Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Metro


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 82

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-second photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 27 guesses. Nine got all five. Great work Peter K, JamesDCane, Justin..., Chris H, AlexC, Dillon the Pickle, FN, Solomon, and Stephen C!

Image 1: Tysons Corner

The first image is the view of Tysons Corner station from the plaza adjacent to the Vita building. Given the unique Silver Line architecture, you should have been able to easily narrow this down to the two "Gambrel" style stations. But Tysons Corner station isn't in a median, like Greensboro is, so this can't be Greensboro. All but one of you got this one right. Great work.

Image 2: Fort Totten

The second picture shows the top of a memorial plaque in the mezzanine at Fort Totten. The "Y OF" that is visible is part of the phrase, "in memory of," and is a memorial to the nine people killed in the 2009 Metro crash just north of the station.

Additionally, the windows and angles here are indicative of the mezzanine shape of Fort Totten. From this vantage point, we're looking toward the two escalators connecting the mezzanine to the Green/Yellow platform.

Twenty knew the correct answer.

Image 3: Van Dorn Street

The third image shouldn't have been too hard if you know the architecture of the system. The presence of three Blue Line trains on the PIDS tells you that this is almost certainly a Blue-only station, of which there are only three in the system. This picture was taken on a Saturday, but even though you didn't know that, there are times (weekends and off-peak), when Van Dorn and Franconia are not served by the Yellow Line.

Two of the three Blue-only stations can be easily eliminated. Arlington Cemetery is depressed in an open cut (so the trees wouldn't be visible) and doesn't have a canopy at all. Instead, it's only covered where Memorial Avenue crosses it. Week 8 gives you a sense of what that looks like. Franconia/Springfield, on the other hand has a very different canopy and the PIDS signs have a different format at terminal stations (BLUE LINE | LARGO CENTER | LEAVING 3 MINS).

But even if there had been only one Blue Line train on the board, you still could have solved this. That's because the canopy visible here is a "Gull I" design. And the only Gull I station served by the Blue Line is Van Dorn Street.

Twenty-five figured it out.

Image 4: Wheaton

The fourth image was a little trickier, and required you to take a second look to figure out that this was Wheaton. Many of you went with your first instinct, but closer inspection should have revealed this to be a twin-tube station. One clue is the presence of "can" lights hanging from the vault, which aren't present at the higher single-vault stations.

The perspective here is clearly looking through the doors of an elevator. Some downtown stations do have side platforms with the elevator in an alcove off to the side like this. But all of those stations have the "waffle" design, not the taller coffer "arch"-style. None of the "Arch I" or "Arch II" stations have side platforms. And that means this has to be one of the twin-tube stations.

It can't be Forest Glen because, as several of you noted, the elevators there all land in a common lobby and are farther from the tracks. At Wheaton, however, the solitary elevator lands not in the escalator lobby, but in an alcove at the far northern end of the Shady Grove platform.

Ten came to the correct conclusion.

Image 5: Capitol Heights

The final image was even more challenging, but there was enough information to figure out that it's Capitol Heights.

Like with image 3 above, you can tell that this station is served only by the Blue and Silver Lines (since the Orange Line isn't listed on the sign). There are only two underground stations that are served by the Blue and Silver, so even without additional information, you could have made a guess with a 50/50 probability of getting the right answer. Some of you did that and got lucky.

But there was a way to be 100% certain, and it involves knowing that while Benning Road and Capitol Heights are nearly identical, they're mirror images of each other. In week 56 we also ran a set with a similar signage clue and noted in the answers post the difference between the two stations.

At both stations, the single mezzanine is at the far end of the platform. At Benning Road, the mezzanine is at the east end. At Capitol Heights, it's at the west end. That means that when you descend to the platform at Capitol Heights, you're facing east. And if you're facing east, trains going eastbound to Largo are on your right, and trains going west toward downtown are on your left.

One final note: The reason you know this sign is at the bottom of the escalator when you arrive is because this is a fairly typical application of WMATA's signing in this case, since this is a decision point and because anywhere else on the platform, the column would also include a strip map of farther stations reached on the appropriate track.

