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Metrorail, commonly called Metro, is the rapid transit system in Washington, D.C.marker and its surrounding suburbs. It is administered by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which also operates Metrobus service under the Metro name. In Maryland, Metro provides service to Montgomery Countymarker and Prince George's Countymarker; in Virginia, to Fairfax Countymarker, Arlington Countymarker, and the City of Alexandriamarker. Since opening in 1976 the network has grown to include five lines, 86 stations, and of track.

Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the United States in number of passenger trips, after the New York City Subway. There were 215.3 million trips, or 727,684 trips per weekday, on Metrorail in fiscal year 2008. In June 2008, Metro set a new monthly ridership record with 19,729,641 trips, or 798,456 per weekday. Fares vary based on the distance traveled and the time of day. Riders enter and exit the system using a stored-value card in the form of a paper magnetic stripe farecard or a proximity card known as SmarTrip.

Metro stations were designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese, and are examples of late-20th century modern architecture. With their heavy use of exposed concrete and repetitive design motifs, Metro stations also display aspects of brutalist design. In 2007, the design of the Metro's vaulted-ceiling stations was voted number 106 on the American Institute of Architectsmarker' list of "America's Favorite Architecture".


During the 1960s, there were plans for a massive freeway system in Washington, but opposition to this freeway system grew. Harland Bartholomew, who chaired the National Capital Planning Commission, thought that a rail transit system would never be self-sufficient because of low density land uses and general transit ridership decline. Finally, a mixed concept of a Capital Beltway system along with rail line radials was agreed upon. The Beltway received full funding; funding for the ambitious Inner Loop Freeway system was partially reallocated toward construction of the Metro system.

In 1960, the federal government created the National Capital Transportation Agency to develop a rapid rail system. In 1966, a bill creating WMATA was passed by the federal government, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland,with planning power for the system being transferred to it from the NCTA.

Interior of a rehabilitated Breda car

WMATA approved plans for a regional system in 1968, and construction began in 1969, with groundbreaking on December 9. The system opened March 27, 1976, with available on the Red Line with five stations from Rhode Island Avenue to Farragut North, all in the District of Columbia. Arlington County, Virginia was linked to the system on July 1, 1976; Montgomery County, Maryland on February 6, 1978; Prince George's County, Maryland on November 20, 1978; and Fairfax County, Virginia and Alexandria, Virginia on December 17, 1983.

The , 83-station system was completed with the opening of the Green Line segment to Branch Avenue on January 13, 2001. This did not mean the end of the growth of the system: a extension of the Blue Line to Largo Town Centermarker and Morgan Boulevardmarker opened on December 18, 2004. The first in-fill station, New York Ave–Florida Ave–Gallaudet Umarker on the Red Line between Union Stationmarker and Rhode Island Ave-Brentwoodmarker, opened November 20, 2004, and planning is underway for an extension to Dulles Airportmarker.

Station display indicating approximate wait-time for upcoming trains

Metro construction required billions of federal dollars, originally provided by Congress under the authority of the National Capital Transportation Act of 1969 (Public Law 91-143). This act was amended on January 3, 1980 by Public Law 96-184, "The National Capital Transportation Amendment of 1979" (also known as the Stark-Harris Act), which authorized additional funding of $1.7 billion to permit the completion of of the system as provided under the terms of a full funding grant agreement executed with WMATA in July 1986. On November 15, 1990, Public Law 101-551, "The National Capital Transportation Amendments of 1990", authorized an additional $1.3 billion in federal funds for construction of the remaining of the system, completed via the execution of full funding grant agreements.

The highest ridership for a single day was on the day of the inauguration of Barack Obama, January 20, 2009, with 1,120,000 riders. It broke the previous record, set the day before, of 866,681 trips. June 2008 set several ridership records: it set the single-month ridership record of 19,729,641 total riders, the record for highest average weekday ridership with 772,826 weekday trips, had five of the ten highest ridership days, and had 12 weekdays in which ridership exceed 800,000 trips.

In February 2006, Metro officials chose Randi Miller, a car dealership employee from Woodbridge, Virginiamarker, to record new "doors opening", "doors closing", and "please stand clear of the doors, thank you" announcements after winning an open contest to replace the messages recorded by Sandy Carroll in 1996.

