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Posted at 9:15 AM ET, 01/25/2011

How would you design Metro cars?

By Robert Thomson

7000 interior.jpg
New car designs will include a new seating style and floors without carpets. (Metro photo)

This year, the transit authority says, planners will reach out to riders and Metro employees to help design the next generation of rail cars. Riders will have a chance to talk about the car interiors, including the coverings for the walls, floors and seats; the signs, and the lighting and handholds.

This isn't the first time the designers have sought comment during the lengthy process that led the Metro board last year to give the new car contract to Kawasaki. For example, many of you have noted your thoughts on several of the 6000 Series cars that got a makeover to test flooring and seating concepts.

Also, transit staffers have been discussing their design plans with the Riders' Advisory Council and the Accessibility Advisory Committee, both of which have contributed their suggestions.

We have a new online page where we invite you to suggest what you'd like to see in the new rail cars. Metro already has made some important choices. For example, the new cars will have three sets of doors on each side, just as the cars do now. The new seats still will face forward and back. The transit authority isn't planning on switching to the inward-facing seating you see on the New York City style of cars.

But in our unofficial design exercise, you can think as big as you want about the car design. You can share your ideas in writing or upload a photo showing a concept from another subway system or something you've created.

We'll talk about your ideas, as well as the overall plan for adding new rail cars to the system, on this Sunday's Commuter page in The Post's Metro section.

The new cars will be known as the 7000 Series. The first batch of 64 are scheduled to arrive in time for the opening of the new line through Tysons Corner and out to the Reston area, scheduled for 2013. The route, popularly known as the Silver Line, though the Metro board has not yet named it, will eventually extend out to Dulles International Airport and to Ashburn.

The new cars arriving after that will be used to replace the 1000 Series, the oldest cars in the fleet. They have been carrying passengers since Metrorail opened in 1976.

By Robert Thomson  | January 25, 2011; 9:15 AM ET
Categories:  Metro, Transit  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Comments

Looking at the reader suggestions you'll see that a large percentage of them relate to bench seating. Amazing that so many readers can point out the obvious yet Metro doesn't get it. Also, in the long run wouldn't it make more sense for all the major transit systems on the East Coast use the same type of rail cars to take advantage of economies of scale?

Posted by: Aerowaz | January 25, 2011 9:42 AM | Report abuse

More seating would be appreciated, both forward/backward-facing and sideways-facing. (Some people get motion-sick in one direction or other.) Many Metro riders spend more than 20 minutes on the train; the long commuters are keeping Metro in the black and would appreciate a seat! Also, please bring back floor-to-ceiling handrails. The ceiling straps are completely useless to people too short to reach them, and they're not stable enough for jerky Metro rides.

Posted by: Germantownrider | January 25, 2011 9:49 AM | Report abuse

"The route, popularly known as the Silver Line, though the Metro board has not yet named it, will eventually extend out to Dulles International Airport and to Ashburn."

Do you think Metro could do one quick thing to show they're listening to riders, and officially name it the Silver Line? It's not much, but how weird it would be if they ended up naming it something else...

Posted by: DOEJN | January 25, 2011 9:52 AM | Report abuse

One example of floor-to-ceiling handrails I haven't seen in the U.S. that might work in DC:
http://ufies.org/~aleith/transit/singapore/mrt_nel_71025-2.jpg

I'm not against bench seating, but it does limit seating overall per car.

Posted by: Germantownrider | January 25, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

"Also, in the long run wouldn't it make more sense for all the major transit systems on the East Coast use the same type of rail cars to take advantage of economies of scale?"

In theory, yes, but it's not that simple. New York and Boston, for example, need multiple types of cars within their own systems due to design constraints. In New York, the IRT lines (the ones designated with numbers, plus the 42 Street Shuttle) use narrower cars than the BMT and IND lines. That's because originally the IRT, BMT, and IND were competitors and the IRT used a different specification. IRT cars can run on the other tracks, though the gap between platform and car is too wide to allow revenue service, but BMT and IND cars can't run on IRT tracks. In Boston, the Green Line is more of a light rail or trolley line and uses radically different equipment from the other lines. I believe Philadelphia's SEPTA system is also a combination of underground streetcars and heavy rail. Montreal's uses rubber-tyred trains unlike any others anywhere on the East Coast.

With all that said, returning to the original issue:

(1) I absolutely agree that the WMATA board need to pull their heads out and consider bench seating. You can fit more people in the car and more people will move to the center of the car because it's easier to do so. It would also, in theory, make reaching the overhead poles/metal straps easier in terms of not having to reach over the people in the seats.

(2) But, assuming bench seating is not an option, the existing seat design should use a thinner plastic if possible. It would allow more knee room. A lot of us hate the forward- and back-facing seats due to the lack of leg room that leaves us with our knees jammed uncomfortably into the plastic back of the seat in front of us. The illustration Dr. Gridlock provided seems to use a design along these lines.

