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Posts about Rush Plus


When the Metro first arrived in Shaw and Columbia Heights, they were far different than they are today

During rush hour, northbound Yellow Line trains need to reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there isn't enough capacity for all of them to run to Greenbelt. That's because when Metro designed the Yellow Line, it was hard to imagine neighborhoods like Shaw and U Street developing as rapidly as they did.

This pre-2004 map shows original full-time Yellow Line service. Image from WMATA.

Why can't Yellow Line go farther north full time?

For the Yellow Line to operate north of Mount Vernon Square full-time, there would need to be a pocket track somewhere between that station and Greenbelt, so that Yellow Line trains could turn back towards Virginia without impeding Green Line trains at rush hour. (Right now, a few Rush+ Yellow Line trains do go all the way to Greenbelt, but usually only about four per hour during peak periods).

The tunnel that carries the Green and Yellow Lines under 7th Street and U Street NW opened in two stages: from L'Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place in April 1983, and from Gallery Place to U Street in May 1991. These tracks initially only provided service for the Yellow Line, but the Green Line would soon utilize the tunnel when it began operation from U Street to Anacostia in December 1991. Check out the Evolution of Metrorail graphic below, which we initially ran two years ago to see how service has changed:

The tracks running through the 7th Street tunnel had always been intended to be shared by the Green and Yellow Lines, but only for a short portion. Although it was intended for the Green Line to operate along the entire length of the tunnel - continuing onwards to Petworth, Fort Totten, and northwest Prince George's County - the Yellow Line would short turn at a pocket track somewhere along the route, so as not to overwhelm operations at Greenbelt (as I discussed in my first post on this topic).

Metro's planners opted to build the necessary pocket track at Mount Vernon Square station, which meant that Yellow Line trains would have to end their route and turn back towards Virginia without serving neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth. Except for the brief six-month period between the opening of Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and U Street stations in June 1991 and the commencement of Green Line service that December, the Yellow Line has always terminated at Mount Vernon Square in regular rush hour service.

Off-peak Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten began in 2006. This has certainly been a first step towards meeting the increased demand in DC's Mid-City area (generally thought of as the neighborhoods served by the Green Line from Shaw to Petworth). However, these areas have now grown enough in population that full-time Yellow Line service is warranted, despite the significant obstacles that stand in the way.

The growth of Mid-City has led to a need for increased Metro service

Massive redevelopment in Mid-City began around the turn of the century, and has continued at a frantic pace to the present day. That's meant increased demand for service along the Green/Yellow Lines at all hours.

When the Mid-City section of the Green Line opened in 1991 (between Gallery Place and U Street) and was completed in 1999 (from U Street to Fort Totten), the area was still reeling from the destruction caused by the 1968 riots. Shaw and Columbia Heights were still plagued with empty storefronts, and the landscape was pockmarked with empty lots where incinerated buildings had once stood.

Aftermath of DC's 1968 riots. Image from the Library of Congress.

The corridor has since benefitted from an incredible amount of reinvestment since the opening of the new Green (later Green/Yellow) Line stations in the 1990s. New construction has ranged in scale from projects like Progression Place, a huge mixed-use center that was recently built directly atop Shaw Metro, to smaller infill developments aimed at repairing the urban fabric.

Apartments at the Columbia Heights station. Photo by Alice Crain on Flickr.

A problem inherent in the system's design

Unfortunately, plans for Metro service patterns in Mid-City didn't anticipate the future growth that these neighborhoods would face. The Yellow Line was designed to provide a direct connection from Virginia to downtown for the commuting crowd; it travels express between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza, then provides a connection to each of the other Metro lines downtown before turning back at Mount Vernon Square.

The system's planners didn't predict that a significant amount of Yellow Line passengers would desire to travel past downtown, to neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Thus, it was assumed that the Green Line would provide adequate service for this portion of the line. Hence the pocket track going in at Mount Vernon Square, rather than at a more northern station like U Street.

So, could Metro build a new pocket track to account for the development spree?

Unfortunately, because this service pattern is cemented by the chosen location to build a pocket track, any attempt to correct this past oversight will be very laborious and costly.

It would be extremely difficult to add a pocket track to the Green and Yellow Lines anywhere between Mount Vernon Square and the District line because the tracks run almost entirely underground all the way to West Hyattsville. It would be prohibitively disruptive and expensive to excavate along the existing route and construct a pocket track between the mainline tracks—a WMATA study placed the cost of a Fort Totten pocket at $150 million.

Although the lower platform at Fort Totten is mostly built in an open cut (a shallow excavation that puts the tracks slightly below ground level), the tracks emerge directly from tunnels on both sides. The necessary location for a pocket track - the east side of the station, on the far side of the platforms from the city - is also the location of the B&E Connector track, a non-revenue link between the Red and Green Lines. The combination of these factors would make the construction of a pocket at this location very complex.

