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Metro considering new rail cars

Metro's next generation of rail cars will be designed to allow several different seating arrangements, rail chief Dave Kubicek told Metro board members today.

The board declined to act immediately on purchase plans after getting its first briefing on the financial arrangements. The transit authority staff is seeking approval to negotiate with Kawasaki to build 64 cars for use on the rail extension toward Dulles, which is under construction, as well as an additional 300 cars to replace the oldest ones in the fleet.

The board members said they needed more time to study a program that could cost the transit authority more than $1 billion. But the presentation did reveal some new details about the plan.

The new cars will represent a sharp break with the design Metrorail has been using since it began operating in the mid-1970s. The technology is significantly different and so is the car configuration. Metro cars have always been designed in sets of two. They can be combined to operate as four-car, six-car or eight-car trains.

The new cars will come in sets of four. They could be operated either as four-car trains or eight-car trains. (The plan is to operate them as eight-car trains. This long-term purchase program is supposed to lead to an all eight-car train system.)

Unlike Metro's previous generations of rail cars, the new ones cannot be used in combination with the old ones. They can run anywhere in the system, Kubicek said, but will not be hooked up to any previous generation of cars.

The airports authority, which is responsible for building the new Metrorail line, will pay for the first 64 cars, Kubicek said. The 300 to come after that would replace the 1000 Series cars, the original cars in the fleet. They now run only in the middle of trains because they are considered less capable of absorbing the stresses of a crash than the newer cars.

Metro and its riders have long debated the seating configuration, and Metro has tested several designs that would decrease the overall number of seats or place more of them along the sides of the cars. The new cars, known as the 7000 Series, would be built to allow Metro to configure the seats in different ways, even after they are delivered.

The board members will discuss the plan again in April.


By Robert Thomson  |  March 25, 2010; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Comments

Will the new cars have more doors, or will there still be large sections of the train that are so distant from the exit that any who venture there during rush hour find themselves trapped behind a crushing sea of humanity?

Posted by: paul5301 | March 25, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Wider doors. If WMATA is serious about the critical issue of dwell times in the stations, it will specify that new railcars have bigger/more doorways. They can make announcements and they can rearrange the deck chairs but they eventually have to acknowledge that it takes too long for people to get off and on the trains with the current doorways.

If the WMATA board had to ride the rails during rush hour on a daily basis, they just might be able to tear themselves away from their 1960s commuter rail fantasyland.

Posted by: KS100H | March 25, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Doors stay the same. The biggest changes -- at least the most visible changes -- could occur inside, because the cars will be designed to make it relatively easy to reposition the seats.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | March 25, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

So when will we actually be riding on these fabulous new railcars - 2025?

Posted by: Axel2 | March 25, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Re: Dr_Gridlock
Yes, I knew you would say that. WMATA has been rearranging the seats and windscreens for a couple years now. Are you saying that they now have an arrangement that solves their loading/unloading problems? If so, which arrangement is that so I can check it out on my commute.

I'll believe that some configurations are better than others but you need to tell me about this magic arrangement of seats that gets people off and on the train in a quick and orderly manner.

Does anyone really believe that repositioning the seats is an adequate solution? Other than being slaves to their 1960s design, what is the rationale for sticking with the narrow doorways (it sounds like the new railcars will share almost no parts with the older cars).

Posted by: KS100H | March 25, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Take the seats out. If we can't have enough trains, at least have enough space.

Posted by: corrections | March 25, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Actually, that's one of the options Dave Kubicek mentioned. It is possible to take all the seats out. The more likely options are a configuration similar to what we see in the 6000 Series or New York style-bench seating along the walls.

Those 64 new cars are supposed to be here in 2013, in time for the opening of the rail line through Tysons to Reston. (That's eight trains.)

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | March 25, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Metro expects to be able to service the Silver Line with eight trains? What is that? Service every twenty minutes?

Posted by: rnorwood01 | March 25, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

New York bench-style seating would be best. I have a semi-permanent bruise where my hip and thigh meet from smashing my leg on those little armrests while seated next to a sprawling sleeper, or even just from the train lurching badly into a station while trying to get up.

And then there's the problem with the 6000-series of no-one under 6' being able comfortably to both (a) not crowd the doors, and (b) reach some kind of hand-hold. More vertical poles, and less-fixed seating...

Posted by: EtoilePB | March 25, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

So, let's say the current railcars hold 175 people including 82 in seats. If we take out the seats and cram in 200 or more passengers then we have MORE people to get on and off the cars at the stations. This would seem to make the continued use of the narrow doorways a worse problem.

OK, I'll go back to lawn chair where I can yell at the kids cutting across my lawn and complaining about Nixon taking us off the gold standard.