(3) Having two overhead railings (preferably with the metal straps, as shown in the illustration) is important in terms of providing places for standees to hold on. There ought to be more vertical poles running from the seatbacks to the ceiling rails, too (this seems to be the case in the illustration). Shorter people have a fair gripe when they say they can't reach the ceiling rails, but putting grab handles on the seatback is not a good solution because those handles don't really aid in balancing when the trains jerk to a stop. Overhead rails, or poles, are better because you can use them to brace yourself. A grab handle at waist level doesn't let you do that.

(4) I like the "leaning pads" (for lack of a better term) used on the London Underground near the doors. They're wall-mounted pads at about butt level and are commonly used by people hauling baggage (they use the baggage for balance and lean against the pads for counterbalance).

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 25, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

There are two major problems with the car design shown in the photo that accompanies this article.

(1) I have rarely seen anyone - short or tall - use those metal hanging things to grab onto in the cars that currently have them. I have NEVER seen anyone use the rubber hanging straps in the cars that have those. With the way the cars move and sway while riding (it feels like you're on a surfboard) not to mention the herky-jerky acceleration and braking when the trains are under manual control, standees need something solid to grab onto. In today's cars, they use the center rail above and the rails on the back of the seats. Looks like the new design will not have the seat rails, so it would be better if they just put a vertical pole on the aisle next to the back of each seat instead of expecting standees to use those hanging things. Also, the vertical poles in between the seats on the pictured car are all wrong. Standess in the aisles would have to lean over seated passengers in order to use them.

(2) The pictured car has way too much floor space near the doors where there is NOTHING to grab onto. On a typical rush hour train that floor space will be packed with standees. There needs to be several vertical poles there, as well as something above to hold onto.

In short, it's good that they've come up with a less cluttered seating design, but they need to be aware that every square inch where seat structure has been removed is now going to be occupied by a standee. That person needs something to hold onto. If they're going to the trouble of creating actual mock-up cars for these new designs, then part of the design process ought to include just cramming people onto the car like it was one of those phone booth contests until they can no longer find standing or holding space for anyone more. Then they should adjust the location of poles and handles to make it as comfortable as possible for everyone. In other words, design for worst-case, not best-case, because worst-case is going to occur much more often in real life.

Posted by: FeelWood | January 25, 2011 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Ceiling straps are stupid. Many people cannot reach them. Need more vertical bars that even little kids can hold and share. A lot of riders fight for the vertical bars because overhead bars are too high and expose elbows and armpits. Test the designs with people of all sizes and pack them like sardines. Hire short engineers to design the cars.

Posted by: jercha | January 25, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Floors without carpets may = people skidding on wet floors, landing on their B*tts.
And SOMETHING is necessary to keep these astute riders from ALL congregating near the door while COUNTLESS SEATS in the same car are EMPTY!!

Posted by: bronxace | January 25, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I think the real test of effective grab-bar design is not the super-crowded train, but rather a train where there are a lot of standees but they still have some room to move. On a super-crowded train, such as the ones you see after the fireworks on July 4 or after a concert or a Caps game, the train is so crowded that you don't really have to worry about falling over if you can't grab the bars. :-)

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 25, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

jercha, notice the handles on the backs of each seat that can be reached by anyone standing in the car. Also, I personally prefer to face the opposite direction as the car is moving so that in case there were a wreck or sudden stop, my back would be pressed evenly against the seat and would keep me from flying across the car into a pile of people. I think all seats should face that way! Maybe the seats should also be higher like on a bus to give neck support.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | January 25, 2011 11:23 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: One theme in the comments reflects a traditional issue among Metrorail riders. How should the seats be configured?

The traditional division is that if you life out in the suburbs and have a long ride, you want there to be as many seats as possible and you don't mind having them face forward or back. (Although in my Sunday column, I had a letter from a rider who preferred the inward facing seats because they're better for people with a tendency toward motion sickness.)

Generally, if you live in closer and have a shorter trip, you want a maximum amount of space for standees -- since the trains are usually crowded when you board and exit -- and you prefer having them face inward because you can just stand up, without having to climb over the person sitting in the outside seat.

Some of you will recall that Metro did run a couple of test cars with more of that inward facing seating. Metro said it didn't appear to be an improvement. The configuration didn't wind up increasing the total capacity of the cars.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | January 25, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Metro - Get rid of the bench seating. It encourages bad behavior by children and homeless and it reduces capacity.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 25, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: I hate those plastic straps that were added to the ceiling rail on some of the older cars. It's just personal. I walk into them. They're like spider webs.

The stainless steel spring grips added to the 6000 Series cars -- same style you see in the Metro picture at the top of this posting -- seem fine to me. But I do hear from shorter riders who say, What good are they? I can't reach up high enough to grab them in the first place.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | January 25, 2011 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Based on what, a-n-l?

