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Transit


Ask GGW: Why is there a Metro tunnel in Tysons?

Several years ago, as the Silver line was being planned, there was a debate about whether to build the line underground through Tysons Corner. Eventually, the elevated option was selected, but there's still a tunnel. Reader Dennis McGarry wants to know why.


The tunnel portal. Photo by Dan Malouff.
Why is there a short tunnel on the Silver Line with no underground stops? Why not just build the entire track above ground? It seems like such a huge undertaking with little payback.
There are two short tunnels in Tysons (one for each track). They run about 1700 feet between Tysons Corner station and Greensboro station. The reason they exist is to cut through the highest point in Fairfax County, at 520 feet above sea level.

The tracks through Tysons are already high above the streets, and the climb between McLean and Tysons Corner is noticeable, especially from the front of a westbound train. Because trains are limited in the grade they can ascend, crossing this hill with an elevated viaduct would make the stations at Tysons Corner and McLean obscenely high.

In addition to the engineering and aesthetic challenges that a super-high viaduct would have caused, trying to keep the line elevated would have probably been much more expensive. So it was probably cheaper for the contractor to build these short tunnels than it would have been to keep the line elevated over the hill.

As a result, riders at McLean get a soaring view of the Tysons skyline (and in fact, you can see Bethesda, too), but a few minutes later, they find themselves riding underground, ever so briefly.

Transit


How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 16

It's time for the sixteenth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

Don't be discouraged if you find it a little hard at first. Reflect on your answers, and I'm sure you'll hit a home run.

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday. Good luck!

Transit


The Silver Line's opening day, in 41 photos

Metro's new Silver Line is officially open and carrying passengers. Enjoy this photo tour of the new line and opening day festivities.


All photos by Dan Malouff, Matt Johnson, and Malcolm Kenton.

Metro's star-studded ribbon-cutting ceremony featured US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and seemingly every other dignitary in Northern Virginia.


Left: Anthony Foxx, Terry McAuliffe, and Sharon Bulova. Right: The ribbon-cutting.

Once the gates at Wiehle station opened, riders rushed in to catch the first train. Cheers erupted as the "doors closing" chime sounded for the first time, and the train sped forward.

The first train took off from Wiehle-Reston East station shortly after noon, and moved east through Tysons on its way to Largo. GGW's troop of partiers exited at East Falls Church to double back and tour each of the five new Silver Line stations individually.

McLean station

The ride between East Falls Church and McLean station offers a champion view of the Tysons skyline, and McLean station itself.

Metro's tracks swoop gracefully into McLean station.

The station is elevated over Capital One Drive, and features an angular starburst-shaped platform canopy. The mezzanine is one level below the tracks. The sidewalk is one level below that.

Construction transforms the landscape outside the station, except a lone ball field.

Looking west, the growing skyline around the Tysons Corner station looms.

Tysons Corner station

Tysons Corner station is situated between Tysons' two gargantuan shopping malls and its tallest buildings (so far). The platform canopy is a futuristic gambrel-like shape.

Tysons Corner station uses the gambrel roof instead of the starburst because the mezzanine is above the tracks, rather than below. That same pattern repeats at other stations along the line. Mezzanine below tracks gets a starburst, while mezzanine above gets a gambrel.

The mezzanine commands an impressive east-facing view.

On the north side, Tysons Boulevard runs perpendicularly under the station. It's so similar to how Colesville Road runs under Silver Spring that it's easy to imagine Tysons Corner one day being just as urban.

On the south side, Chain Bridge Road is a highway that most people will use a bridge to cross.

At sidewalk level below the station, it's reminiscent of Silver Spring.

The south facade includes a prominent public art piece.

Just past Tysons Corner station the Silver Line enters a brief subway tunnel, to pass under the crest of a hill.


Subway portal.

Greensboro station

The next station west is Greensboro, which also uses the gambrel-like roof.

High walls block out noise from car traffic on Leesburg Pike, to either side of the station.

Like all new Silver Line stations, Greensboro sports updated WMATA branding: More colorful signage and silver fixtures, rather than Metro's original 1970s-era brown.

Looking west, there's a great view of Leesburg Pike and the next station, Spring Hill.

