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Metrorail highlights car numbers

Metro is in the midst of making the four-digit rail car numbers more prominent. That's a good safety move to help emergency responders and Metro personnel, but it also has several uses for riders.

In this retrofit, the transit authority is removing the small numbers below the operator's window and installing taller, reflective numbers high up on the end of each car. (Inside the rail cars, you still can find the numbers at the ends of each car.) The work on the 1,130 rail cars is scheduled to be done by the summer.

So why do you care what the car number is? First, it's important if you're trying to report a problem to Metro, either over the intercom or by cellphone. Whether it's about a fight, a problem with the heat or air-conditioning or a busted door, the responder is going to want to know the car number. The car number also helps if you have a complaint about the condition of the car and you want to send that to Metro via e-mail.

But for the average rider waiting on a platform, the car number also is going to tell you something about the ride ahead. A veteran commuter may have a particular affection or dislike for particular cars based on years of experience. That commuter would look at all four of the digits before stepping aboard. But the average rider would know enough just by the first digit, which tells you something about the age of the car and its interior configuration.

Starting off aboard a 1000 Series car or a 6000 Series car can affect your mood for the day. The 1000s are the oldest, and they look it. The walls, seats and carpeting seem dingy and the lighting not very bright. They have a closed-in feeling. The 6000s are the newest and have the brightest interiors. The elimination of some seats and poles gives the cars a more open feel.

Here's a brief guide:

1000 Series. Riders are most likely to know those numbers, because 1000 Series cars made up the striking train in the June 22 Red Line crash. They were the ones that crumpled. The National Transportation Safety Board already had raised questions about their crash-worthiness. After the crash, Metro stopped placing them at the ends of the trains and moved them into the middles. These 290 cars are the original ones made for Metro by Rohr Industries in the 1970s, and they are beyond the point where it would be worthwhile to rehabilitate them. They are scheduled to be replaced in a few years. They have 82 seats.

2000/3000 Series. These cars, made by Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie, arrived in the 1980s. There are 364 of them in service. Over the past decade, they were rehabilitated, a process that included changing the interior colors to mostly red, white and blue. They have 68 seats. The end ones are that original Metro mustard color, which looks weird next to the red and blue seats. The rehab did give them a brighter appearance.

4000 Series. There are 100 of these Breda-built cars in service. They arrived in the early 1990s and aren't scheduled to be rehabilitated for a few years, so some riders mistake them for the 1000 series, because of the Metro mustard and orange colors and dingy interiors. They seat 68.

5000 Series. The 190 cars in service were built by CAF and entered service in 2001. They were the first to have the red, white and blue interiors as part of their original design. They are still in pretty good shape and aren't scheduled for rehabilitation until around the early 2020s. The 5000s introduced the LED displays identifying the line by name and by color. They also seat 68.

6000 Series. There are 184 of these, built by Alstom. The seating capacity of 64 is the lowest in the fleet, and this was controversial when they were introduced from 2006 through 2009. In addition to eliminating some seats, they eliminated some poles near the doors, to get people to move toward the center and away from the end doors. Many people like the roomier standing areas, but other passengers said they no longer had anything to grip -- except a fellow passenger -- as they moved toward the doors to exit. They also have the red, white and blue interiors, but it takes only a moment for a boarding passenger to distinguish them from previous generations because of the reduced number of seats and poles.

What's your favorite, or does it matter as long as they get you there unshaken?

By Robert Thomson  |  March 3, 2010; 2:10 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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Next: D.C. to rebuild Northeast intersection


The numbers Metro should be working on is the number of cars making up a train. Eight, during ruch hour.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 3, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Unless the train is actually falling apart, please, please, do not report problems on running trains. Metro has few enough trains as it is and some people would rather travel on an overheated car than to have to wait as overloaded trains pass them by. If you report a problem, you will be offloaded.

Otherwise, jckdoors has it right.

