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Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 84

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-fourth 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 29 guesses. Twenty of you got all five. Great work to the winners!

Image 1: King Street

This week, all of the stations featured are stations that are adjacent to active railroad tracks. The first picture was taken along the walkway to the Commonwealth Avenue entrance at King Street. This entrance was added long after the station opened, and it's far enough north that the platform had to be extended. But the extended platform doesn't serve trains (they still stop in the original location), so fences along the tracks keep people back from moving trains.

The presence of this fence, plus the three-track railroad bridge in the background are both clues that this is King Street. Nearly all of you (26) got this one right.

Image 2: Brookland

The second image shows ancillary rooms at the north end of the Brookland platform, viewed from the Michigan Avenue bridge. The main clue here is that the Metro tracks are straddled by a single freight track on either side, which happens only along the Red Line between Brookland and Silver Spring. That means that this could only be one of four stations.

At Fort Totten and Takoma, there's no way to get a view like this, since there are no bridges nearby. At Silver Spring, there is a bridge over the southern end of the station, however, from that bridge, the MARC platforms would be visible, as would many tall buildings, since Silver Spring is so urban.

One final clue is the cleft in the blockhouse at bottom right. That cleft is home to the base of a bridge support from the older Michigan Avenue Bridge. That bridge was still in use when Brookland station was constructed, so the ancillary rooms were built around the bridge support. However, the current Michigan Avenue bridge was constructed and opened shortly after Brookland station opened to passengers. The old base still exists, though.

Twenty-one of you knew this one.

Image 3: Rockville

The third image shows the view northward from Rockville station. Given that many Metro stations are next to railroad tracks, this one was harder to narrow down, but there were some clues. One is the new platform pavers, which are present now at most Red Line outdoor stations, but few stations on other lines.

The buildings around the gentle curve in the distance also may have helped you narrow this down. The one closest to the station is 401 Hungerford, home to Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services. Another clue is the adjacent railroad bridge over Park Road, which is fairly distinctive.

Twenty-one figured this one out.

Image 4: Minnesota Avenue

The fourth image shows a view westward from the platform at Minnesota Avenue. There are a few clues. The most distinctive is probably the bridge over DC 295 at center. That bridge leads to a long ramp down to the station's mezzanine, the top of which is visible as well.

A second clue is the catenary masts with missing catenary. The railroad line between Landover and L'Enfant Plaza (via the Virginia Avenue Tunnel) was electrified just like the rest of the Pennsylvania Railroad between Washington and New York. Back then, not only were passenger trains hauled by electric locomotives, so were freight trains. For that reason, electric wires ran above this freight bypass of Union Station, all the way south to Potomac Yard, where the Pennsy handed off freight trains to the Southern Railway and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P).

Conrail stopped running electric-hauled freights in the mid-1980s, so the wires are long gone. But the supporting masts survive. These wire-less masts run alongside the Orange Line between Cheverly and Minnesota Avenue. So that should have helped you narrow this down.

One more clue that may have helped narrow this down is the parked coal hopper. This stretch of track leads into CSX's Benning Yard, where many of the coal hoppers bound for the Morgantown Generating Station and the Chalk Point Generating Station are stored. Parked coal trains are a common sight on this portion of the Orange Line.

Twenty-two got the right answer (dontcha know).

Image 5: Landover

The final image was taken looking south from Landover station. From this vantage point, you can see the electrified Northeast Corridor. Since it's impossible to tell whether the catenary here is still present (due to the foliage), this could be any Orange Line station between New Carrollton and Minnesota Avenue.

With the Amtrak corridor to the right of the image, this must be a picture looking south. It can't be Cheverly, since that station has side platforms. At New Carrollton, the Amtrak/MARC station would be visible at right and there's a bridge within sight of the southern end of the platform.

Additionally, the southern ends of New Carrollton, Deanwood, and Minnesota Avenue have blockhouses with ancillary rooms (like seen in image 2 at Brookland), so the view to the south is not possible. Minnesota Avenue and Deanwood also have freight tracks on both sides of the platform, which aren't visible here.

That leaves Landover, which twenty-two of you were able to correctly deduce.

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


If Metro had been more like Southwest Airlines, it'd have saved a lot of headaches

Last summer, I took my first ride on one of Metro's new 7000 series railcars. They're impressive, but had I gotten my way back in 2006, when I was WMATA's interim General Manager, that ride would have never happened.