Metro network

Since opening in 1976, the Metro network has grown to include five lines, 86 stations, and of track. The rail network is designed according to a spoke-hub distribution paradigm, with rail lines running between downtown Washington and its nearby suburbs. The system makes extensive use of interlining – running more than one service on the same track. There are five operating lines and one line under construction:

Line Name Opened Stations Termini
  Red Line 1976 27 Shady Grovemarker - Glenmontmarker
  Blue Line 1977 27 Franconia–Springfieldmarker - Largo Town Centermarker
  Orange Line 1978 26 Vienna/Fairfax-GMUmarker - New Carrolltonmarker
  Yellow Line 1983 17 Huntingtonmarker - Fort Tottenmarker / Mt Vernon Sq/7th St-Convention Centermarker
  Green Line 1991 21 Branch Avemarker - Greenbeltmarker
  Silver Line (under construction) 2013 23 Route 772 - Stadium-Armorymarker

There are 40 stations in the District of Columbia, 14 in Prince George's County, 12 in Montgomery County, 11 in Arlington County, 6 in Fairfax County, and 3 in the City of Alexandria. The Silver Line will add 11 new stations, 8 in Fairfax County and 3 in Loudoun County, Virginiamarker.

About of Metro's track is underground, as are 47 of the 86 stations. Track runs underground mostly within the District and high-density suburbs. Surface track accounts for about of the total, and aerial track makes up . At below the surface, the Forest Glenmarker station on the Red Line is the deepest in the system. There are no escalators; high-speed elevators take 20 seconds to travel from the street to the station platform. The Wheatonmarker station, next to Forest Glen station on the Red Line, has the second-longest continuous escalator in the world, the longest in the Western Hemispheremarker, at . The Rosslynmarker station is the deepest station on the Orange/Blue Line, at below street level. The station features the third-longest continuous escalator in the world at ; an escalator ride between the street level and the mezzanine level takes nearly two minutes.

The system is not centered on any single station, but Metro Centermarker is at the intersection of the Red, Orange and Blue Lines, the three busiest lines. The station is also the location of WMATA's main sales office. Metro has designated five other "core stations" that have high passenger volume, including: Gallery Place–Chinatownmarker, transfer station for the Red, Green and Yellow Lines; L'Enfant Plazamarker, transfer station for the Orange, Blue, Green and Yellow Lines; Union Stationmarker, the busiest station by passenger boardings; Farragut Northmarker; and Farragut Westmarker. In order to deal with the high number of passengers in transfer stations, Metro is studying the possibility of building pedestrian connections between nearby core transfer stations. For example, a passage between Metro Center and Gallery Place stations would allow passengers to transfer between the Orange/Blue and Yellow/Green Lines without going one stop on the Red Line. Another tunnel between Farragut West and Farragut North stations would allow transfers between the Red and Orange/Blue lines, decreasing transfer demand at Metro Center by an estimated 11%.

Metro runs special service patterns on holidays and when events in Washington may require additional service. Independence Day activities require Metro to adjust service in order to provide extra capacity to and from the National Mallmarker. WMATA makes similar adjustments during other events, such as presidential inaugurations. Metro has altered service and used some stations as entrances or exits only to help manage congestion.

Rolling stock

Metro's fleet consists of 1,126 rail cars, each long. Trains have a maximum speed of , and average including stops. All cars operate as married pairs (consecutively numbered even-odd), with systems shared across the pair. Metro currently operates 850 cars during rush hours. 814 cars are in active service, and the remaining 36 cars compose gap trains to serve as backup should a train experience problems.

Metro's rolling stock was acquired in six phases, and each version of car is identified with a separate series number. The original order of 300 rail cars (290 of which are in operation ) was manufactured by Rohr Industries, with final delivery in 1978. These cars are numbered 1000–1299 and were rehabilitated in the mid-1990s. Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie (Breda) manufactured the second order of 76 cars delivered in 1983 and 1984. These cars, numbered 2000–2075, were rehabilitated in the early 2000s by Alstom in Hornell, New Yorkmarker. A third order of 288 cars, also from Breda, were delivered between 1984 and 1988. These cars are numbered 3000–3291 and were rehabilitated by Alstom in the early 2000s. An order of 100 cars from Breda, numbered 4000–4099, were delivered between 1992 and 1994. A fifth order of 192 cars was manufactured by Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) of Spain. These cars are numbered 5000–5191 and were delivered from 2001 through 2004. A sixth order of 184 cars from Alstom Transportation was delivered between 2005 and 2007. The cars have body shells built in Barcelona, Spainmarker with assembly completed in Hornell, New York.

The 7000 series of cars, currently in development, are planned to go into service beginning in 2012. The new cars will be different from previous models in that they will operate as quads instead of pairs. The new design will allow for increased passenger capacity, elimination of redundant equipment, greater energy efficiency, and lower maintenance costs. Metro plans to eventually purchase up to 748 cars to increase system capacity and replace its older rolling stock.