Nineteen came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with our next quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


10 things my internship taught me about transportation in DC

Every year, thousands of up and coming leaders come to DC to intern. Knowing how to get around can be difficult at first, but if you follow this advice, you'll steer clear of lighter pockets and grumpy mornings.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In early January, I arrived in DC with two suitcases and a small budget for transportation. Being a full time student and an unpaid intern who lives just a mile from work, I spend most of my time walking.

There are, however, a lot of times when I take Metrorail. Irvine, California, where I'm from, doesn't have a subway system, so using Metro ("Metrorail" is the official name, since there's also Metrobus, but everyone just calls the train system "Metro") has been a new adventure filled with ups and downs.

Now that I've been here for a while, I can tell you ten things about Metro that will help any intern who's new to DC:

1. Understand the map: DC is divided into quadrants that center on the US Capitol—Northeast (NE), Northwest (NW), Southeast (SE) and Southwest (SW). Be sure to orient yourself properly so you don't end up at, say, 10th Street NE when you meant to go to 10th Street NW. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the Metro map. Before your first day of work, mark the route that you plan to take so you don't miss your stop.

2. Prepare for traffic: The Metrorail crowds can be a big hassle. Go towards the ends of the platforms, as commuters tend to group towards the middle.

3. Different time, different price: The students in my internship program who take the Metrorail every day, spend around $40 per week. However, the fares vary by station and during peak times, they're more expensive. On weekdays, these are in effect from 5:30 AM to 9:30 AM, and 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM. On the bright side, the trains will arrive more frequently at this time of day.

4. Consider a Metro pass: If you use the Metro enough, a SelectPass can save you time and money. This calculator helps to determine which pass will save you the most. Even if you plan to walk or use Capital Bikeshare to get to work, there are going to be times when you'll want to use Metro, and for those, it's important to have a SmarTrip card.

5. Register your SmartTrip Card: Don't forget to register your Metro card just in case it is misplaced or stolen. This is especially important if you've loaded a large amount of money on to it.

6. Know to behave on the Metro: A lot of Metro stations have long escalators. If you're standing while riding them, stay to the right to allow room for those who would prefer to walk. Also, Metro doors do not operate like elevator doors, so putting your arm out to keep the door open will not end well.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Once you're on a Metro car, be sure to move towards the center to make room for others. If you're inside an already packed train, don't underestimate another rider's ability to force their way in too. After being shoved into the armpits of several tall strangers, I've learned to position myself away from corners in order to prepare for the "sardine can" type of morning.

7. Running Late? Metro vs. cab: During my second week of interning, I woke up 10 minutes before work started and figured that taking a cab would be the quickest option. Unfortunately, I was stuck in traffic for twenty minutes. Lesson learned: cabs and ride hailing aren't necessarily the solution when you're running late—they're expensive and can just as easily get stuck in traffic. I've found that most of the time, when you're late, the reality is simply that you're out of luck.

8. The weather can affect your commute: This past February, I experienced my first snow storm. I had often heard jokes that DC residents panic at the mere thought of snow, yet I was still surprised by how cautious the city was about transportation during the blizzard. During this time, the Metro didn't service my area for nearly a week. If you'll be in DC during the winter, frequently check Metro alerts to see if there are any operational changes to the Metrorail.

Photo by Samir Luther on Flickr.

9. Ask your supervisor for a transportation stipend: As an unpaid intern, every penny counts. Since DC has some of the highest fares of transit in the US, I suggest that interns at least ask if their work sites offer a transportation stipend. At my previous internship, I received $150 at the start of every month to cover my estimated transportation costs, which helped significantly. A friend of mine kept receipts of her fare purchases, gave them to her supervisor, and was compensated at the end of each month. Some internships, like those on Capitol Hill, do not offer this option. But it never hurts to ask!

10. Know your options: Capital Bikeshare will let you get some exercise while you commute, but it's also often just as fast as Metro, or even driving. CaBi allows you to rent a bike from over 300 solar powered stations in the DC area. You can also enjoy a view of the city and save a few bucks by riding the busif you regularly do this, definitely buy a pass. The Circulator is another great option, and riding only costs $1! However, this does not service all areas of DC. Last but not least, if you live close to where you need to go, there's one option that almost never fails: walking!

Got any transportation advice for people that are new to DC? Comment below.


Lisbon is a rail transit mecca

Lisbon has just about every type of rail transit out there. Streetcars, funiculars, a metro, and commuter rail all provide a dense, interconnected transit system for the Southern Europe metropolis.

