square side of downtown will see a decrease in direct Franconia service.

And that means that if the Silver Line significantly increases ridership to downtown, the downtown Orange/Silver subway could see more passenger congestion.

However, not everyone on the Silver Line will ride all the way downtown. Some people will start at Ashburn/Rte 772 and ride to Tysons East. Some will ride to Court House. Some people will start at Ballston and ride to Reston. A few enterprising people might endeavor to ride from Franconia to Dulles.

And another factor downtown at present is that the Orange Line is more crowded than the Blue Line. And that means that some trains coming through downtown are underutilized. With the Silver Line, everyone traveling as far as East Falls Church will see more trains, and that should ease crowding for current Orange Line riders.

And while I sympathize with Blue Line riders, something has to give. They will see a reduction from 10 trains per hour through Arlington Cemetery to 7 trains per hour (at rush).

Right now, each of those 10 trains is 6 cars long. That means 60 cars are traveling between Franconia and Downtown-West (per hour). If Metro increases the remaining Blue trains via Arlington Cemetery to 8 car trains, there would be 56 cars on the route (per hour).

Now, considering all of these factors, train congestion is likely to decrease because of fewer switching movements at Rosslyn. Passenger crowding between Downtown and East Falls Church will probably decrease a bit. However, passenger crowding on the Blue Line will increase.

Now, whether that will turn Metro into an unusable system, I don't know. But I do know that if no one rides because it's too crowded, that there won't be a crowding problem.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 23, 2010 3:29 pm • linkreport

No.. you are increasing the clog at Rosslyn because there are now a dozen more stops (essentially) on the orange line.

This is what I am worried about. As a rider that goes from Clarendon to Farragut West every AM, on the orange line, as it is, often have to wait for 2 or 3 trains to go by (totally jam packed with riders who got on in Vienna, Dunn Loring, WFC, EFC, Ballston and VA Sq), before I can even try to squeeze into a crowded train within an inch of my life.

This has added 10-15 minutes to my commute. So I used to make it in 15 min, now it's about 30, to go 4 miles.

I can only imagine how much more crowded it will be with trains coming from Tysons and beyond (Reston/Herndon/Dulles)?

By the time the trains get as close as Clarendon, it will be impossible to get on a train.

THIS is what is worrying me as a home owner in Clarendon. It has the potential to negatively affect the real estate market and business development.

So unless Metro does something to alleviate congestion, they simply can't add a whole new line (w/all the stops) and all those new passengers without either adding more trains/cars or a new third track.

Otherwise, I think, it will be a disaster.

And your last sentence just makes my brain explode. :)

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

Matt, thank you for the very thoughtful analysis. Here is what is at the crux of this.

"if the Silver Line significantly increases ridership to downtown, the downtown Orange/Silver subway could see more passenger congestion."

Under what set of circumstances would anyone imagine that doubling the number of stations on a train line into the city not significantly increase ridership?

We have seen that increase substantially in the last decade even as nothing at all has changed on the Orange Line because of population increases in the area and worse traffic congestion. There is no reason to expect anything different would happen in the next ten years.

From 2000 to 2009, average daily riders boarding at Vienna went from 10,000 to over 13,000. At Clarendon, it went from 2,700 to 4,200. At Courthouse, it went from 10,500 to 12,500. Most other orange line stations saw increases on the order of 20% or so in a decade.

At Rosslyn, though, it barely changed - 14,600 to 15,500. I suspect because it was already at useful capacity during rush hour ten years ago.

So, if the best we've got is to add 20% capacity to the tracks by rerouting the blue line, we are clearly screwed in ten years just on the basis of the same expansion we've seen in the last ten years. But that's not all, folks, we're adding 12 more stations!

The point is, there is a major problem looming even without the silver line. Even if it added zero (and it certainly won't) we have a problem. If it added a mere 10%, which is wishful, then that is fully 50% more than we would have expected to see anyway.

So what do you want to do? Build more roads and home it goes away? Accept that we will have inadequate infrastructure to support out population? Or plan for the future, but the bullet and start digging?

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 3:55 pm • linkreport

@Stefan Sittig:
Clarendon, eh? Well you'll be seeing more trains.

Remember, that some of the people who currently park or transfer from buses at Vienna, Dunn Loring, and West Falls Church live in the Silver Line corridor. They will shift to the Silver Line when it opens, leaving more room on the remaining Orange Line trains. Although that capacity will probably get absorbed by new riders eventually.