Spring Hill station

Spring Hill uses the starburst roof, like McLean.

Spring Hill is the final station in Tysons. From there, it's a five-mile ride through the Fairfax County suburbs to Wiehle-Reston East.

Wiehle-Reston East station

The terminal station feels like a nicer-looking twin of Vienna, set in the median of the Dulles Access Road instead of I-66.

The gambrel-style roof looks great here.

One key difference from Vienna is that Wiehle's commodious mezzanine includes publicly-accessible restrooms. All five new Silver Line stations have them.

South of the station, a pedestrian bridge crosses the Dulles Toll Road and lands in an unassuming bus depot, with office building parking lots beyond.

North of the station, impressive transit-oriented development is already sprouting.

On the north side, the station entrance is set in a plaza atop the roof of a parking garage. The ground floor of the garage is Wiehle's main bus depot, taxi stand, and bike parking room. To access the garage, go through the glass house.

Beyond Wiehle, the Silver Line will eventually extend to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County, but for now it's just a bit of train parking and construction staging. For a tour of the six stations that will make up Silver Line Phase II, check back in 2018.

Transit


Did Rush Plus depress Blue Line ridership?

To make room for new Silver Line trains at the Rosslyn bottleneck, WMATA has reduced the number of Blue Line (and Orange Line) trains and added Yellow Line trains. A group calling itself Save the Blue Line claims that a similar change in 2012 caused riders to stop using Metro. Is that accurate?


Graph from Save The Blue Line.

In June of 2012, Metro started a new service pattern in Virginia. To make way for more Orange Line trains and more service in north Arlington and Fairfax, the agency started sending some "Blue" Line trains from Franconia over the Yellow Line bridge to Greenbelt, labeled "Rush Plus" Yellow Line trains.

In the two years since, has that lowered ridership?

It's hard to say with any certainty. Ridership at the stations south of Pentagon is lower than it was before Rush Plus. On the other hand, ridership was already dropping before Rush Plus started.

There's actually an error in the Save The Blue Line graph: while the arrow suggests Rush Plus started between the 2011 and 2012 data points, the 2012 data is actually from a count in May, before Rush Plus started. The arrow should actually point one more space to the right, and therefore the drop you can see on the graph began before Rush Plus.

Did Rush Plus contribute to the ridership drop?

We cannot prove causation from correlation, but perhaps we can glean some insight from the numbers.

If we look just at boardings from Van Dorn Street and Franconia/Springfield, we can see a noticeable dip starting in about 2010. It continues into 2013 before leveling off a bit.


This and all subsequent graphics by the author.

From 2011 to 2012 (one year before Rush Plus), ridership at Van Dorn and Franconia declined 3.94%. That drop contrasted with a systemwide increase in ridership of 0.13%. So before Rush Plus the Blue Line (the end at least) was already losing riders compared to the rest of the system.

The May 2013 number is the first data point after Rush Plus started. In the period from May 2012 to May 2013, ridership at Van Dorn and Franconia shrank 7.81%, significantly more than the systemwide decline of 2.57%.

The ridership decrease was somewhat attenuated between 2013 and 2014, where at Franconia and Van Dorn it dropped only 1.17% compared to 0.55% systemwide.

If we look at all the stations most affected by Rush Plus, from Pentagon south, we see similar trends, though they're less strong.

Prior to Rush Plus, average daily boardings at Pentagon and the stations to the south (to Huntington and Franconia/Springfield) declined 3.68% over the 12 months from May 2011 to May 2012. Following 11 months of Rush Plus, ridership on this section had dropped 4.49% (compared to 2.57% systemwide).

So the data do show that ridership on the Blue and Yellow lines south of Pentagon has been lower since Rush Plus was implemented. But the ridership was already shrinking before Rush Plus.

It's certainly possible that Rush Plus exacerbated the ridership loss, but there's no way to tell for sure with the data available.

Even if Rush Plus did cause a significant drop, there's little WMATA can do. The tracks between Rosslyn and Stadium/Armory are operating at their capacity of 26 trains per hour. With Silver Line service starting this weekend, something has to give. With higher ridership in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, WMATA has decided to shift some Blue Line trains onto the 7th Street subway.