Photo by Matt Johnson.

It's not that there's something inherently wrong with the 7000 series, at least no more than there is with any of Metro's other models. The 7000 series is sleek, clean, and efficient. I particularly appreciate eliminating the carpets and the new displays.

The problem is that the 7000 series is yet another kind of railcar that Metro needs to know how to maintain. When that's the case, as opposed to a fleet full of the same kinds of cars, it's a nightmare.

How transit agencies buy railcars

Starting with its first cars, the 1000 series, Metro has bought its fleet in batches, or series. A quick check of Wikipedia can give you the deep dive on the manufacturers, numbers, delivery dates, and the like. The agency has gone back out to market six more time since it bought those first cars, with each successive lot of cars given a new designation: 2000, 3000—you get the picture.

When I was General Manager, we were just finishing delivery of our order of 6000 series railcars. And they had bugs.

Here's the thing about modern transit vehicles: Because each series is bought in a separate procurement, usually after a substantial period of time, the cars' design evolves. Metro then asks a (shrinking) set of global manufacturers to bid for each new design, and once a company gets a contract, it must set up a factory in the United States to construct the order. This factory never gains any economies of scale or long term experience.

The fact is that the best railcar you will get out of this process is the last one delivered. And, frankly, the manufacturers generally just figure out how to build the car when the contract term ends.

Federal Transit Administration regulations require that the agency run a new bidding process to select a new manufacturer every five years. Never mind that the existing manufacturer has the most expertise in building that car they've been building for five years; if a new company comes in cheaper, the agency may have to let that one start building cars, even if that's a surefire way for bugs to come back in.

Many railcars make maintenance harder

One day during my tenure, I was showing a Washington Post reporter, Lena Sun, through a railcar maintenance facility and we met a railcar electrician. He summed up the stupidity of having so many models quite succinctly, waving his hands around his shop and saying, "See all these tools? It is because we have six different kinds of railcars on the system, and each one is just a little bit different. So I need a different set of tools, and parts, and manuals for each one of them."

This is why Southwest Airlines only flies the 737. It is part of their secret to great service, low costs, and high on-time rates. On the corporate side, it increases their bargaining power with suppliers, reduces maintenance cost, increases employee productivity, and streamlines processes.

We wanted Metro to benefit from this lesson by simply continuing to buy the 6000 series. The plan was to negotiate to buy 100 cars a year, every year from that point forward until the fleet was renewed. Then, taper the buys to 50 cars a year to continually renew the fleet.

A 6000 series car. Photo by ExactoCreation on Flickr.

We even had talks with Baltimore and Miami (the two system who use cars that most resemble Metro's) to join in the order and make the volumes attractive enough to keep the manufacturer busy, and drive down costs. We were looking forward to the possibility of jointly training and sharing staff, parts, tools and best practices.

If we had continued on this track after 2006, the system would have all new 6000 series cars by now. But the 7000 series was revived shortly after I left.

Would this have fixed Metro's problems? Not all of them, certainly. But railcar reliability is one of Metro's biggest issues right now, and this could have improved that metric. Also, it could have freed up managers' attention to focus on the track bed, signals, and power systems—the boring parts that have been given a lower priority than the shiny things (literally) like the new car.


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 84

It's time for the eighty-fourth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the 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 doesn't have four tracks. That's not why maintenance is a problem.

"Yet from the start, Metro was saddled with two structural flaws. First, each line runs on just two tracks—New York City's subway generally has four—which makes it difficult to perform maintenance while still shuttling commuters."

Photo by Andrew d'Entremont on Flickr.

That's part of a detailed profile of Paul Wiedefeld and Metro's current struggles in TIME Magazine, the rest of which is excellent but unfortunately behind a paywall. But in the above excerpt, reporter Alex Altman repeats a very common canard about Metro, that having two tracks instead of the four of many New York subway lines is a major flaw.

This pops up in article after article about Metro, though rarely if ever sourced to a specific transportation expert. Instead, it's just something that every reporter "knows"—even though it's largely false.

Frederick Kunkle said something similar in a May 13 blog post:

Metro riders will probably have to pay for Metro's past sins, including the original sin of designing an ambitious regional subway with only two tracks.