The track layout at Fort Totten. Light-colored tracks are below ground. Graphic by the author.

The next logical place to build a pocket track beyond Fort Totten is in Prince George's County, at the point where the tracks emerge from underground near West Hyattsville station. However, while construction of a pocket here wouldn't require excavation, it would still be extremely difficult and disruptive because the tracks are side-by-side on an elevated viaduct.

Because a pocket would have to be built between the existing mainline tracks, Metro would have to reconstruct a roughly 600-foot section of this elevated viaduct in order to pull the tracks apart and create space for a third track in between. This would be comparably disruptive and expensive to constructing a pocket track underground near Fort Totten. What's really required is a section of track that is at-grade, e.g. resting at ground level rather than underground or on a viaduct.

The Green Line viaduct and platforms at West Hyattsville. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The next feasible place to build a pocket track would be at the above-ground embankment behind Home Depot on East-West Highway near Prince George's Plaza station (although that, too, might be difficult due to the curve at that location).

Of course, a pocket track gets less and less useful the further it is from downtown. The next possible location for a pocket would be near College Park, at which point Yellow Line trains might as well continue all the way to Greenbelt.

It looks like for now, stations north of Mount Vernon Square will have to make do without full-time Yellow Line service. Until WMATA can procure $150 million to add an expensive new underground pocket track at Fort Totten, as well as $100 million for new rolling stock (plus millions more in annual operating funds), rush hour Yellow Line trains will have to continue to terminate at Mount Vernon Square. But the temporary terminus at U Street offers us a glimpse of what could have been if Metro had built a pocket track there back in 1991.


Metro floats cutting service for the Green, Yellow, Orange, and Silver Lines

Since the debut of "Rush Plus" in 2012, Metro's Blue Line riders have faced longer waits for trains. Now WMATA wants to fix that, but to do it, would cut service to all the other lines (except the Red Line).

View peak service levels: Today   Proposed change

Staff from the agency are proposing the service reduction to the Riders Advisory Council this week. WAMU's Martin di Caro broke the news of the proposal this morning.

Under the plan, the time between trains would increase from six to eight minutes on the Orange, Silver, Green, and Yellow Lines. On the Blue Line, trains would come more frequently, up from every 12 minutes to every eight. The plan would also eliminate Rush Plus Yellow Line service between Franconia and Greenbelt.

Metro spokesperson Sherry Ly told di Caro the proposed changes are an effort to rebalance trains to better meet demand. The issue is that the service cuts to the Blue Line, which Metro did to make room for the Silver Line, drastically lowered capacity on the line, and crowding has been very bad.

But the Blue/Orange/Silver subway between Rosslyn and Stadium/Armory is at capacity. The only way to add more Blue Line trains is to cut service on the Orange or Silver Lines.

WMATA is proposing to do just that. But their proposed cuts are actually deeper than necessary. Each physical track segment can carry 26 trains per hour (TPH). Currently, the east-west subway is divided at rush hour between 11 Orange TPH, 10 Silver, and 5 Blue. Metro's proposal to change all of those lines to 8 minute headways (7.5 TPH each) only adds up to 22.5 TPH.

The cuts to the Green and Yellow Lines make little sense at all. The shared section of the Blue and Yellow Lines in Virginia currently carries 20 TPH, so an increase in Blue Line service is possible without reducing service on Yellow. And, of course, with no change required to the Yellow Line, there's no need to reduce service on the Green Line.

One of the steepest cuts is the elimination of Rush Plus Yellow Line trains. Right now, the section of the Green/Yellow Line between Mount Vernon Square and Greenbelt hosts 15 TPH (roughly every 4 minutes). Under the proposal, that would decline to 7.5 TPH (every 8 minutes). In the growing Mid-City area, especially south of Columbia Heights, that could create crowding. Between Mount Vernon Square and L'Enfant Plaza, service levels would fall from 26 TPH to 15 TPH.

So, the service cuts are not entirely necessary to support increased Blue Line service. But Metro's proposal will also shift railcars around. Some will go toward lengthening trains on the Blue, Silver, and Green lines until 75% of the trains are eight cars.

Overall, the change would reduce the number of cars Metro needs to run rush hour service by approximately 100. Metro's fleet is stretched thin at the moment. The opening of the Silver Line last July increased the number of cars needed by 64. But because of delays in the production of the 7000 series, Metro had to reduce the time cars could spend getting preventative maintenance in order to operate the line.

That was never meant to be permanent, and it's taken a toll. Cars are breaking down more frequently, and Metro recently had to drastically cut the number of eight-car trains.