Posted by: ceebee2 | January 25, 2011 11:35 AM | Report abuse

"The traditional division is that if you life out in the suburbs and have a long ride, you want there to be as many seats as possible and you don't mind having them face forward or back."

It's funny, I live in Kingstowne, about halfway between the Van Dorn and Franconia-Springfield stops at the end of the Blue Line, and I prefer the bench seats because they're more comfortable (none of the knee issue I mentioned before) and because they would allow more people to squeeze in on the ride home. It's easy to think about this issue from the perspective that during the morning commute you're more likely to get a seat if you board at the end (or beginning, I guess) of the line, but the flip side is that in the afternoon you're cramming in there with everyone else.

I recall WMATA trying some experiments with different arrangements, although I never saw the experimental cars myself. I wonder to what extent a hybrid arrangement could be feasible, such as bench seating down one side of the car and the existing arrangement down the other side.

I personally hate the rear-facing seats and would rather stand for an hour than sit in those. I don't mind them on airplanes--British Airways has some very nice rear-facing business class seats--because you don't have the same sense of motion you do on the subway and you're not starting and stopping. But I find the experience of riding in them on the subway to be disorienting. I wonder if the fact that the outside world is flashing by in the wrong direction has something to do with it. At 35,000 feet on a 747 you don't see the world flashing by like that.

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 25, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I'll bang the drum for my pet issue: reducing dwell times in the stations so that trains can unload and load more quickly. To me that means one thing: more and/or bigger doorways.

Moving seats and bars around nibbles at the edges of the problem: it is tough to get large numbers of people in/out of the tiny doors on a Metro railcar. This is not a problem on the Dulles Aerotrain, for instance. (Yes, the Aerotrain serves a completely different function, but look how big the doors can be on a fresh design).

Put me down as a vote for bigger doorways.

Posted by: KS100H | January 25, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I'll throw this one out: I wish the new railcars had Automatic Train Control (ATC) so that we would have to suffer through the stops and starts of manual control.

Posted by: KS100H | January 25, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

KS100H's idea for larger doors is brilliant! It would save time and hassle on both ends of a trip (particularly during busy times such as rush hour and the Cherry Blossom Festival) and would also make evacuating a train a much faster procedure.

Posted by: informedtraveller | January 25, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: KS100H, the doors issue -- like the seating issue -- tends to divide suburbanites and city dwellers. If you do a short trip under crowded conditions, you tend to like more doors, for easy entrance and exit. Plus, it would reduce the dwell time. But more doors means fewer seats, and if you commute from Shady Grove or Vienna or New Carrollton, you're more interested in a seat than someone who goes just a few stops downtown.

You also raise an interesting point about the ATC. All the cars in the fleet are equipped with ATC -- it's the track circuits that are the problem now. And they've been the problem for long periods in the past. The trains are built to be operated automatically. Any time Metro has to go to manual control, it means more wear and tear on the brakes and the wheels -- and the riders, too.

I once asked Metro officials if they thought it was a mistake to design a system for automatic controls, given that problems were bound to come up as the system aged. They said no, ATC is definitely the way to go for the long term, despite the problems.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | January 25, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

The talk of door size raises a compromise possibility in my mind:

On many newer Metro cars, the doors at either end have a large empty area inside with neither windscreens nor lateral seating ("Priority Seating" in WMATA-speak). There's simply a large open space. The center of the car normally has lateral seating all the way around. Might it be possible to widen the doors at the ends while leaving the center doors at the current size? It might necessitate shrinking the windows a bit to make room in the side of the car for the larger door to retract, of course, but I'd wager that most regular Metro riders spend more time reading or snoozing than they do staring out the window.

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 25, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Long bench seating can't work as long as we have the lurchy manual controls smashing passengers into each other.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 25, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the folks who noticed that standees would have to lean over seated people to use the poles & handles in the illustration here. Instead, have short vertical grab bars on the ends of each seat cluster that the people standing right there in the aisle can use. They could go up above each seat a bit but not s.t. standees need to lean over or on seated folks to use them.

Bench seating would make for much more flexible space, as many people have suggested. Not just better for adults and for sliding over to make room - kids tend to want to sit ON or right next to their parents, which often results in a half-seat space that nobody can use.

Since standees tend to get on/off more often, make more standing space near the doors and seating farther from the doors. Keep the standees together as much as possible. You could put all the seats at one (either) end of the car and open space at the other end, all the seats in the middle and open space at both ends, or all the seats at the ends and open space in the middle. The last is probably the most efficient as far as aisles and as far as getting on and off quickly.