Posted by: KS100H | March 25, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't mind standing. Then again, the longest I typically ride is from Woodley Park to National Airport, and that involves a change of train in the middle.

But some people riding to downtown from Shady Grove might not want to stand the whole way. I think some people grasp the concept that less seats is better for riders as a whole, but if you are the individual rider forced to stand, it might not seem better from your perspective.

One thing I would like to see is a luggage rack or two in some of the trains on the Silver Line going out to the airport. The people riding Metro out to Dulles are much more likely to be long-haul international passengers with large pieces of luggage. At least more so than National. Metro screws its Dulles customers with no luggage racks on the 5A bus (as opposed to the B30 to BWI), so lets actually make rail to Dulles friendly to those going to Dulles. Having the luggage racks benefits everyone, as people not going to the airport don't have to trip over other peoples' bags in the aisles.

Posted by: thetan | March 25, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

How about if Metro just makes the trains run on time?

Posted by: jckdoors | March 25, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

If I had to stand every day, I'd just drive. It already costs me more to take Metro than to drive downtown and park. The only advantage to Metro is that I get to chill out and read 45 minutes each way instead of fight traffic.

If I had to strap-hand 90 minutes a day, I'd go back to the comfort of my car and listen to books on tape instead.

Posted by: pmendez | March 25, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

So ... only the Silver Line (Presumably Wiehle Ave and eventually Dulles to Stadium Armory) will get the new cars first. That's an outrage. What about all of us, especially on the Red Line, who have been suffering years w/frequent breakdowns, filthy cars, etc etc etc.

It's wonderful that the airport authority wants to pay for the new cars, but the authority can wait to buy cars. Regular riders need to benefit first. Metro needs to secure the capital funding before the Silver Line even gets consideration.

Of course, the basic question is: Why has been Metro been dawdling for years about ordering new cars? Metro should have been aggressively lobbying Congress for increased capital funding for new rail cars years ago.

Posted by: RockvilleBear | March 25, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Take off all the doors - that way they can't blame door problems for taking an entire train out of service during rush hour (or worse yet -- in the evenings when they operate on 20-minute headways).

Posted by: drwong | March 25, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

And they'll get them just in time to take twice as many trains out of service. This will be declared a "service increase"

Posted by: fireball72 | March 25, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

PLEASE actually have handrails for us vertically challenged people to hold onto! I'm 5'2 and can't hold onto the overhead rails. And since metro decided to take out the poles near the doors to encourage people to move in more - it has actually done the opposite and all of us short people have to stand right by the door and use the railing there. The overhead straps - no one uses them - you can't balance yourself on them and generally end up smashing into your fellow riders. I asked metro to take into consideration us short people when redesigning the cars and well, they failed to listen.

Posted by: NCL22 | March 25, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

"Metro expects to be able to service the Silver Line with eight trains? What is that? Service every twenty minutes?" - rnorwood01

They'll have to stretch their existing fleet. By that time, some of the 100 4000 series cars will likely be shipped to Alstom in Hornell, NY for their mid-life rehab process.

Posted by: Eaglesfan55 | March 25, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

"'Metro expects to be able to service the Silver Line with eight trains? What is that? Service every twenty minutes?' - rnorwood01

"They'll have to stretch their existing fleet. By that time, some of the 100 4000 series cars will likely be shipped to Alstom in Hornell, NY for their mid-life rehab process."

Bear in mind that the way the Silver Line will operate will result in reduced capacity on the Orange Line, meaning they can take some of the trains currently serving the Orange Line and divert them to the Silver Line. The reason is that the two lines will share track from near West Falls Church all the way to Stadium-Armory. When two lines share track in this manner it reduces the number of trains you can run on each line due to the need to maintain a safe following distance between trains. That is, suppose hypothetically that your system's safety standard is designed to allow one train every five minutes on a line, i.e., 12 trains per line per hour. If you then introduce trains from another line to that mix, you can still have no more than 12 trains per hour total for the two lines. Of course, you can mix those trains however you like--just ask Blue Line riders downtown who express frustration at having two Orange Line trains go by for each Blue Line train. Theoretically, in the 12 trains per hour scenario, you could do 6 and 6, 8 and 4, even 11 and 1 if you want (riders might not like that last AT ALL). But something has to give somewhere because you can't simply run both lines at max capacity unless you built additional tracks, such as converting the existing Orange Line to a four-track design, and that's way too expensive and would severely disrupt life in Arlington and DC.

(BTW, the Blue Line's scheduling difficulties due to shared trackage is exacerbated because it shares tracks with the Orange Line and separately with the Yellow Line, and then the Yellow Line also shares tracks with the Green Line. I don't know how they work out the train scheduling to keep all of these trains running properly, but it's got to be an elaborate game. The cynic in me says, "Easy, they don't keep them running properly," and I certainly recall sitting in the tunnel west of Rosslyn every morning back when I used to commute on the Orange Line.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 26, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

The overhead straps are useless to the vertically challenged and hit the vertically endowed in the face.