If WMATA officials move forward, they would then reach out to the public, survey riders, and hold legally required public hearings. The proposal could go to the agency's board by the fall.


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.


I tracked every Metro trip I made for two years, and here's what I found

When you keep track, it's funny what patterns appear in Metro trips. I've been doing it for 2 years. During that time, I have ridden 75% of the WMATA fleet, and been delayed about 2% of the time, but more so far in 2014.

Photo by the author.

In February 2012, I decided to start keeping track of a few attributes of my trips on Metro. The primary motivation was to track the cars I'd ridden on, but I also log delays, hotcars, and other information about every trip. It's important to point out, though, that this is anecdotal information. It's not a statistical sample, but rather just my experience.

My commute regularly takes me on the Green and Red lines. On a normal day, I ride 4 trains, two in the morning and two in the evening. Of course, I also make non-commute trips, to go downtown for dinner or out on the weekends. However, I don't actually keep track of "trips," per se. I log rides. So my normal commute involves 2 trips, which I log as 4 rides.

On average, I ride Metro 18.25 days each month. December (15.5 days/month) is always the lowest, since I spend time in Georgia during the holidays. August is the highest, at 21.5 days per month. On average, I ride 3.99 trains each day.

Over the past 24 months, I've ridden a Metro train 1,758 times.


I log any delay in excess of 3 minutes. On average, generally less than 2% of my rides were delayed.

In terms of counting delays, if I'm aboard a train that stops mid-journey, the clock starts immediately, but I only log the delay if it exceeds 3 minutes. When waiting for a train, I start the clock as soon as the scheduled headway has elapsed. For example, during rush hours, the Green Line is supposed to come every 6 minutes, so I start counting delay after 9 minutes waiting.

In 2012 (March through December), I took 758 rides and experienced 15 delays, which means that 1.98% of my rides were delayed. Since most of my trips comprise 2 rides, that's roughly equivalent to having 3.96% of my trips delayed, though that's not an exact number, since I don't record "trips."

In 2013, I took 866 rides and experienced 15 delays, which means that 1.73% of my rides were delayed. In 2014, so far, I've taken 134 rides and experienced 11 delays, which means that 8.21% of my rides were delayed. That's a significant increase.

Most of the delays I encounter are relatively minor. 75.6% of the delays I've experienced since February 27, 2012 are less than 12 minutes. Delays of 12 to 19 minutes make up 12.2% of my delays. Only 12.2% are 20 minutes or longer.


Since I started recording car numbers, my commute patterns have not changed. I ride between Greenbelt and Silver Spring, changing from the Green Line to the Red Line at Fort Totten.

In overall numbers, 48.9% of my rides were on the Red Line. 43.0% were on the Green, and 7.6% were on the Yellow. I have rarely ridden the Orange or Blue lines. Those numbers don't move much between years.

However, we can see a difference if we divide the data set into before and after June 18, 2012, the date that Rush Plus started. With Rush Plus, three Yellow Line trains per hour continued north from Mount Vernon Square to Greenbelt during rush hour, in addition to the existing 12 Green Line trains per hour. As a result, my commute used to be almost exclusively on the Green and Red lines, and now there's a better chance of getting a Yellow Line train.

Before Rush Plus, my rides were almost evenly split between the Red and Green lines, with 48.7% of rides on the Red and 49.5% on the Green. The Yellow was at a paltry 1.5%. After Rush Plus started, the numbers have changed a bit. The Red Line still makes up about the same amount at 48.9%. But the Green has dropped to 41.7% and the Yellow has risen to 8.8%.

Since i started logging car numbers, I've ridden 74.1% of the WMATA rail fleet. I've ridden 91.3% of the 6000 series cars, 82% of the 4000 series, 78.7% of the 3000 series, 74.5% of the 5000 series, 69.7% of the 2000 series, and 56.1% of the 1000 series.

Of the 818 unique cars I've ridden, I've ridden 323 only once. The remaining 495 I've ridden more than once. I've ridden one car, #6058, 9 times. Two more, #4005 and #4086, I've ridden 8 times.

One question I've been asked several times is whether the cars move between lines very often. Surprisingly, they seem to. Of the 495 cars I've ridden more than once, 60.4% have been on different lines.

However, since the Yellow and Green lines share a rail yard at Greenbelt, it wouldn't be surprising to see those cars on Green one day and Yellow the next (in fact, sometimes a Green Line train from Branch Avenue becomes a Yellow Line train to Huntington when it leaves Greenbelt). So, I looked at the numbers counting the Green and Yellow as one line. Even counting them the same, I've ridden 54.4% of cars on more than one line. I've ridden three cars on 3 lines, the Red, the Green/Yellow, and one other line.