A streetcar in Lisbon. All photos by the author.

Lisbon's streetcarstrams, as they refer to them—act as both transportation for the city's residents and a popular way for visitors to see the city, with streetcar line 28 connecting many of the main sights of the city's old city.

Many of the streetcar lines share the city's narrow streets with car traffic. However, some stretches have dedicated lanes, including along Avenue 24 de Julho, next to the commuter rail tracks approaching the Cais do Sodré railway station.

A vintage streetcar in a dedicated lane alongside a commuter train in Lisbon.

Complementing the streetcar network are three funiculars and an elevator that climb some of the city's steep hills.

The Gloria funicular in Lisbon.

The Lisbon metro has four lines stretching 26.8 miles across the city and providing the backbone of the transit network.

A map of the Lisbon metro with commuter rail services in gray.

Lisbon has two commuter rail operators: state-owned Comboios de Portugal (CP) and the private Fertagus line. While more frequent and metro-like than Washington DC's commuter rail services, CP's services are not as extensive as those in most European cities with overlapping lines connecting four terminals in central Lisbon and one south of the Tagus River with five different suburbs.

CP's Lisbon commuter rail map.

Fertagus provides the only commuter rail service that crosses the Tagus River, running on the lower deck of the 25 de Abril bridge.

The 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon.

Lisbon is a good example of how a dense transit network with a variety of interconnected modes can work.

The Washington region is slowly moving towards a similarly dense and varied network, with Metro forming the backbone and other modes like the Metroway bus rapid transit line Virginia, the DC Streetcar in the District and, when it opens, the Purple Line light rail in Maryland filling in the gaps and complementing Metro. However, we have a long way to go to match Lisbon's network.

For more on transit developments in other cities and around the world, check out Greater Greater Washington's articles about Adelaide, Cape Town, Dallas, Hartford, Johannesburg, Oakland airport, San Diego, and San Juan.


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 82

It's time for the eighty-second installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun. Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday.

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Metro's new displays do a better job of sharing info

Metro has installed new passenger information displays at some of its stations. The new signs fix the long-standing problem of showing information about elevator outages at far away stations rather than when the next train will reach the platform.

Metro customers have spotted new passenger information displays at Arlington Cemetery, Ballston, Judiciary Square, and Takoma. Like the older ones the majority of stations still have, the new displays list real-time train arrival information in three lines.

The biggest upside to the new signs is that instead of using the entire screen to slowly cycle through elevator outages, they simply show the info in a scrolling feed across the bottom.

In addition to the stations listed above, Metro's latest Customer Accountability Report says the new displays will go in on the mezzanine level at Smithsonian, Tenleytown, and Ballston by May of this year.


Metro needs to do a better job fixing rail cars

Blue-chip consultants at McKinsey & Company recently released a preliminary report on Metro performance. It dives into paratransit, the HR back office, parking, and other issues, but the one that most impacts commuters each day is rail car maintenance. If Metro doesn't do a better job of fixing its rail cars, it's going to keep losing riders.

Metrorail on-time performance. On-time performance can vary and drop more when there are fewer rail cars available for service. Graphic by the author, data from WMATA.

Get better at fixing the rail cars, improve daily service

According to the report, 63 percent of all rail line delays are due to railcar failures. 36 percent are caused by trains not being dispatched, and 27 percent are caused by trains being removed (offloaded) from the line. These delays and car failures lead to fewer trains available for passengers to board and more crowding, making the system less enjoyable—or functional—to ride.

The five most common rail car failures, according to the study, were propulsion, door, HVAC, brake, and pneumatic subsystems. Any one of these failures might cause a train car not to be dispatched from a rail yard or could lead to a train being offloaded and taken out of service during the day. Since rail cars operate in married pairs, a problem with one means that both in the pair would have to be pulled off the line.

One of the problems identified by the report is the high number of repeat failures in rail car components. McKinsey stated causes of this include below-average quality control/quality assurance processes, repair protocols that don't fully determine the root cause of the issue, and maintenance staff that are less experienced than in the past due to turnover. Any one of these issues identified would be a problem, but the three put together mean that rail car reliability is likely nowhere near where it should be.