The number of trains at Franconia and Van Dorn hasn't decreased. Passengers still have the same number of trains going downtown. But fewer of them go to Rosslyn. For getting to the western end of downtown, some riders will now be better off transferring at L'Enfant Plaza.

WMATA planners are hoping to relieve pressure in the future by upgrading the system to handle more 8-car trains and building new Blue Line platforms at Rosslyn. Future phases could take the line across downtown.

Without more railcars, power stations, and core capacity, WMATA has little alternative but to reduce Blue Line service. That's why riders frustrated at losing Blue Line trains can have the best impact by lobbying their elected officials to fund Metro's plans for 8-car trains, a second Rosslyn station, and eventually a new crossing into DC.

Transit


Watch Metro grow from one short line in 1976 to the Silver Line today

The Silver Line is opening on Saturday! The Metro system opened in 1976 with five stations on the Red Line. Now, it will have 91 stations on six lines. Here is an animated slideshow of Metro's evolution over 38 years.

Sources

Most of this data comes from the nycsubway.org timeline of the Washington Metro and WMATA's history page. The dates of station name changes come from Wikipedia's pages on individual stations and other online sources.

To keep the number of maps manageable, and because many stations' exact renaming dates are not available, station renamings are grouped with the next major service change, even when that takes place years later. For example, WMATA renamed Ballston to Ballston-MU in 1995, but the next map, showing the Green Line Commuter Shortcut, depicts the system in 1997.

Color-changing trains (maps 7, 9, and 10)

From November 20, 1978 to November 30, 1979, and then again from November 22, 1980 to April 29, 1983, some Blue and Orange trains used one color going in one direction, then switched colors heading back. If you lived in Clarendon in 1981, you would board a Blue Line train headed to DC and then catch an Orange Line train to get home.

Metro had to do this in 1978-1979 because trains at the time used physical rollsigns with text printed on a colored background. The New Carrollton sign had an orange background, while the National Airport destination sign used blue. Therefore, the trains had to switch colors for each direction.

Then, in the early 1980s, this started again after the segment to Addison Road opened. At the time, with the Yellow Line not yet built, the demand for service on the Rosslyn to National Airport segment (now Blue) better matched the Stadium-Armory to New Carrollton segment (now Orange), and the demand on Rosslyn to Ballston (now Orange) lined up better with Stadium-Armory to Addison Road (now Blue).


Metro map from 1982.

Therefore, Metro ran trains from National Airport to New Carrollton and Ballston to Addison Road. But since the rollsigns didn't allow using the same color for each end of those services, the trains had to switch colors in each direction.

Green Line Commuter Shortcut (maps 21-23)

From December 11, 1993 to September 18, 1999, the Green Line had 2 unconnected segments, one from Greenbelt to Fort Totten and the other from U Street to Anacostia.

On January 27, 1997, Metro started using a single-track switch at Fort Totten to send rush hour Green Line trains from Greenbelt onto the Red Line. They ran on the Red Line tracks to Farragut North, where there is a pocket track to turn around. This "Green Line Commuter Shortcut" continued until the Green Line opened through Columbia Heights and Petworth in 1999, connecting the two sections permanently.


1998 or 1999 Metro map. Photo by Matt Johnson.

This was not shown on Metro maps except for a green box explaining the service. The maps in this slideshow display it using a dashed line to illustrate the service.

Embed this slideshow

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To embed it, copy this code to your site:

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History


The Metro plan has changed a lot since 1968

Saturday, the Metro system will grow in length by 10% with the Silver Line, first envisioned in the mid-1960s. A lot has changed from the original plans for Metro. Today, DDOT circulated a 1968 map of the planned system.

In the wake of the 1968 riots, DC pushed WMATA to reroute what's now the Green Line through some of the harder-hit neighborhoods. In 1970, the WMATA Board voted to change the "E route" from Massachusetts Avenue and 13th Street and instead run it along 7th Street to Shaw and then 14th Street to Columbia Heights.

The 1970 decision also deleted the "Petworth" station, which would have been at Kansas Avenue and Sherman Circle. The "Georgia Avenue" station would have been under Kansas Avenue at Georgia and Upshur, in the heart of Petworth, but the alignment later shifted south to New Hampshire Avenue.