Posted by: member5 | March 3, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone seen the cars with the crazy 80's-esque decorated seats (black with neon color splashes and red-velvet covered end seats) and black rubber floor sans carpet? What series are these cars?

Posted by: Terpintino | March 3, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Why do they even turn the heat on in the cars? You got enough body heat from all the sardines. You can barely breathe. I'm usually next to a woman who put half a bottle of perfume on herself when she went out. Air conditioning, yes. We do not need any heat underground.

Posted by: uncivil | March 3, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Terpintino, that was one of several cars from the 6000 Series set up to test new seat covers and new flooring. They've been running around the system since December 20008.

This is a blog entry I did about them:

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | March 3, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a big fan of the 6000-series. I mean, yes, if the car's relatively empty you should be moving into it, but if it's rush hour and every last square inch is full of people, then you're going to be standing in the 1/3 of a car that's in the vicinity of a door. And there is *nothing* to hold onto unless you're over 5'9". I'm 5'8" with long arms and legs and I can barely manage to grab onto something -- especially with the clothes your average DC commuter is wearing (it's easier on the weekend in a sweatshirt than it is in a suit or tailored coat). I see a lot of other women, shorter than I am, flailing.

Posted by: EtoilePB | March 3, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this post.

Fun and informative.

What more can you ask?

Posted by: IHeartDC | March 3, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I might be one of the only people that enjoys the 1000 series cars. For me, it's a bit of nostalgia from my childhood, when my parents took me to DC for vacation and we rode on that beautiful, beautiful Metro.

Posted by: DavidMNDC | March 3, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

I'm with EtoilePB. I'm 5'3" and can't reach the handrails along the ceiling. I hate when I end up standing in one of those cars when it's crowded. I just have to hope that it's crowded enough that when I smash into other people during the stop and go ride, we'll all stay upright.

Posted by: runnergirl03 | March 3, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

If they stop heating the sufficiently self-heated cars, would that save enough electricity to avoid going down to 2-4 car trains to save money?

Posted by: member5 | March 3, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I find subway car data like this more interesting as to New York simply because of the vast variety they've had up there over the years (the R40 slants, without the safety equipment grafted on, may have been the best-looking, though not the most practical). WMATA simply doesn't have enough of a difference between cars in my view to make it intriguing. I'm not a fan of the overall design of ANY of WMATA's cars, though, simply because I don't think they're really a practical mass transport layout due to the aisle being too narrow.

With all that said, I prefer the interior colors in the 5000 and 6000 Series, and I think those cars also seem brighter inside (no doubt due in part to the walls being whiter than in the older cars).

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 3, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Not sure this makes much difference to those of us who ride only during rush hour, as you ride the car that stops in front of you - unless you want to wait for the next train...

Posted by: b1978367 | March 3, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

"A veteran commuter may have a particular affection or dislike for particular cars based on years of experience. That commuter would look at all four of the digits before stepping aboard."
Oh please, that's ridiculous! I have been a daily metro rider for over 15 years, but I cannot imagine remembering the number of particularly unpleasant cars, much less saying to myself, "boy, 2287 here is a lousy car, I'm going to fight my way along this crowded platform to get down there to 2122, because its a lot nicer, and if I don't make it I'll just have to wait for the next train." That really is an absurd notion.

Posted by: DaDuZi | March 4, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Metro has actually been renumbering the cars for over a year, but only to a few.

@DaDuZi: You'd be surprised. I actually walk to one of the newer (2K/3K/5K/6K) cars with the white interiors whenever I ride, but only when I take long trips (Shady Grove to Union Station) For a while that was hard since the Red Line had mostly the older cars until recently.

Recently I don't bother as much. For one all trains stop at the end of the platform, and if that's where the nice cars are it's not worth walking all that way. Secondly, I just simply can't be bothered. After the crash though the 1K cars are only placed in the middle of the trains, so it's not that hard to avoid them.

Posted by: TheMarylander | March 4, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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