In the short term, at least, I think you'll have an easier commute. And perhaps by the time the long-term gets here, we'll have figured out some solutions.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 23, 2010 3:58 pm • linkreport

Oh, I have made it clear for a long time that I support a separated Blue Line (M Street subway) downtown. I was only explaining why I don't think the world will end on March 4, 2014. (The current projected opening date of the Silver Line, according to MWAA)

by Matt Johnson on Jul 23, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

@Jamie: Am with you 100%. Nobody has a crystal ball, and I'm not an expert in public transportation, but I believe you make total logical sense.

A third track HAS to be added in in the tunnel where the orange/blue line currently goes thru at least to ease any congestion. Without a third track we are doomed for eternity to be dealing with the same issues.

The ridership will increase when you add those stations, and even if there are more trains as Matt indicated, the congestion in the tracks will worsen making the commutes, even if on a less crowded train (doubtful), take much longer as you wait in a tunnel for the next train to clear the track.

This, assuming I'll be able to even get on a train in Clarendon.

Guess the smart thing would be to move to Tyson's in 10 years! : )

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 4:07 pm • linkreport

Well, if the blue line dog and pony show adds 20% more orange/red line trains, then in order for the world not to end in 2014, the silver line would have to add less than 20% to the number of people going into the city each day.

That seems like a low-end number. Further, if ridership increases from 2009-2014 at exactly the same rate it did from 2000-2009, then we'll be another 10% above where we are today. I can't wait to see the 2010 census numbers, though, since some people are predicting a surprising jump in the DC area. That would make matters even worse.

I guess at the end of the day I agree the world won't end - I mean, even if metro stopped running entirely, it wouldn't end. We'd drive, bus, ride bikes, walk, or telecommute. We always adapt, don't we?

But there are a lot of bad things between "ideal" and "the world ending," such as companies moving out of DC and into the suburbs, and reversing the urban renewal we've all enjoyed lately which has been driven in no small part by public transit.

by Jamie on Jul 23, 2010 4:08 pm • linkreport


Adding an express track is not a solution. It would be tremendously expensive and not really add much utility to the current system.

If Metro is to add capacity through downtown, they will do so with completely new subway routes, such as the M Street Subway or something similar.

by Alex B. on Jul 23, 2010 4:31 pm • linkreport

Just wanted to share what literally just happened.

I left work at 4pm today and got on the orange line towards Vienna. Everything seemed normal--train was relatively empty (pre- rush), and then the train malfunctioned (I guess?) and we got off-loaded at Rossyln.

The station was pretty full already and all of us just made it more crowded. Next orange train...8 minutes.

I waited for a bit and within about 5 min the station started to fill up with people and was getting pretty crowded.

The next orange train arrived...JAM PACKED. Had to let it go by, nobody could get on and the next one was 5 minutes later. Again, it came and was full.

Meanwhile the station kept filling and filling w/orange riders. 4 blue trains went through and that was fine, but the orange line was a mess.

So I decided to just walk to Clarendon..just got home.

My total commute...1 hr and 30 min to go 4 miles. Thank you Metro.

Now, keep in mind it's 4pm, a Friday and mid-july. Many federal employees have flextime/alternative work schedules and do not work Fridays and also lots of folks are on vacation, which significantly decreases the actual ridership this time of year and this day of the week when compared to say a Monday in October.

Now add to that another train line (Silver) and 14 additional stops.

Sure, the World won't end that fateful day in 2014 when the silver line opens, but life on board Metro, for some of us, will become totally unbearable and in the short term (not long), unsustainable.

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 5:30 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: How is adding a third track not a solution? It would provide flexibility of access (if a train breaks down u can get around it), and flexibility of types of service offered (express or local, like in NYC and other better systems in the World.)

I agree a line through Georgetown and north of the current orange/blue line would definitely be necessary down the road, but that wouldn't necessarily help the orange/blue (and now silver) track problems.

My only hope is that by 2014 more and more fed workers and others will be telecommuting more often, and flexwork will be so popular that "where" you work won't matter anymore and the issue of commuting will be a non-starter.

Of course non-rush hour ridership has been booming as well. I frequently hop on the green/yellow lines on the weekend and weekend evenings and often it's more crowded than during weekday rush hour.

by Stefan Sittig on Jul 23, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport

Adding a third track isn't a solution because it's completely infeasible. It would probably cost more money than an entirely new subway line through the core of the city. The benefits would be dubious - a new, separate line could accomplish the exact same thing at lower cost and with much simpler construction.

Adding a third track would require a complete rebuilding of every single station on the line. It would require tunneling next to existing, in-use tunnels. It would be a construction nightmare, and in the end wouldn't add a ton of extra capacity.