I'll continue to keep track of my Metro trips. I've found that having the data available makes it easier to note trends. For example, so far in 2014, I've found myself much more frustrated with Metro. Since I actually record my delays, I can go back and look. That's how I can say for certain that my delay rate has quadrupled.

But it's also really interesting to know that I've ridden on just under 75% of the cars Metro owns. Since the 1000 series is going to be retired starting in the next few years, it will be interesting to see whether I'll manage to ride them all before they disappear.


How can Metro make Yellow Line service clearer?

With the start of Rush Plus service last year, Metro riders know they can now get the Yellow Line north of Mount Vernon Square at rush hour. But many are surprised to find that they can only catch it every 20 minutes.

Metro hasn't done a whole lot to clarify the situation, and the outcome is confusion and wasted time for some riders.

The current map shows the Yellow Line as a solid line running between Huntington and Fort Totten. Dashes continue north to Greenbelt and west to Franconia-Springfield, showing "rush only service." Most have interpreted this to mean that Yellow Line trains run from Huntington to Fort Totten, except during rush hour, when they're extended to Greenbelt and Franconia.

Unfortunately, that's not the case. How could we make the map clearer?

In reality, 77% of rush hour Yellow Line trains only run between Huntington and Mount Vernon Square. Service north of Mount Vernon Square, and west of King Street, only runs every 20 minutes. This means someone transferring from Red or Green to Yellow at Fort Totten might incur a wait of 15 or 20 minutes longer than if they'd transferred at Gallery Place.

Graphic by the author.

The charts above show the number of southbound trains at Fort Totten and Mount Vernon Square. As you can see, at Fort Totten there is 1 Yellow Line train for every 3 Green Line trains in each of the 3 hours between 6am and 9am. Compare that to Mount Vernon Square, where for the 10 Green Line trains, there are 13 Yellow Line trains.

At Fort Totten, transferring passengers may have to wait up to 20 minutes for a Yellow Line train. At Mount Vernon Square, on the other hand, passengers never have to wait more than 6 minutes, and sometimes the interval between Yellows is as little as 4 minutes.

The change

In June of last year, Metro introduced a new map to go along with new service patterns. The changes, dubbed "Rush Plus," send some Orange Line trains to Largo and some Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt during rush hour. These changes were not implemented to add service to Largo and Greenbelt, but to help balance the number of trains at Rosslyn, which has reached its maximum throughput of 26 trains per hour.

By moving 3 trains per hour from the Blue Line to the Yellow Line, Metro was able to add 3 more Orange Line trains. This will be even more important when the Silver Line opens early next year.

For the Yellow Line, there was essentially no change. During rush hours, trains from Huntington leave every 6 minutes and run only as far as Mount Vernon Square, just like before Rush Plus was implemented.

The big change was to the Blue Line. Trains still leave Franconia every 6 minutes. But instead of sending 10 trains per hour to Largo, now, only 7 go to Largo. The other 3 are now called Yellow Line trains, and they run to Greenbelt. They are the only Yellow Line trains that operate during rush hour north of Mount Vernon Square.

Graphic by the author.

Metro is forced to keep this convoluted service pattern for a few reasons. The primary reason is a lack of railcars. In order to run all Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt during rush hour, they would need to purchase 60 additional railcars.

Mapping Yellow

When Metro was designing the new map, they struggled with how to depict the section of the Yellow Line between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten. Prior to the Rush Plus map, the Yellow Line was shown with a solid line for its entire length, despite only running to Fort Totten off-peak.

With the new Rush Plus service pattern, during off-peak times, the Yellow Line would continue to serve the segment between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten. But during rush hour, those trains would only run between Huntington and Mount Vernon Square. However, a few new trains would run between Franconia and Greenbelt.

That means that, technically speaking, the tracks between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten would have Yellow Line service at all times. Counterintuitively, there is more Yellow Line service during middays than at rush hour.

One alternative that Metro considered for displaying the Franconia-Greenbelt "Rush Plus" service was using a new color. But for several reasons, that was a less than ideal approach. Showing the service as a branch of the Yellow Line was an elegant solution.

In the end, Metro decided to show the service as a solid line between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten, but dashed north of Fort Totten. However, this is misleading. Even more than a year after the introduction of the service, I still regularly encounter riders confused about why they have to get off their northbound Yellow Line trains at Mount Vernon Square, and others who wonder why the wait at Fort Totten is so long.


I don't think Metro needs to use a separate color to indicate the Franconia to Greenbelt service. Using the color yellow is still the easiest way to show the route. But there are other things Metro could do to cut down on the confusion.

Dashing the line north of Mount Vernon Square would be an excellent indicator that riders should expect more limited service in the area. It would also call attention to the location of Mount Vernon Square, which is the only terminal station located in the crowded central portion of the map. A dashed line does not have to indicate "rush only" service. It could be labeled as "part-time" service.