Graphic showing repeat failures of rail car components. Image from WMATA via WAMU.

Metro is building a new two-mile test track near Greenbelt station primarily to ensure the new 7000-series rail cars work as expected when they're received from Kawasaki, but it could also double as a certification track for cars post-repair. As it stands today, rail cars do not undergo a "checkout" period to verify that the issue they were in the shop for was actually fixed.

Once the test track is finished, rail cars that have had their brake or propulsion issues worked on at the various yards could be checked out for additional issues and for an extra quality assurance step. Verification testing to check if the work was done successfully could be one way to help find recurring issues when they happen, before the cars are placed back into revenue service.

Railcar availability issues caused 36% of delays

The report noted that over a third of all rail delays were caused by not having enough cars available to run in service. Whether the cars are out for work or sidelined because WMATA doesn't have the parts needed to fix them, the lack of cars means fewer trains run for passengers to use.

The graph below shows how many of Metro's trains didn't operate in each month of 2015, as well as some of the top delays noted in Metro's daily service reports. The number of trains not dispatched only dips below 100 a few times, around October and November. Given each 6- or 8-car train can hold anywhere from 800 to 1000 people each, a train that's not dispatched from a rail yard leads to less capacity to move people and creates gaps in service causing passengers to end up waiting longer.

Stacked graph representation of the top 5 delay-causing rail issues according to WMATA's Daily Service Reports. Graphic by the author, data from WMATA.

The rail dispatching issue is relatively new, having only started becoming a more significant issue in 2014 and 2015. One reason the report points out that might cause this is the sometimes-significant delays in the parts ordering process, in part due to FTA requirements. At times there have been up to around 70 cars out of service awaiting work since the parts were not in stock.

Last 4 years of delays for the top 6 causes of rail delays, according to the Daily Service Reports. Graphic by the author, data from WMATA.

One of the main priorities the report wants Metro to focus on is to get better at figuring out the root-cause of issues when they occur, and use that information to help fix and prevent it from recurring on other rail cars. Getting better at fixing cars the first time would get them in and out of the shop bays faster, and keep them from coming back. More focus here would help keep the related issue of mechanic experience under control.

The track side of the system has had a spotlight pointed on it in recent months, primarily by the FTA with hundreds of inspections being performed to make sure the tracks are in good order. But Metro needs to be just as focused on keeping their rail cars in working order - not just to say that they did, but to reduce the number of delays that passengers feel, and make the experience of riding Metro better. Focusing on improving rail car maintenance won't be quick, but the dividends it will pay by providing better service to passengers will make it worth it.


The West Falls Church station got far less use after the Silver Line opened

When the Silver Line opened in July of 2014, the West Falls Church Metro station took a huge ridership hit. But overall, the Silver Line meant more people riding Metro.

Graph by the author. Click for a larger version.

The chart above is based on the ridership data released by Metro in March. The stations noted here are West Falls Church and the five new Silver Line stations, with data coming from AM peak entries during typical weekdays.

In the span of two months, from a peak in June 2014 to a low in August 2014, West Falls Church station saw its average ridership drop by almost 70% with the opening of the Silver Line! While this appears to be bad news for West Falls Church and Metro, that isn't the case if you look at all six stations.

It looks like when the Silver Line opened, West Falls Church riders immediately switched to stations closer to their homes. That, or rather than driving to West Falls Church, they started driving to Wiehle, the only new station with parking (it could be a combination of both, of course).

Changes to bus routes in the corridor probably had a lot to do with the drop in entries at West Falls. When the Silver Line opened, 62 bus routes got modifications. 11 were eliminated altogether, and major feeder routes operated by Fairfax Connector, Loundon County, and Washington Flyer moved their terminus from West Falls to Wiehle Avenue.

Overall, the Silver Line and the bus service changes that accompanied it attracted new riders to Metro. This is evidenced in the the uptick in the grand total entries among these six stations. It's likely that a lot of new riders are commuters from Fairfax and Loudoun County, where Metro was previously unaccessible.

A goal of public transit is to offer people better access to transportation. The opening of the Silver Line made travel for existing Metro customers easier by putting stations closer to their homes, and also attracted new riders by offering an alternative to driving and carpooling.