Signaling and operation

During normal passenger operation on revenue tracks, trains are controlled by an integrated Automatic Train Operation and Automatic Train Control system that accelerates and brakes the trains automatically without operator intervention. However, all trains are manned with train operators who close the doors (they can be set to open automatically), make station announcements, and supervise their trains. The operator can manually drive a train when necessary.


Metro planners designed the system with passenger safety and order maintenance as primary considerations. The open vaulted ceiling design of stations and the limited obstructions on platforms allow few opportunities to conceal criminal activity. Station platforms are built away from station walls to limit vandalism and provide for diffused lighting of the station from recessed lights. Metro's attempts to reduce crime, combined with how the station environments were designed with crime prevention in mind, has contributed to Metro being among the safest and cleanest subway systems in the United States.

Metro is patrolled by its own police force, which is charged with ensuring the safety of passengers and employees. Transit Police officers patrol the Metro system and Metrobuses, and they have jurisdiction and arrest powers throughout the Metro service area for crimes that occur on or against transit authority facilities, or within of a Metrobus stop. The Metro Transit Police Department is the only U.S. police agency that has local police authority in three different "state"-level jurisdictions (Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia).

Each city and county in the Metro service area has similar ordinances that regulate or prohibit vending on Metro-owned property, and which prohibit riders from eating, drinking, or smoking in Metro trains, buses, and stations; the Transit Police have a reputation for enforcing these laws rigorously. One widely-publicized incident occurred in 2000 when police arrested a 12-year-old girl for eating french fries in the Tenleytown-AUmarker station. In a 2004 opinion by John Roberts, now the Chief Justice of the United States, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the girl's arrest. By then WMATA had answered negative publicity by adopting a policy of first issuing warnings to juveniles, and arresting them only after three violations within a year.

Metro's zero-tolerance policy on food, trash and other sources of disorder embodies the "broken windows" philosophy of crime reduction. This philosophy also extends to the use of station restroom facilities. A longstanding policy, intended to curb unlawful and unwanted activity, has been to only allow employees to use Metro restrooms. Station managers may make exceptions for passengers with small children, the elderly, or the disabled. Metro now allows the use of restrooms by passengers who gain a station manager's permission, except during periods of heightened terror alerts.

Random bag searches

On October 27, 2008, the Metro Transit Police Department announced plans to immediately begin random searches of backpacks, purses, and other bags. Transit police would search riders at random before boarding a bus or entering a station. It also explained its intent to stop anyone acting suspiciously. Metro claims that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision in MacWade v. Kelly, which upheld random searches on the New York City Subway, allows Metro Transit Police to take similar action. Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn stated that, if someone were to turn around and simply enter the system through another escalator or elevator, Metro has "a plan to address suspicious behavior". Security specialist Bruce Schneier characterized the plan as "security theater against a movie plot threat", implying that he does not believe that these random searches will actually help improve security.

Metro’s Riders’ Advisory Council recommended to WMATA’s board of directors that Metro hold at least one public meeting regarding the search program. , Metro had not conducted a single bag search.


Several collisions have occurred on Washington Metro, resulting in injuries and fatalities, along with numerous derailments with few or no injuries. WMATA has been criticized for disregarding safety warnings and advice from experts. The Tri-State Oversight Committee oversees WMATA, but has no regulatory authority. Metro's safety department is usually in charge of investigating incidents, but cannot require other Metro departments to implement its recommendations.


During the Blizzard of 1996, on January 6, a Metro operator was killed when a train failed to stop at the Shady Grovemarker station. The four-car train overran the station platform and struck an unoccupied train that was awaiting assignment. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation found that the crash was a result of a failure in the train's computer-controlled braking system. The NTSB recommended that Metro grant train operators the ability to manually control the braking system, even in inclement weather, and recommended that Metro prohibit parked rail cars on tracks used by inbound trains.
On November 3, 2004, an out-of-service Red Line train rolled backwards into the Woodley Park–Zoo/Adams Morganmarker station and hit an in-service train stopped at the platform. No one was killed, but 20 people were injured. A 14-month investigation concluded that the train operator was most likely not alert as the train rolled backwards into the station. Safety officials estimated that had the train been full, at least 79 would have died. The train operator was dismissed and Metro officials agreed to add rollback protection to more than 300 rail cars.