We heard the same from unnamed reporters at Agence France-Presse:

But the system was created with two chinks that have proven costly as the subway expanded to keep pace with the metropolitan area's population growth, and money for repairs and upkeep became increasingly scarce.

First, while other subway systems in America were built with three or four tracks, Washington's has just two. This was done to save money.


Other articles, like in the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and ABC7 also mention the 4-track issue and often compare DC to New York, though they don't make the outright incorrect statements of the others.

What is true

1. Metro does have only two tracks on all its lines.

2. This was a deliberate decision, partly because more tracks would have cost more. George Mason history professor Zachary Schrag, the guy who literally wrote the book on Metro, explains that planners thought about making more tracks, but chose not to because it would have been too expensive, and given limited resources, they wanted to build more lines instead.

3. Having more tracks would make maintenance less painful. On New York's four-track lines, the subway system is able to shut down one or two tracks for a weekend and keep two-way service running, though people at some stations may not get trains or might only get them in one direction.

What is false

"Other subway systems in America were built with three or four tracks" (from the AFP article). This is almost entirely false. As Matt Johnson explained back in 2009 (the first time we discussed this), there are only three US subway systems with express tracks: New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

New York has a lot of express tracks, and since so many people are familiar with the New York subway, it's likely why people keep asking about the issue. Otherwise, Matt wrote, "In Philadelphia, the Broad Street Subway includes express trackage for most of its length. The Chicago L offers express service on the Purple Line during rush periods (and a short stretch of the Red south of Belmont)." That's it.

There are a few places where other systems have multiple lines that converge for a transfer, like around BART's MacArthur station in Oakland, but that's just a short bit.

Two track line in Chicago. Photo by Jason Mrachina on Flickr.

Worldwide, even, four-track subways are the exception rather than the rule. A few pieces of lines in London have four tracks, but other cities do not. Paris's extensive Métro is all two-track lines. Two lines, the #8 and #9, run together in a 4-track subway for four stations, and the RER regional rail has some sections with more than two tracks, but Paris has more miles of 2-track lines than Washington, and most US and world cities are all 2-track lines.

Resilience isn't why some systems have more tracks

Lines with more tracks aren't that way for redundancy, but rather capacity: they make it possible to fit twice the trains along the same avenue. In only the densest places in the world, like New York, is that sensible, and even so, most cities don't do it.

Instead of making 4-track lines, what world cities with better transit systems than Washington enjoy is just more lines, period. You can shut down a line much more easily when there's another one nearby. Back to New York, for instance, the tunnels between Manhattan and other boroughs are 2-track, but there are many parallel ones.

If the A train is under repair, the trains could travel on the F line instead. When the L tunnel has to be shut down for Sandy-related repairs, it'll be horrible for residents of Williamsburg and Bushwick, but at least they can transfer to the G train to go around to another East River crossing.

When Chicago shut down its Red Line for months, it was able to set up bus service to get people to the parallel Green. Fewer parts of the DC Metro have alternate lines nearby.

More tracks? How about more lines

If the builders of the Washington Metro had had more money, they should have done just what Schrag said they already wanted to do: build more lines, not more tracks. More lines would make transit closer to more people but could also offer redundancy.

In the core, it would have been better to separate the Blue and Orange, or Yellow and Green, into separate, nearby subways. Metro has, at various times, suggested plans to do that. Such a layout would allow rerouting those trains onto the other line in the event of night or weekend shutdowns (and make room for more trains during rush).

While the articles above didn't talk about express service, a related complaint about Metro is that it doesn't have express trains. Actually, the truth is more that it has nothing but expresses. Schrag writes, "The wide spacing of stations in the suburbs make them the equivalent of express lines elsewhere. Rather, Metro lacks the slow, hyper-local routes like the Broadway Local in New York City, which stops every few blocks to serve the tens of thousands people in apartment buildings."

There's no doubt Metro has maintenance problems. But we can't blame them on the system having only two tracks. Other systems keep up maintenance with only two tracks. It's simply not true that building two tracks is "the original sin of Metro" or one of "two structural flaws."

Rather than bringing up the issue about two tracks over and over, news articles would do better to talk about ways Metro is falling short of all the world's 2-track train systems which operate and maintain themselves better.


Orange, Silver, and Blue riders: Pain is coming in just a month. DOTs: Get moving on bus and HOV lanes now.