Make sure there are lots of things to hold on to near the doors and in any standee areas, without blocking people getting on/off. Add wall-mounted grab bars on either side of every door to assist people getting in and out as well as for standees to hold on to. Also add vertical poles not far from (just inside) each set of doors so people can queue up when they know they're in a hurry and are near their stop.

The suggested "butt pads" (for people who like to lean on walls) are a great idea.

For families/work groups traveling together, as well as for people who need a little more space to maneuver or who might have bulky strollers or luggage that others could trip over, put the forward/back facing seats together differently so there's at least one cluster of four facing each other - like on Amtrak.

If you want a little less stuff left behind under seats, have a very, very slight slope at the walls - maybe just eliminate the corner where the floor meets the wall - so things that fall between the seat and the wall roll a foot or so toward the center of the car.

Posted by: ariellem | January 25, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

You could also try some diagonal grab bars. Tall people can hold the high end; kids can hold the low end. Definitely wall-mounted; possibly floor-to-ceiling where they wouldn't impede walking.

Posted by: ariellem | January 25, 2011 12:36 PM | Report abuse

It occurs to me that another issue with larger doors is temperature control: In the winter--particularly for trains that go above ground--the larger doors would let in a lot more cold air that needs to be heated. In the summer, they would let in plenty of MidAtlantic hot air.

Posted by: informedtraveller | January 25, 2011 2:04 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: informedtraveller raises another good issue: This past summer, Metro's rail car air-conditioners struggled to keep up with the heat. Often they failed. The stress on the machinery -- let alone the riders -- is intense when three sets of doors open. With four sets of doors, would the air-conditioners even have a fighting chance?

Posted by: Robert Thomson | January 25, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I'd take out the seats in each car and replace 'em with coffins.

Posted by: slipuvalad | January 25, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Want to see great subway cars go to Madrid or Barcellona. They have one type of train that is open from front to rear no doors between cars. Makes finding a seat very easy.

Posted by: eddie481 | January 25, 2011 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Want to see great subway cars go to Madrid or Barcellona. They have one type of train that is open from front to rear no doors between cars. Makes finding a seat very easy.

Posted by: eddie481 | January 25, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Want to see great subway cars go to Madrid or Barcellona. They have one type of train that is open from front to rear no doors between cars. Makes finding a seat very easy.

Posted by: eddie481 | January 25, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see larger exterior destination signs. The current placement (above the windows) has been used since the system's inception in 1976. Metro should consider placing the destination signs in the windows a la the NYCTA. Two per car.

On the mockup design, the door placement is different than the current rolling stock. The end doors are actually closer to the center doors.

Posted by: Eaglesfan55 | January 25, 2011 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Split the difference. Convert one row of seats into benches but leave the ones in the middle alone. Perhaps this ASCII art will illustrate: (D = door, the others indicate the side the seat backs are on)

D
D
(
(
(
(
U U
^ ^
(
(
(
(
D
D

Posted by: slar | January 25, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I echo everybody's concerns about hand holds for standees. They should absolutely be tested by people who are 5'4 or shorter -- as the population ages, overhead reaches will become less comfortable for more people. Floor to ceiling poles in open areas, seat to ceiling poles near seats and pads to counter balance against walls would all be helpful.

I think the pull down handles may be a good idea in theory, but they're backwards in this picture (and current Metro cars). The problem is that when they move, they pull the holder *toward* the seat (and the people in it). They'd be much more useful if they dropped down into the aisle.

I'm not sold on bench seating without more and well planned handholds for standees. When I rode the New York subway in May, I saw people standing back to back two across in the aisle between the benches -- which is essentially what we have here between the seats when there are sufficient floor to ceiling poles. And I think turning seats sideways and putting them end to end in a bench may not make all that much difference in the number of places for people to sit. At rush hour, it's rare that there are children taking partial seats, and adults seem to have a pretty clear idea of how much personal space is appropriate. And at rush hour, most people are carrying big enough bags and briefcases to define a personal space.

On the issue of signage -- yes, more is needed outside the cars, and inside the cars as well. That would include destination signs, and emergency intercom signs. There should be several intercoms, maybe one near each door. If there's a ruckus in the middle of the car, it's unrealistic to think that someone can get to an intercom in the middle.

It would also be useful to display the upcoming station and the side where the doors will open. (Some cards do some of this already, but the arrows for the exit side are a little cryptic. Maybe it should be spelled out.) I'd also like real time maps of which elevators and escalators are working as we approach the station -- perhaps as an overlay to a diagram of the exits. And if Metro can arrange to display accurate times in Metro cars, on platforms and at kiosks, that would also be helpful.

I would also like to see closed captioning of operator and station announcements. I have good hearing, but between unreliable intercoms and background noise of trains and people in stations, many announcements are not understandable. A crawler of the text of announcements in a visible place would be *very* helpful.

Posted by: miseaujeu | January 28, 2011 11:21 PM | Report abuse

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