Metro should also consider discouraging riders from transferring to the Yellow Line at Fort Totten, at least during peak hours. Right now, many train operators on the Red Line and southbound Green Line trains announce Fort Totten as a transfer point to the Yellow Line.

Though it has some of the worst crowding issues in the system, Gallery Place is a better place for riders to switch trains because the wait for a train is shorter. And because the travel time is similar between Fort Totten and Gallery Place on the Red or Green lines, doing so won't overly burden passengers.

Until Metro can buy more railcars, the Yellow Line will continue to have a complicated service pattern. But riders shouldn't have to wait 20 minutes for a train because they don't know about other options.


Metro's stuffed full at Rosslyn. What can be done?

When WMATA released its Momentum plan last week, it reopened the conversation about dealing with core capacity. By 2025, the plan seeks to address one of the biggest chokepoints in the system: Rosslyn.

View peak service levels: Pre-Rush Plus   Rush Plus (today)   with Silver Line
Potential 2025 solutions: Rosslyn wye   Blue Line terminal

Metro has to juggle service at Rosslyn, where the Orange and Blue lines merge entering the District from the west, because it faces a structural limit to the number of trains per hour (TPH) that any given section of track is capable of handling. That limit is 26 TPH, or about one train every 2.3 minutes.

The reason for Rush Plus last year was to deal with capacity issues at Rosslyn without undertaking any capital projects. Essentially, Rush Plus was a stopgap measure to get a little more capacity out of Metro. But Rush Plus hurt many Blue Line riders, and without major changes at Rosslyn, even Rush Plus won't be enough.

As ridership increases, Metro has to either find creative ways to move more people throughout the system, without crossing 26 TPH on any segment of track, or expand capacity.

Before Rush Plus

Before Rush Plus started, during peak periods, exactly 26 TPH (the maximum) passed through Rosslyn. Those 26 TPH consisted of 10 Blue and 16 Orange trains.

At Pentagon, those same 10 Blue trains were passing through in addition to 10 Yellow trains. In total, 36 TPH were entering the District from Virginia during the morning rush via Rosslyn and Pentagon combined.

But this left some capacity unused. The Yellow Line bridge was carrying only about 40% of the trains it could carry. As you can see in the diagram below, there was also extra capacity in the Yellow and Green Line tunnel.

This map shows the frequency of service for every line during the peak period. Every track segment is the same width, corresponding to 26 TPH. If 26 TPH pass through at peak, it's "full" with colored lines; if there are fewer trains, there is black space.

After Rush Plus

Once Rush Plus took effect, those numbers increased slightly. At Rosslyn, the numbers are now 19 Orange and 7 Blue, which is still 26 trains per hour. But at Pentagon, in addition to the 7 Blue trains running via Rosslyn, there are now 13 Yellow trains. That means a total of 39 TPH are entering the District from Virginia during the morning rush.

Since the number of trains is the same at Rosslyn as it was before, Metro could have kept the number of Blue and Orange trains the same, and just added new Yellow trains. But adding trains from Virginia was only part of the equation. Metro was also attempting to address the severe crowding on the Orange Line and paving the way for the Silver Line. As a result, Metro traded some Blue Line trains for Orange ones.

When the Silver Line begins operating, some of the Orange trains will have to become Silver trains, in order to keep the total number passing through Rosslyn at 26 TPH.

Cross-Potomac capacity will be maxed out

One of the biggest constraints with Metro is getting trains between Virginia and DC. There are 2 Metro crossings of the Potomac: a tunnel for the Blue/Orange lines and a bridge for the Yellow Line.

Each of these crossings has a capacity of 26 trains per hour, for a total of 52. However, because the Yellow shares with the Green Line, the Yellow Line bridge can only carry 26 TPH minus however many trains per hour are running on the Green Line (at present, 12 TPH).

This means that there are 14 slots available for the Yellow Line to cross the Potomac. Right now, the Yellow Line is taking 13 of those slots during rush hour: 10 for trains running between Huntington and Mount Vernon Square and 3 for trains running between Franconia and Greenbelt.

When the Silver Line opens, Metro's plan will be to redirect one more Franconia train to Greenbelt. This will mean cross-Potomac capacity will be maxed out at 26 TPH through the Rosslyn tunnel and 14 TPH over the Yellow Line bridge, for a total of 40 TPH between Virginia and DC.

Through 2025, those 40 trains are probably enough. But there's another problem: now there aren't enough trains running between Pentagon and Rosslyn. Riders from south Arlington, Alexandria, and southern Fairfax have long waits to get a train to Rosslyn, the Orange and Silver corridors, or to reach stations like Foggy Bottom without a transfer.

How can Metro fix Rosslyn?