BTW, there are supposed to be two orange trains for every blue because the orange line has vastly larger ridership and no alternate route.

A standard five minute gap between trains is ridiculous. It should be no more than three, especially if they would actually bother to close the train doors when they say they are.

Posted by: corrections | March 26, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Oh, go ahead a take out all the seats. If they pack the riders in a Tetris fashion. we'll all fit snuggly and won't mind the twenty minute waits in the tunnels.

Posted by: blackforestcherry | March 26, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

"BTW, there are supposed to be two orange trains for every blue because the orange line has vastly larger ridership and no alternate route.

"A standard five minute gap between trains is ridiculous. It should be no more than three, especially if they would actually bother to close the train doors when they say they are."

Two points in response to this:

(1) Orange v. Blue--I wasn't suggesting that the two should have equal numbers of trains. What I was saying is that because capacity on the two lines is limited due to the shared trackage, they're unable to run additional Blue Line trains to ease some of the crunch because of the need to provide more Orange Line service due to larger crowds.

(2) Five-minute headways: You overlooked the word "hypothetically." I used that solely as an example because it's an easy figure to use. WMATA does not use five-minute headways on any of the lines. I'm not sure what the actual times are, but I thought I read somewhere that the idea at rush hour is to space trains three minutes apart. That means that on the Red Line (the only one that does not share any track with another line) you would have a train running every three minutes in each direction. On lines that share tracks you would have trains spaced at three-minute intervals but you would not have, say, an Orange Line train arrive every three minutes because of the need to fit Blue (and, someday, Silver) Line trains into the mix. Either the trains have to be spaced to allow the Blue Line and Silver Line trains to merge into the mix or you have to have the trains sit in the tunnels waiting for the stations to clear (and then the whole line backs up because the next train winds up sitting as well). Consider how when a road has too much traffic to get through a particular traffic light the traffic will often back up past the next few lights and result in multiple light-cycle delays. (Constitution Avenue between the Ellipse and the Roosevelt Bridge is a good example of this.) The same sort of thing happens if you run the trains too close together--because the trains are never supposed to be closer than a certain distance apart, if the train in front is delayed, the train in back has to stop and wait.

I used the five-minute interval because 5 divides evenly into the 60 minutes in an hour and it made for an easier example. I suppose 3 divides evenly as well: If you run trains at 3-minute intervals, then you can have 20 trains an hour in each direction. But you have to account for all the lines that use the shared track and divide your 20 trains among all those lines.

Follow-up coming in a second.

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 26, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Following up on my last comment (the Post's software limits the length of comments):

The POINT of all this stuff about train intervals, to get back to the ORIGINAL point made by "rnorwood01" and "Eaglesfan55," is that WMATA can get by with fewer new trains for the Silver Line because they will have to reduce service on the Orange and Blue Lines to accommodate the Silver Line. They can then reassign the trains they otherwise would have used on the existing lines.

Let's say, JUST AS AN EXAMPLE, you take two trains off the Orange Line and one train off the Blue in order to fit Silver trains into the matrix. You can then use two of those trains to serve the Silver Line and use the third one to serve the Yellow because the Yellow can now have more trains due to the reduced number of Blue trains. (Of course, THEN you have to adjust GREEN Line service to fit in the additional Yellow train. You see how complicated subway scheduling becomes?)

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 26, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

[RockvilleBear] "So ... only the Silver Line (Presumably Wiehle Ave and eventually Dulles to Stadium Armory) will get the new cars first. That's an outrage. What about all of us, especially on the Red Line, who have been suffering years w/frequent breakdowns, filthy cars, etc etc etc."

I'd agree with you, except that if MWAA is buying them, they have the moral right to require their use on the Silver Line (or wherever they want, for that matter). The real question is, why is WMATA planning to wait to buy the rest until after MWAA buys the first 64? Is it because they won't be able to build up the capital budget until then? I think we need to pressure WMATA and all its funding sources to cough up those new cars as soon as possible, so the first set of cars do indeed serve current riders.

Posted by: jeffq | March 27, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Re: jeff
"if MWAA is buying them, they have the moral right to require their use on the Silver Line"

I don't disagree but your comment highlights the core dysfunction of WMATA: it's really just a front organization for the local governments and authorities that actually make the "money" decisions such as whether to build the Silver/Purple line or when to buy railcars and where they should be dispatched. It's an annoying (and money wasting) mess.

I know I'm in crazyland when I start mumbling things like 'maybe the Federal government should take it over.' LOL

Posted by: KS100H | March 29, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

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