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Metro's Makeover

The first thing you notice about the experimental rail car interior that Metro is going to be testing: Wow, that carpet is clean. My second thought was that I was noticing the carpet because the car's inside seems so much more spacious.

Metro officials, including Interim General Manager Dan Tangherlini and Metro board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington, were showing off two new car designs on a side track at the Reagan National Airport Station today. One of them was the test car, which you'll start to see rolling on the Orange, Red and Green lines.

bench seat.jpg
Bench seat in test car. (Robert Thomson)

Metro wants to know how you'll react to it -- not whether you smile or frown or stare in stunned silence. They want to see where you decide to sit or stand. It's got two sets of five bench seats, toward the center of the car. Not a radical change. You're not going to think you're walking onto a New York City subway car. In fact, if you entered by the doors at the ends of the cars, you might not notice them at first.

But wait, there's more: Metro removed five of the wind screens from the sides of the doors. Can't rest your backside against them. Part of their plan to get you to move away from the doors. Meanwhile, there are seat to ceiling poles, replacing many of the floor to ceiling poles around the doors, where riders cluster.

The car has eight fewer seats, which should improve the prospects of people in wheelchairs. Anita Cameron, a Washington resident and member of the transit authority's Elderly and Disabled Committee who uses a wheelchair, came down to check out this design feature and was very enthusiastic. "I feel like I'm more included," she said.

This car has cameras in it. They'll monitor how riders move about the cars and then Metro will evaluate the results and see if it wants to make more of these cars. The staff plans to make recommendations to the Metro board early next year.

minus the poles.jpg
Spacious, minus the poles. (Robert Thomson)

The second car on display was not a test car, but rather a new design scheduled to enter service within the month. This also has some test car's feature to clear space around the doors and move people deeper into the cars: eliminating wind screens and floor to ceiling poles.

These cars look great. Of course, I got to see them in pristine condition, before any of us gets a chance to gunk them up. I feel sure you'll find them more spacious, whereever in them you decide to camp out.

The only downside I thought I spotted was in the seats at the far ends of the cars. There's a set of two sandy-colored seats on either side that seem awfully close to the doors. Not a place I'd like to be sitting in the winter or in the rain when the train stops at an above ground station.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 31, 2006; 3:09 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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