Metro wants to address the Rosslyn chokepoint soon. It's one of 7 capital items in the "Metro 2025 recommendations of the Momentum plan.

Planners haven't decided on a specific solution yet, but are studying 2 options. One would build a "wye" at Rosslyn, a track connection so that trains from Tysons or Vienna could turn south and head for Arlington Cemetery, and vice versa. The other option is to build a new station at Rosslyn with separate platforms for the Blue Line.

The wye at Rosslyn would also let Metro add rail service between the Blue-Yellow corridor and the Orange-Silver corridor. Some trains going through Arlington Cemetery would go toward downtown, as the Blue Line does today, while some trains would turn west and run through Ballston and Tysons.

This approach would likely mean a good deal of disruption for Orange and Silver line riders, since Metro would need to build new underground connections to the line between Rosslyn and Court House. It would also permanently limit the number of trains between Court House and downtown DC, because some of those slots would go to the Blue Line and the new north-south all-Virginia line.

But this would also give riders a one-seat ride from Tysons to Pentagon and points south. It would also build a little more redundancy into the system, allowing trains to divert to the south in the case of track work, a disabled train, or other disruptions.

The real issue, though, is that this project only allows for a small increase in the number of trains, and does not increase the number of trains between Virginia and the District. It also would mean that some trains wouldn't stop at Rosslyn, forcing those actually heading there to wait for a later train or transfer.

Under the wye scenario, the service pattern would probably look something like this: 14 Yellow trains crossing the 14th Street Bridge (4 of them from Franconia) each hour during the peak; 5 TPH on the Blue Line between Franconia and Largo via Rosslyn; 10 TPH on the Orange Line from Vienna into DC; and 11 TPH on the Silver Line from Tysons. This still adds up to 40 TPH between Virginia and DC. In addition, the wye would enable 5 completely new TPH between Pentagon and Court House.

A new Blue Line terminal at Rosslyn involves building new, separate tracks at Rosslyn, possibly in a new station next to the old one, that would become the new end of the Blue Line. Blue Line trains could stop and turn around without interfering with the Orange and Silver trains going to Foggy Bottom, and Blue Line riders could transfer to either direction of those trains at Rosslyn.

A new Blue Line station at Rosslyn would allow even more trains between Pentagon and north Arlington—12 TPH, compared to 10 for the wye.

It would require passengers to transfer to the Orange or Silver lines to get to downtown or west toward Ballston and Tysons. But it would also form the first step toward a separated Blue Line through downtown. If and when Metro is able to build that, it could simply extend the new tunnel under the Potomac and beyond. If WMATA thinks a separate Blue Line will be the long-term approach, this solution might be more attractive.

Another advantage to a Blue station at Rosslyn is that it reduces the amount of interlining in the system. That should have a positive effect on reliability, because a delay on the Blue Line won't affect the Orange or Silver lines, or vice versa.

Note that we don't know which trains will go to Franconia or Huntington under this or any other future plan, or how many and which trains will go to New Carrollton vs. Largo vs. turn at Stadium-Armory. Since all trains to those destinations come from the same track, it's not an operational issue, just a question of balancing simplicity with convenience and being fair to riders on each branch.

Transferring can be painless

If Metro does go with the new Blue Line station at Rosslyn, they can help make transferring painless by getting the design of the new station right.

Cross-platform transfers are more commonplace in some cities. Montreal, for example, has 2 in their Metro system, Lionel-Groulx and Snowdon. New York has many, especially between local and express services on each line.

A 4-track stacked Rosslyn station would allow passengers from an inbound Blue Line train to simply walk across the platform to board an inbound Orange or Silver train. To transfer from an inbound to an outbound, the passenger would just have to go downstairs or upstairs.

The station could look something like this:

A Rosslyn design with cross-platform transfers. Graphic by the author.

It would be more expensive, but in terms of simplifying riders' ability to transfer, it could be worth it to build a new Rosslyn station with 4 tracks.

On the other hand, such a station would cost more, and would disrupt all service through Rosslyn during construction, just as the wye would, while a separate station could avoid interfering with Orange and Silver service.

But any new station will be there a long time, and riders may regret making it more difficult to transfer. After all, many riders still suffer from the lack of a direct connection between Farragut North and Farragut West (a tunnel that Metro proposes to complete as part of their 2025 plan).


WMATA's latest grades: Rush Plus needs tutoring

WMATA's latest scorecard gives the agency some good marks for on-time performance, but the roll-out of the Rush Plus program has been more disappointing, officials told the Riders' Advisory Council (RAC) Wednesday.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Launched in June, Rush Plus added more trains to the Orange and Yellow Lines during rush hour but decreased the number of Blue Line trains. The plan aimed to reduce Orange Line crowding and create more track space for the Silver Line, which will take passengers to Dulles Airport.