Metro's revised SafeTrack plan is out, and riders along the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines will be suffering much earlier than in the original plan. That may be necessary maintenance, but it'll mean local officials have to move fast to find alternative ways to get people east and west.

Shutdown from June 14-16.

The first "surge" is single-tracking from Ballston to East Falls Church from June 4-13. That single-tracking includes rush hours and every other time. There will be fewer trains at rush hour everywhere along the Orange and Silver west of there and the Orange Line east all the way to New Carrollton.

Then, the really big challenge hits June 18, when Metro will shut down the line from Eastern Market to Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road for 16 days, June 18-July 3. This will also mean no trains from Arlington Cemetery to Rosslyn. That means no trains on these areas for over two weeks.

Shutdown from June 18-July 3.

And this won't just affect people traveling on the east side of the region. There will be 54% fewer trains from Eastern Market to Rosslyn during rush hours and 40-43% fewer on the Orange and Silver lines in Virginia.

We'll need bus/HOV lanes and staging parking lots

Based on all the feedback you gave in comments and emails, plus talking to some transportation experts, we think our region's transportation departments need to immediately get together and consider a set of bus and HOV lanes along main arterial roads and bridges along the Orange/Blue/Silver Line corridor.

In addition, the DOTs should find lots that can serve as park-and-rides and slugging staging areas. People could park in these zones and form ad-hoc carpools (called "slugging"), or ride special shuttle buses using the 42 extra buses Metro has available for the surges.

Workers, employers, retailers, and everyone else will have to step up too, to share rides and adjust work hours to keep people getting where they need to go. Still, many people don't have that option and need a way to travel east and west without spending hours in traffic.

We don't have all the answers. The local DOTs have the experts who need to figure out the specifics. Or maybe they have variations on this plan that would work better. But while asking people nicely to please telework or carpool is part of the answer, it's not enough on its own. Some priority for carpoolers and buses is necessary.

There's not a lot of time. But the SafeTrack "surges" won't be permanent. It's not unreasonable to try some meaningful policies in late June to try to keep people moving. Because then in July, the pain will hit Yellow/Blue riders from the south, followed by more single-tracking on Orange/Silver, and then a big Red Line single-track in August.

Ask your local DOTs to get this figured out RIGHT NOW with the form below.

Ask your DOT to act fast

Please ask your local transportation officials to step up. We've suggested some recommendations in the form, but you can customize it as much as you'd like. Our system will automatically send your letter to the right officials based on the jurisdiction you enter.

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Metro wants to know how you use the system

Have you noticed the orange flyers and collection boxes floating around Metro stations this month? They're part of a passenger survey that WMATA conducts every few years. The results help determine both how much each of our region's jurisdictions pay for Metro and whether or not Metro should make service changes.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Named TravelTrends, WMATA's Metrorail Passenger Survey survey has two primary objectives: To determine how much each jurisdiction (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) needs to pay to subsidize the system, and to help determine whether or not to make changes to rail service.

In addition, the Federal Transit Administration mandates this survey be conducted periodically.

One thing about TravelTrends is that it's not a survey about your satisfaction with the system. It's more like a census, with the same questions asked each period so WMATA can compare the data. Just like with the federal census, which happens every 10 years, the questions are about you or your habits rather than how you think the government's policies are working out.

According to PlanItMetro, Metro's planning blog, "Your answers to the survey contribute to the data used to support operating and planning activities—it provides us with greater insight into how we can best match service to fit the overall needs of our customers using the system."

Photo by the author.

The (statistically valid) results aid WMATA in determining what each jurisdiction must pay to support Metro. It's one part of a complex formula. Each jurisdiction pays according to its population (adjusted for density), the number of stations it has, and the average weekday number of riders who live in that jurisdiction. This survey is used to figure out the jurisdictional ridership part of the formula.

Staff are handing out the bright orange, pre-stamped surveys at each station through the end of May. You can also fill one out online instead of mailing—just use the code at the bottom of the cover page.

Normally, the survey happens every five years. The last one was in 2012. But WMATA is also required to run the rider study two years after starting new rail service, so the addition of the Silver Line pushed it up (has it really been two years?!!).

As an added bonus, if you complete the survey, you're entered into a drawing to win a $100 SmarTrip card.