Unless you build a subway with express tracks from the start, adding them after the fact is next to impossible.

by Alex B. on Jul 23, 2010 6:08 pm • linkreport

So whats happens to the blue line riders on the eastern end they seem like they will get the short end of the stick (no other line to take and will just have to suffer).

Why not just kill two birds with one stone and extend the silver line through southwestern Arlington down toward the Blue/Yellow lines then end in Alexandria or travel to DC via the route of the Yellow Line.

Each of the possible ways to solve the problems of crowding forget the one transfer way of getting around the system. It will cost some to transfer 2 or 3 times. WMATA just needs a whole new line that does not share tracks with any line.

by kk on Jul 23, 2010 6:34 pm • linkreport

I have your solution: movable seats. From Japan, naturally.

During non-peak periods, the seats are laid out in rows, but when passenger loads increase at peak times, they can be rotated to form longitudinal seating. The rotation can be done automatically at terminal stations, as shown in this video.

Of course these designs result in a higher-cost railcar, so Metro is unlikely to go for them.

by trainsintokyo on Jul 23, 2010 7:36 pm • linkreport

@Stefan Sittig,
The figure I quoted comes from combining the Dulles Airport to Rosslyn figure in Table 6.1-7 on page 6-12 of Chapter 6 – Transportation Effects (497 KB PDF file) in Volume I of the Final Environmental Impact Statement with the running time between Metro Center and Rosslyn shown at

The bus is quicker because takes a more direct route and does not stop and dwell 18 station stops between Metro Center and Dulles Airport.

The original plan was to terminate the Silver line at Stadium-Armory, it is so stated in both the DEIS and the FEIS

Silver line trains from East Falls Church to Stadium-Armory will provide the same service as Orange line trains do today. It is my belief that a plurality of the boarding on the Silver line west of Tysons Corner will not discharge at destination east of Tysons Corner leaving that room for Orange line passengers boarding from stations on the K route east of West Falls Church.

Selected Silver line train will terminate at New Carrollton and Largo. It is important to note, the Maryland ends of both the Blue and Orange line generate less boarding then do their Virginia counterparts.

by Sand Box John on Jul 23, 2010 11:20 pm • linkreport

Regarding the video of rotating chairs. That is nice, but knowing how WMATA maintains its rolling stock, we are guaranteed to have seats stuck at 45deg and 115 deg angles after a few years.

I am all for longitudinal seating but reality is that the are trains are so jerky (is it the operators who do not know how to drive a train smoothly?) that bumping into your neighbor incessantly would make for a very unpleasant ride. Front/back facing seats is my vote.

by patrick on Jul 24, 2010 12:10 am • linkreport

I didn't read all of the comments, but in response to Steven's comment (the second on the page), I just want to say that as someone who commutes every day from Vienna, I don't think people would have much of a problem going sideways. Lots of individuals do that already and half of the train already rides backward.

In addition, after living in New York, I can personally attest that the seats are always full, even though everyone has to ride sideways. DC is never going to be New York because the Subway system is extremely unique in its reliability and function given its age and scope. But standing in New York, even during rush hour, is not nearly as uncomfortable as it is in DC. And in Boston, where many cars are light rail that runs underground, the transverse seating makes it more difficult to stand.

I think that Metro is caving to the idea that the longitudinal seating isn't as pretty. It's why they paid millions of dollars to recarpet the system several years ago even though there's no reason for it. Plastic floors and seats paired with longitudinal seating and more hand rails will decrease costs by reducing overcrowding and maintenance.

by Meredith on Jul 24, 2010 8:12 am • linkreport

Why not have transverse on one side and longitudinal on the other. It would give users an option on how to sit and would still create more space in the middle than just transverse seating.

@ Sand Box John

I know that the eastern end gets less use; it would still not be fair to reduce service to those on the eastern end while paying the same fare. If WMATA wants to add capacity on one end of the system they should not sacrifice service on the other end to do it they should build a new line.

by kk on Jul 24, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

I'm glad Metro is keeping transverse seating. It's one of the things that makes our transit system unique. There's been a tough balancing act to play between practicality and keeping the aesthetics of the original system design. I'm someone who likes to see the latter win out when it can.

And while transverse seating is less than ideal for rush hour service, it makes riding the system during off-peak times much more enjoyable. Standing around in a bunch of empty space wouldn't make sense most of the time.

Here's hoping riders won't mind keeping closer quarters when the ridership level demands it. Use lots of deodorant on those hot summer days and we should all be fine.

by Omar on Jul 26, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

Just realized some hypocrisy (okay, maybe that's not the right word) on Metro's part: They already have longitudinal seating? Will Metro remove those seats because they're so unsafe?

Apologies if that has already been mentioned.

by Max D on Jul 27, 2010 12:34 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us