WMATA has not been able to transition as many Blue Line riders to the Yellow line as it hoped. Just 14% of Blue Line riders have made the switch, according to a rider survey taken at the end of July. Passengers who haven't switched cited an unwillingness to transfer at L'Enfant Plaza and a concern about wait times, said Jennifer Green, a communications officer for WMATA.

Green said that Rush Plus has seen some success. There has been a slight decrease in crowding on the Orange Line and passenger loads declined on the Yellow Line, but are still unbalanced on the Blue Line. In the morning, Blue Line trains are carrying between 86 and 98 passengers per car, and in the evening they are carrying between 96 and 120 passengers.

WMATA even offered riders an incentive to try out the yellow line with a complimentary $5 travel pass. Approximately 140 people participated in WMATA's "Hello Yellow" campaign.

Rush Plus has received largely negative reviews from riders, and RAC members passed on the message to WMATA.

"All my neighbors and friends hate it," said Barbara Hermanson, a representative from Alexandria. "People are upset now with the level of Blue Line service, and they're going to be even more upset when it decreases further with the Silver Line service," said Ben Ball, a DC representative.

In response to riders' complaints about longer wait times on the Blue Line, Green announced that WMATA is adding an 8-car Blue Line train during rush hour. Beyond that, she said that the system is "maxed out" in its capacity to send more trains through Rosslyn (the limit is 26 trains per hour). "There isn't any extra space," Green said. "It's all being used."

RAC members hear updates on labor negotiations, on-time performance

Despite a natural focus on Rush Plus during the RAC meeting on Wednesday, attendees did discuss more than just the early returns on Rush Plus.

Earlier in the meeting, Denise Mitchell, a senior labor relations officer at WMATA, announced that contract negotiations are ongoing with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the largest of the 5 unions to which WMATA employees belong. Contracts have concluded for 3 of the other unions, Mitchell said.

Overall, things are going well at WMATA—at least according to WMATA. Its Metro Scorecard feature shows that both Metrorail and MetroAccess are exceeding the "on-time performance" ratings set for it, and Metrobus falls just below it, as of June 2012.

Data on customer satisfaction is a bit out of date. The figure stood at 79% for both Metrorail and Metrobus in June 2011, but the agency is scheduled to update these figures this fall, according to their website. WMATA will be conducting additional surveys this fall.

One point of concern: between April and June of this year, the customer injury rate, measuring injuries to any customer caused by some aspect of Metro's operation that require immediate medical attention away from the scene of the injury, increased for the first time in 5 consecutive quarters.

Visiting students compare RAC to its equivalent back home

Over 30 people were in the audience for Wednesday's RAC meeting. That is higher than normal, owing largely to a contingent of visiting urban and regional planning students from Ryerson University in Toronto.

Michael Lin, one of the students, highlighted a difference between the meeting and a similar one back home. "It seems less argumentative," Lin said about the meeting, even though it began with Chris Barnes, a member of the public who criticizes the RAC each month, calling the council a "failure" and asking for the chairwoman to resign. "Even though there are arguments, there's more respect and integrity to the process," he said.

Sarah Smith, another student who survived the 2-hour meeting, called it "interesting" but wondered why attendance is normally sparse. "If there are so many issues, why aren't people here?"


Evolution of Metrorail animation, now with Rush Plus

A newer version of this animation is here.

Metro is debuting its "Rush Plus" service today. In honor of this, the latest step in Metro's 34-year growth and evo­lution, here is an updated version of our popular animation showing the history of Metrorail service.

Slideshow image

Yellow Line trains will head to Franconia-Springfield and Orange to Largo Town Center. The official map now also uses subtitles for some long station names, and a few stations get new names, most significantly "NoMa-Gallaudet U."

The rush hour service changes mean that riders headed east of Stadium-Armory or south of King Street (now King St-Old Town) will have to check the destination signs on their trains. Yellow Line and Blue Line riders may want to adjust their travel patterns.

The even more confusing service: Trains changing color

This isn't the most Metro has ever asked of riders, however. 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, Metro had to have the trains switch colors for each direction.

Then, in the early 1980s, they started doing this 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.

If Metro had to try something like this today for some reason, how do you think people would react?

The other rush-only service: Green Line Commuter Shortcut

This is also not the first time Metro has had rush hour only service. 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, connecting the two sections permanently.

Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

Metro never included this on its maps except for a green box explaining the service. Therefore, while today is not the first time Metro has run a rush hour-only service pattern, it's the first time the maps have displayed it, now using a dashed line.

Metro's maps did show planned and under construction segments until 2004, but these maps do not. I've included the Silver Line under construction, however.