The blue circle (not on the original map) shows where the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station is today.

In addition to the many station name changes (you won't see Ardmore, Voice of America, or Marine Barracks stations on the map today), there have been a few pretty significant changes to alignments and station locations.

At the time of this map, the line we know today as the Blue Line had a split terminus, with some trains running to Franconia and some trains running to Backlick Road (and a potential future extension to Burke).

In the northwestern part of the region, the Red Line was to stop at Rockville, instead of running all the way to Shady Grove. The northern Green Line was also shorter, including a station between Berwyn Road and Greenbelt Road, instead of further north at I-495, where the current Greenbelt station is.

Along the Orange and Blue lines, there were to be two more common stations, one at Oklahoma Avenue and one at Kenilworth Avenue (River Terrace) before the lines split. The Minnesota Avenue station was not in the plan at the time.

The southern Green Line was the subject of lots of controversy between 1968 and its completion in 2001. There were two competing routes planned, one to Branch Avenue and an alternate route to Rosecroft Raceway. The 1968 map here shows the line going to Branch Avenue via Alabama Avenue.

But later, WMATA settled on using the Rosecroft alignment in DC, via Congress Heights, and the Branch Avenue alignment in Prince George's County. This created in the "jog" along the District line where the Southern Avenue station is located.


Left: 1968 planned alignment. Right: Actual alignment; image by Matt Johnson using Google Maps.

The map also shows potential future extensions in blue. Today's Silver Line is included, though it stays in the median of the Dulles Access Road instead of detouring through Tysons Corner (which was much smaller then; the mall first opened in 1968). Also shown are lines along Columbia Pike in Virginia and extensions to Bowie, Brandywine, Gaithersburg, and Laurel. The extension to Largo was actually built and opened in 2004.

You can view a pannable, zoomable version of the map here.

Transit


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 15

On Monday, we posted our fifteenth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 44 guesses on this post. A whopping 26 of you (over half) got all 5 correct. Great job!


Image 1: Rosslyn.

The first image shows the escalator shaft at Rosslyn station. This shaft is distinctive because the four escalators are split by an elevator, which ascends through them. When Metro opened the new elevator-only entrance, however, it this elevator was deactivated. A development atop the station site will soon demolish the top of the elevator, but it's not clear if WMATA will remove the remainder of the shaft. 37 people knew this one.


Image 2: Huntington.

These "County of Fairfax" seals are at Huntington station, next to the tunnel portals at the southern end of the station. There's one on either side of the tracks. The seals line up with the circular holes in the buttresses, which we featured in week 8. One clue there is the "end ATC" sign, which indicates that this is the end of the line. 36 got this one right.


Image 3: Columbia Heights.

The third image was taken at the eastern entrance to Columbia Heights station. The canopy that's visible here is unique to two stations: Columbia Heights and Petworth. The Kenyon Square building visible through the glass is the clue to narrow it down to Columbia Heights. 35 correctly guessed this one.


Image 4: Union Station.

The fourth image shows the cramped northern mezzanine at Union Station, looking down from the elevator landing on the commuter rail level. This mezzanine is unique because of its size and shape, necessary to fit it in under Union Station. The four flags show that this is a key station. 38 knew this one.


Image 5: White Flint

The final image is a picture of White Flint from 2009. This picture is looking south at the station from above the subway tunnel. The main clue here is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission building just south of the station. 38 correctly guessed White Flint.

Congratulations to the winners!

Next Monday, we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Transit


Do you know the station? It's whichWMATA week 15

It's time for the fifteenth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 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 for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday. Good luck!

Transit


See the view from a Silver Line train with this video

Can you barely wait until Saturday to ride the Silver Line? Get a sneek peek of the new line with this video from WMATA.


Video from WMATA. The video has no audio, so if you don't hear anything, your sound isn't (necessarily) broken.

This shows the view from a Silver Line train as it travels from Ballston to Wiehle-Reston East.

Silver Line trains began running simulated service over the weekend. Trains carry passengers from Largo to East Falls Church under an Orange Line banner, then offload and continue on to Wiehle without any passengers.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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