How can we help people get around during SafeTrack?

Metro's SafeTrack plan (plus any FTA-mandated changes) will mean weeks with no service, or month-long single-tracking, on big sections of the rail system. Our region will need to help people get around in other ways that avoid crippling traffic. How do we do that?

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Most of our major roads are already full during peak periods. Some Metro "surges" will disrupt travel for tens of thousands of people. If even a small proportion of these Metro riders drive alone, we could see major regional gridlock.

While the "surges" won't close the whole system at once, their effects will reverberate throughout the region. Lines with single tracking will see fewer trains overall, and the closures and decreased service will likely push people who connect from other lines to commute some other way. All of this means significant traffic impacts far from any given work zone.

What should the region do?

We talked with a number of transportation professionals for their thoughts. But we'd also like to hear yours. We'll compile a list of promising measures, and we're working with the Coalition for Smarter Growth on a tool for you to reach out to your local DOT and elected leaders to ask them to make it happen. Sign up here and you'll be the first to know when it's ready to go.

Get SafeTrack updates!

Greater Greater Washington and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are working together on ways for you to reach out to your local DOT and elected leaders to ask for the measures we need to see the region through SafeTrack. Sign up here and you'll be the first to know when it's ready to go.

First name:    Last name:

Email address:

Where you live:    ZIP code:

Here are the ideas we heard:

Teleworking is the biggest no-brainer. Many people can telework. But many more cannot. If people who can, do, that would alleviate some of the crunch. But not all.

Bus lanes. A lot of people will switch to the bus. But if they are stuck in traffic, they're not able to get to the ends of their routes and start the next run, effectively cutting down on bus capacity. The bus would also then be an unpleasant way to travel, pushing more people into cars instead, making driving and riding the bus worse, and so on.

The Washington region actually had a network of bus lanes before Metrorail opened. Without the trains, those lanes helped get people in and out of job centers. We need them again.

Bus lane network, pre-1976. Image from WMATA.

Walking and bicycling are an appealing alternative people who live close to work. Capital Bikeshare capacity and bike parking are likely to be some of the biggest crunches for bicycling. In Metro-accessible job centers like downtown DC, Silver Spring, Rosslyn, and others, bike corrals could help keep Capital Bikeshare balanced, and help people riding their own bikes find a place to park.

Carpooling can fit more people into fewer vehicles, making more efficient use of the road space we have. Some people may carpool without any prodding. But even more people will carpool if there are incentives to do it, like:

  • HOV lanes. On key arterials, one lane could be made HOV for a year. Both buses and carpoolers could use these to get a faster ride, making it more worthwhile to carpool or ride the bus.
  • Slugging. About 10,000 Virginians ride with strangers every day. Drivers pick up these strangers to get to use the I-395 carpool lanes, a practice called slugging. There are designated areas for people to park and then find rides.

    If DC added HOV lanes on key arterials from Maryland to downtown, Maryland counties could help find places, like shopping center parking lots that go mostly empty on weekdays, to serve as slug pickup areas. The same goes for Virginia routes into DC besides 395.

A "slug line." Image from Wikimedia.

  • Employer incentives. Employers could help people carpool, such as by offering reserved parking, running programs to match people up, or simply trying to structure the work day to make carpooling more feasible. Carpooling has declined as people's work schedules became more irregular; employers can reverse that trend, at least for the year.
  • Business incentives. Retail businesses can play a role, too. Restaurants and shops could find ways to offer discounts or specials to people who biked or carpooled.
  • Ride-matching services. Existing programs like Commuter Connections run bulletin boards and employer programs to match people to potential carpool or vanpool buddies.
  • Apps like Split, UberPool, and Lyft Line already try to match up people to share rides. Carpool lanes would create an even stronger incentive to use them. Or, governments could work with these companies to find other ways to increase the incentive to try them.
Special parking lots and shuttles. When a Metro line section shuts down, there could be a temporary park-and-ride with shuttle buses. For example, RFK's parking lots are huge and almost always empty. They could serve as a commuter parking lot and special buses could zip people (ideally, on a temporary HOV lane on I-695 and I-395) to the Capitol and downtown job centers. Where else could this work?

Potential park and ride? Image from Bing Maps.