Most of this data comes from the 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, I've grouped station renamings in with the next major service change, even when that takes place years later; for example, Metro renamed Ballston to Ballston-MU in 1995, but the next map, showing the Green Line Commuter Shortcut, depicts the system in 1997.


How will Rush Plus affect Blue Line commuters?

On Monday we discussed how Rush Plus would affect the Yellow Line. If you commute on the Blue Line, you'll be in for some changes too.

Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

The primary reason for Rush Plus is to allow more Orange Line trains to go through Rosslyn, which is currently maxed out. This will also make way for the Silver Line to Tysons, whose trains will also need to go through Rosslyn.

In essence, 3 Blue Line trains per hour in each direction will now travel across the Yellow Line bridge, and will now be labeled Yellow Line trains.

These trains will run all the way from Franconia-Springfield to Greenbelt. Riders from Alexandria and southern Arlington going to the eastern side of downtown DC or the mid-city will have shorter, transfer-free trips and more frequent service. But those traveling toward northern Arlington or the western half of downtown will see fewer trains.

Will my commute be longer?

Your commute might get a little longer if you commute between certain pairs of stations, but no one's commute should increase by more than 6 minutes.

If you commute between Franconia-Springfield or Van Dorn Street and any station that is both north of Pentagon and west of Metro Center, your commute might be longer under Rush Plus.

Why "might"? Only 30% of Blue Line trains will switch to the Yellow Line, so you'll only be affected if the next train leaving after you reach the station is one of those. The other 70% of trains will see no change.

Blue Line trains currently leave Franconia-Springfield every 6 minutes during rush hour (10 trains per hour). That won't change, but the destination of 3 of those trains will be Greenbelt rather than Largo. Here's the morning rush hour schedule for trains departing Franconia-Springfield. Trains shown in yellow will be Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt starting Monday, June 18.

Graphic by the author.

Let's look at an example

Let's say you commute from Franconia-Springfield to McPherson Square.

If you normally catch the train that leaves Franconia at 8:04, your commute will be the same as it is today. Your commute will also be the same if you normally get the 8:16, although you might notice more crowding. That's because with the 8:10 becoming a Yellow Line train, some people will wait for this train who would have caught the 8:10.

But if you usually ride the 8:10, that train won't be a Blue Line train anymore, starting on Monday. You could either take this train, or wait for a Blue Line train. Which is better?

Currently, pre-Rush Plus, you have 2 options for getting from Franconia to McPherson Square by train. If you stay on the 8:10 train the whole way, you'll pass through Rosslyn and then arrive at McPherson Square at 8:44.

You could also get off the 8:10 Blue Line train at Pentagon, hop across the river on the Yellow Line, then change back to Orange or Blue at L'Enfant. That would get you to McPherson Square 9 minutes later, at 8:53.

Under Rush Plus you'll also have two options, but they will be different. If you just stay on the 8:10 train, you'll cross the Potomac via the Yellow Line bridge and arrive at L'Enfant Plaza, where you'll transfer to a Blue or Orange train. This option will get you to McPherson Square at 8:46, 2 minutes later than you do today.

You also have the option of getting off the 8:10 train at Pentagon and waiting 6 minutes for the next Blue Line train. That would get you to McPherson Square at 8:54 8:50, 6 minutes later than you do today.

That's to get to McPherson Square, but each destination station is a little different. If you commute from Franconia to Smithsonian, you'll be saving 6 minutes over your commute today. But getting to Rosslyn will take 6 minutes longer.

The bottom line: Take Yellow or wait for Blue?

If you're taking Metro from Franconia to Foggy Bottom, or any station in Virginia north of Pentagon, it will be faster to take the Blue Line, even if that means waiting 6 minutes for the next train. On the other hand, if you're commuting to Farragut West or any station farther east, and the next train is a Yellow, then taking the Yellow and transferring at L'Enfant will be faster.

From Franconia-Springfield or Van Dorn Street, if a Blue train is next, take that. If you're going somewhere east or north of L'Enfant Plaza, transfer to a Yellow Line train at Pentagon.

In terms of winners and losers, Metro Center appears to be the divide. If you're headed somewhere west of Metro Center and north of the Pentagon, if your train is one that is now Yellow, your commute will get longer. If you're going to somewhere east of Metro Center, and your train is one that becomes a Yellow, Rush Plus will be making your trip faster.

Get more information

If you're curious about the specifics of your commute, use Metro's Trip Planner. Entering June 18 as your travel date will show the Rush Plus schedules.

If Rush Plus impacts your schedule negatively, you might be able to adjust for it by sleeping 6 minutes later or getting up a touch earlier. Another option will be Metrobus routes 9E and 10E, which are being extended to Rosslyn to help Blue Line riders.

The key to making Rush Plus work for you is planning. So take some time before Monday's rush hour to look at the Trip Planner.

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