Metro's new bus prediction system is pretty accurate, but leave yourself some extra time

Metro recently swapped out its seven-year-old bus predictions system for a new one called BusETA. Last week, fourteen Greater Greater Washington contributors and staff audited BusETA for accuracy. Overall, the system performed well enough, but buses sometimes came earlier than predicted, and "ghost buses" are still real.

Image from WMATA.

Real-time departure information has totally changed bus travel, as any rider with a smart phone can now triangulate the real location of the bus. That means the ability to minimize wait times or choose a travel mode with more confidence; we're no longer reliant on a printed schedule that can be shredded by congestion, incidents, events, breakdowns, or weather.

WMATA's predictions come via a combination of real-time data from GPS transponders on the buses and computer models that predict bus arrivals using historic data about traffic patterns. Once they're made, WMATA publishes predictions on its website. The marketplace for independent prediction apps like Transit Tracker and Citymapper is also pretty crowded, as WMATA publishes tools that any developer can use.

A recent change in who provides WMATA's prediction technology means NextBus, the widely used but proprietary system, is out, and BusETA is in.

Bus lines included in the audit: F4, H8, 16G, 16H, 70, 64, P19, S9, E4, 74, 96, 52, 53, 54, C21, C22, 30S, 31, 33, 37, N2, J3, X2, 4B. Map by the author.

Our contributors recorded how BusETA did one morning

For the audit, which we did on Thursday, April 14th, each participant went to a specific bus stop and called up the prediction for the stop by the stop's unique ID number. While BusETA will also give predictions by bus line, we audited only the bus stop interface. Each participant took a screenshot of the prediction and then recorded the actual arrival times of the predicted bus(es). Our participants audited a total of 27 buses covering 24 lines at 17 locations from 6 to 9 am.

Here's how close each bus came to arriving when BusETA said it would:

A positive error value means the bus was early. The variance of the error clearly increases as the prediction time increases (the further the bus is away, the worse BusETA is at predicting the arrival time).

However, the latest bus was an F4 bus that Gray Kimbrough watched from across the street: It was nine minutes late as it passed through Silver Spring, heading away from downtown. It is notable that this bus was audited at a location near the end of its run. It could be that the further into the bus' run the stop is, the less accurate the prediction is because there have been more opportunities for the bus to encounter delays.

Buses were early as often as they were late. One contributor missed his bus because the prediction told him he had five minutes, and he actually only had three.
Anecdotally, it seems like BusETA might under-predict bus arrivals more often than NextBus did (i.e. the bus shows up 'early').

If so, this is a major problem, because when you miss a bus by only one or two minutes, you have to wait the entire headway of the bus line for the next one, which is the worst-case delay scenario. Based on the results of our audit, I'd recommend factoring in a three minute margin of error when using BusETA.

There were still ghost buses (either buses that were not predicted, or predicted buses that didn't show). Jonathan Neeley got an H8 prediction, but when he refreshed it two minutes before it was supposed to arrive, the bus had disappeared (the actual bus did arrive a moment after, however). Steven Yates read that the 74 was 11 minutes away...just as it pulled up.

Overall, though, BusETA worked more often than it didn't. Brendan Casey said that for his commute, BusETA is far more accurate than Transit or Citymapper.

BusETA prediction

The BusETA technology is different, and likely better

NextBus had a lot of accuracy problems. WMATA's switch to BusETA means it has joined the open source OneBusAway project, which is also used in Atlanta and New York City. That means that all the old apps that used the NextBus standard don't work for DC any more.

The switch to an open source standard via BusETA should promote innovation and help interested parties understand how and why various prediction apps are working. Anybody can contribute back and improve the OneBusAway project since the code is freely available as an open-source project.

This potentially makes the software quite powerful: If someone wants to write a feature in, they can pull the freely-available code, edit it, and publish it back for approval. This freedom allows the application to be more feature-rich than it might otherwise be, and be developed faster than a typical commercial application.

In the long run, an open-source standard will hopefully mean more and better apps for DC.

Thank you to Gray Kimbrough, Chris Slatt, Abby Lynch, Jim Titus, Sebastian Galeano, Steven Yates, Brendan Casey, Bryan Barnett-Woods, Ronit Dancis, Andrea Adleman, Angela Martinez, Jonathan Neeley and Sarah Guidi for participating in this flash audit.

Support Us