Optimize bus routes. Besides (or ideally in addition to) adding bus lanes, there are ways to boost capacity on major bus lines, especially the ones paralleling Metro lines (like the S and 70s buses from Silver Spring to downtown DC, when the eastern Red Line shuts down). Some approaches:

  • Add express buses. Metro has a dedicated fleet of 42 buses to add to areas with shutdowns. Local transportation officials are already thinking about how to best deploy these. Other than a direct "bus bridge" between closed stations, some could be new express service on likes like the S9 and 79. A few local buses could switch to express during the shutdown as well.
  • Restrict on-street parking. Many DC arterial roads have parking on the non-peak side during rush hour, and on both sides at other times. The road could carry more vehicles without that. But it's best to make the new lane a bus or HOV lane, so that people have an incentive to carpool or take the bus instead of consuming all that capacity with new single-passenger trips.
  • Fix chokepoints. Likewise, Metro already knows where the major bus routes waste the most time. Retiming a signal, temporarily removing some parking, or adding an interim turn lane could clear out those spots. Where do you think are the most important places for this?
  • Reroute buses that end at a Metro station. For example, the 80s buses on Rhode Island Avenue almost all end at Rhode Island Avenue Metro. But when the eastern Red Line shuts down, then what? Those buses could go downtown—but will need places to drop off, and bus or HOV lanes (sense a theme?) could ensure they don't spend more time doing so than necessary.
Drop-off zones. If more people carpool and take buses, more curbside space may need to be devoted to letting people load and unload, either from commuter buses that already come in from farther out areas, for carpoolers, and for riders of app services who share rides instead of riding alone.

Proposed late night bus service & map from Metro's April 2016 Metrobus Late Night Service Study.

Improve late night bus service. Metro plans to shut down at midnight instead of 3 am. While the number of people who ride Metro at night has dropped as many people switch to ride-hailing services, it's still important to offer an affordable way for people to get home.

  • Make a late night map. Metro could publish a special map showing late night bus service, especially the routes that take people between Metro stations. Most people don't even know if there's a bus that can take them from nightlife to their neighborhoods.
  • Add late-night service. If some stations get decent late-night traffic but don't have late-night bus service (like more outlying park-and-ride stations), add buses to those spots until 3 am or later.
These general ideas cover a lot of ground, but it's a daunting task for our local transportation departments to identify all the spots which need attention. Many of these ideas will require local DOTs and WMATA to work together, or inter-jurisdictional cooperation between DOTs. But that doesn't meant they can't happen.

Where would you implement these strategies? What other ideas do you have? Give your thoughts in the comments.

Get SafeTrack updates!

Greater Greater Washington and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are working together on ways for you to reach out to your local DOT and elected leaders to ask for the measures we need to see the region through SafeTrack. Sign up here and you'll be the first to know when it's ready to go.

First name:    Last name:

Email address:

Where you live:    ZIP code:


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 83

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-third 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 21 guesses. Eight of you got all five. Great work, Peter K, Solomon, FN, Stephen C, AlexC, dpod, Travis Maiers, and We Will Crush Peter K!

Image 1: Navy Yard

The first image shows a platform pylon at Navy Yard station. Many of you decided the cherry blossom sticker must mean that this was Smithsonian station. But during cherry blossom season, these stickers appear all over WMATA on faregates, station booths, pylons, and any other surface they easily adhere to. So in this case, it was a bit of a pink herring.

There were two real clues. The first is the word "Transportation," which in this case is a snippet of the name of a major destination at the New Jersey Avenue end of the station: Department of Transportation. This led some of you to guess L'Enfant Plaza, where USDOT used to be headquartered.

The other clue was the fact that there are two wheelchair icons and arrows pointing in opposite directions. There are only two underground stations in the system that have two entrances that are both wheelchair accessible. The two are Friendship Heights and Navy Yard. We talked about stations with redundant elevators in a post last year.

Twelve figured out that this was Navy Yard.

Image 2: Morgan Boulevard

The second picture is looking up at development adjacent to Morgan Boulevard station. These residences are fairly distinctive, and if you were able to narrow this down a bit, could be spotted on Google Street View.

To narrow it down, note the style of the concrete matches the style used in the three stations opened in 2004 (Largo, Morgan Boulevard, and NoMa). The concrete is split into these rectangles, unlike at other stations.

The white fencing atop the wall is also indicative of newer stations. Up until 2001, when the Adopted Regional System was completed with the opening of the Green Line extension to Branch Avenue, Metro mainly used brown for all metal surfaces. The stations built in 2004 and later have silver finishes.

Fourteen guessed Morgan Boulevard.

Image 3: Twinbrook

The third image was taken at Twinbrook. It's the fourth time we've featured this station in the series.

You can tell from the image that this is a low-lying station with a Gull I style canopy with lots of surface parking.

There are 15 Gull I stations. Seven of those stations are elevated, so that eliminates them as possibilities. We can eliminate Cheverly since it has side platforms. New Carrollton, Deanwood, and Minnesota Avenue have catenary supports behind them (for the Northeast Corridor and formerly electrified Penn Central freight line). Brookland is in an open cut, so it's out as well.

That leaves Van Dorn Street, Shady Grove, and Twinbrook. At Van Dorn Street, the parking lot is on the opposite side of Eisenhower Avenue (and downhill) from the station. At Shady Grove, from this angle, the parking garages would be visible. That leaves Twinbrook.

Additionally, you might have recognized the buildings in the background. The Maryland license plates may have also helped you narrow this down.

Sixteen guessed correctly.

Image 4: Huntington

The fourth image shows unique signage at Huntington's southern entrance. As shown in week 14, Huntington has two narrow escalators on either side of a regular-width escalator. And this is the only place in the system to have narrow escalators.

In a usual arrangement, the station probably would have had three (regular-width) escalators that could be running with two in the peak direction and one in the reverse direction. But in order to make the station wheelchair accessible to the south, Metro built an inclined elevator. That left room for only two regular-width escalators.

The problem with that meant that the demand would be uneven, but the supply would be set at 50/50. A regular-width Metro escalator has room for two people to stand side-by-side. So, with three escalators, Metro could be running two down in the morning (4 people across) and one up (2 people across). But with room for just two escalators, there'd be one down (2 people across) and one up (2 people across). That's inefficient.

The narrow escalators allow for better balancing. In the morning, one narrow escalator and the regular-width escalator are going down (3 people across) with the other narrow escalator going up (1 person across). That actually gives a better split (75% peak direction) than the three escalator option (67% peak direction), but still has a lower overall capacity (3 of 4 people width versus 4 of 6 people width).

Fifteen came to the correct conclusion.

Image 5: Clarendon

The final image probably looked harder than it really was. It takes just a little synthesis to put together that the correct answer was Clarendon. Virginia Square was also a very good guess, but it's not the correct answer.

What do we know from the picture?

We can see that this is a "Waffle" station [32 possible stations] that has side platforms [12 possibilities] and is served by either the Orange or Red Lines (you can see a swatch of orange in the destination sign), which leaves nine stations.

What else can we see? The far wall doesn't have a mezzanine. That means that this is a station that does not have entrances on both ends, which eliminates all the downtown and transfer stations. That leaves just three possibilities (or five if you didn't notice Pentagon City and Crystal City aren't served by the Red or Orange lines).

The three stations that are left are Ballston, Clarendon, and Virginia Square.

It can't be Ballston because at that station, the mezzanine is at the far eastern end of the platform, with its "tuning fork" style mezzanine pointed west. From this perspective at Ballston (and Pentagon City, for that matter), the mezzanine above would appear concave, not convex, and the escalators would be visible.

This perspective, with the convex shape of the mezzanine means we're under the end opposite from the escalators, so this has to be a station with a central mezzanine. Both Clarendon and Virginia Square have this attribute.

There were two ways to get the right answer from here. The first is that at Virginia Square, the mezzanine is much closer to the western end of the station than at Clarendon. At Virginia Square, the far wall would be very close to the vantage point.

The other way to figure this out is to know where the exit is. At Clarendon, the exit is to the north (to the right if you're facing Vienna). At Virginia Square, it's to the south. The bridge from the mezzanine to the street escalators is visible at the top right corner, meaning this is Clarendon.

But wait! There's one more detail. Virginia Square has a bridge like this over the Vienna platform, too. The platform elevator on either side has a bridge between the vault wall and the mezzanine. How do you know this isn't it? Because it's farther away from the convex point of the mezzanine. There's a good deal of straight mezzanine railing before it starts to curve over the tracks.

Ten of you got it right.

Note: Some of you mistook electrical conduit on the far wall for knockout panels. Many stations have conduit like this, which are metal tubes with wires inside mounted on the station walls. I apologize that the photo quality wasn't sufficient to make this clearer. But it couldn't be Pentagon City because of the reasons outlined above.

Great work, everyone! We'll be back in two weeks with the next quiz.

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


The feds tell Metro to rearrange its maintenance plans

That SafeTrack plan of maintenance and shutdowns you learned about last week might be out the window, or at least significantly changed. The Federal Transit Administration just instructed Metro to do maintenance on three sections of track before starting on its SafeTrack maintenance plan.

Trash can image from Shutterstock.

In a letter the FTA just sent WMATA, FTA demands that Metro rearrange priorities to first focus on three sections of tracks:

  • Medical Center to Van Ness
  • Potomac Ave to the "D&G junction," where the tracks split toward Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road
  • East Falls Church to Ballston

All of these are among the 15 "surge" shutdowns, but just not scheduled first. The western Red Line segment was slated for single-tracking after 8 pm every day in January and February, 2017. Potomac Avenue to D&G was going to happen in August of this year. And East Falls Church to Ballston was slated for November into December.

As the FTA letter notes, Metro was mainly focusing on the Red Line tunnel from Friendship Heights to Medical Center, but the FTA believes there need to be more repairs between Friendship Heights and Van Ness as well.

A lot of this seems to be a response to the incident last week at Federal Center SW, where an insulator overheated and exploded near the platform. Metro shut down the station, but only once General Manager Paul Wiedefeld got involved personally. The FTA has said in an earlier letter that Metro's Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) wouldn't allow inspectors onto the tracks after that explosion.

Where's the coordination?

There's no doubt that Metro needs to fix its arcing insulators. What happened at Federal Center SW last week was scary. (The fact that some people inside Metro apparently refused to let inspectors on the tracks is another huge issue that we were about to write a post about, but this took precedence.)

However, having Metro spend months devising a plan and then having the FTA suddenly tell them to turn it upside down is not likely a good way to run a railroad. Metro and the FTA have to be working together, coordinating the best and most efficient ways to solve the system's many problems. Since the three areas mentioned are already part of SafeTrack, the FTA and WMATA could have worked together to prioritize the work needing to be done before the plan and this letter came out.

The FTA might need to demand Metro drop everything and obey an urgent directive, but that should be a rare exception, not a first step. The FTA might need to demand Metro be shut down completely, as Secretary Anthony Foxx threatened, but that should be a last resort - basically, ad admission of failure by BOTH Metro and the feds. The policy of dictating requirements to WMATA without similarly offering solutions doesn't seem to be the best way to go.

As WMATA General Manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld said at his press conference last week, the 15 "surge" shutdowns aren't the extent of the maintenance. Metro is also going to be doing substantial maintenance during nights and weekends by shutting down earlier at night, in addition to making use of the typical overnight time available. As well, track work is not going away once SafeTrack concludes; the system always will need work.

Photo by Stephen Repetski.

Find the person who'll fix it and trust them

We don't know what's the right order to perform maintenance. We're not rail maintenance experts. But back when Metro was looking for a leader and facing problems of maintenance, finance, leadership, reputation, and more, the message from a lot of knowledgeable people was this: Find someone capable of fixing the problem, then hire them, and empower them to take action.

So far, it seems Paul Wiedefeld is that guy. We sure hope so. Since taking over, Wiedefeld has been open and vocal about the system's problems, not shying away from admitting how much work it will entail. It doesn't seem like he's shying away from doing what it will take.

If he proves for some reason he's not that guy, then he has to be replaced with someone who is. But unless and until that happens, the only real way forward is for everyone to work with Wiedefeld and stand behind him.

Ensure he has the best information. Try to persuade him. So far, he's been open to listening to everyone, from governors and federal transportation secretaries to regular riders. But then, once he takes in everyone's ideas, he has to be able to make a call on some of these specific details, like which week to fix which tracks.

The Board of Directors used to micromanage Metro, and this was one of the flaws a lot of people called to fix. Now it looks awfully like the FTA is trying to micromanage it instead. Even if FTA is right and Paul wrong about the relative priority, which isn't at all clear (and the FTA letter doesn't make the case), this just doesn't seem like a recipe for success.

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