On June 22, 2009 at 5:02 p.m., two trains on the Red Line collidedmarker. A southbound train heading toward Shady Grove stopped on the track short of the Fort Totten station, and another southbound train collided with its rear. Four of the cars were stacked on top of each other, and passengers were trapped in the train. Nine people died and more than 70 were injured, dozens of which were described as "walking wounded". According to WMATA, trains were not single-tracking in the area when the crash occurred, but the trains were on the same track. Red Line service was suspended between the Fort Totten and Takoma Park stations, and New Hampshire Avenue was closed. One of the dead was the operator of the train that collided with the stopped train.

On November 29, 2009 at approximately 3 a.m., two trains collided on the Orange Line at the West Falls Church train yard. One train pulled in and collided into the back of the other train. No customers were aboard, and only minor injuries to the operators and cleaning staff were reported.


Green Line train following the January 7, 2007 derailment
On January 13, 1982, a train derailed at a malfunctioning crossover switch south of the Federal Trianglemarker station. In attempting to restore the train to the rails, supervisors failed to notice that another car had also derailed. The other rail car slid off the track and hit a tunnel support, killing three people and injuring 25. Coincidentally, this accident occurred as Air Florida Flight 90marker crashed into the 14th Street Bridgemarker during a major snowstorm.

On January 7, 2007 a Green Line train carrying approximately 120 people derailed near the Mount Vernon Squaremarker station in downtown Washington. At the time trains were single tracking, and the derailment of the fifth car occurred where the train was switching from the south to northbound track. The accident injured at least 18 people and prompted the rescue of 60 people from a tunnel. At least one person had a serious but non-life-threatening injury.

The Mount Vernon Square accident was one of a series of five derailments involving 5000-Series cars, with four of those occurring on side tracks and not involving passengers. On June 9, 2008 an Orange Line train (2000-series) derailed between the Rosslyn and Court House stations.

Safety measures

On July 13, 2009, WMATA adopted a "zero tolerance" policy for train or bus operators found to be texting or using other hand-held devices while on the job. This new and stricter policy came after investigations of several mass-transit accidents in the U.S. found that operators were texting at the time of the accident. The policy change was announced the day after a passenger of a Metro train videotaped the operator texting while operating the train.

Fare structure

Front face of a Metro farecard, listing declining-balance value remaining
Metro fares vary based on the distance traveled and the time of day at entry. During regular hours (weekdays from opening until 9:30 a.m. and 3–7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday nights from 2:00 a.m. to closing), fares range from $1.65 to $4.50, depending on distance traveled. At all other times, fares are $1.35, $1.85, or $2.35, based on distance traveled. Discounted fares are available for school children, the disabled, and the elderly. Metro charges reduced fares on federal holidays except those during which it provides rush hour service, including Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Presidents Day.

Standard self-service vending machines for passes and farecards located at each station

Riders enter and exit the system using a stored-value card in the form of a paper magnetic stripe farecard or a proximity card known as SmarTrip. The fare is deducted from the balance of the card upon exiting the system. Farecards are purchased primarily at vending machines in each station. Farecards can hold up to $45 in value and are reused until the value of the card reaches zero, upon which the card is "captured" by the exit kiosk. Alternatively, passengers may purchase passes at most farecard vending machines. The passes are used the same way as farecards but grant riders unlimited travel within the system for a certain period of time. Some Metro passes restrict the times and distances that the pass may be used.

Users can add value to any farecard, but riders must pay an exit fare if the cost of a trip is higher than their card's balance. SmarTrip users are allowed to exit the system with a negative balance but must add the fare to the card before re-entering the system. Riders may transfer for free, provided they do not exit through the faregates. SmarTrip users receive a $0.50 discount on bus-to-rail and rail-to-bus transfers.

Future expansion

Map of what the Metro system might look like in 2030, based on an April 24, 2008 proposal to the Metro board.
In addition to the Silver Line, map shows several light rail lines, service modifications, and a re-aligned Blue line.
WMATA expects an average of one million riders daily by 2030. The need to increase capacity has renewed plans to add 220 cars to the system and reroute trains to alleviate congestion at the busiest stations. Population growth in the region has also revived efforts to extend service, build new stations, and construct additional lines.

Silver Line

The most prominent expansion is the Silver Line, a extension from the Orange Line into Loudoun County, Virginiamarker by way of Tysons Cornermarker and Washington Dulles International Airportmarker. Rail to Dulles has been discussed since the system opened in 1976. The current Silver Line project was formally proposed in 2002 and initially approved by the Federal Transit Administration in 2004. After several delays, federal funding for the Silver Line was secured in December 2008 and construction began in March 2009. The line will be constructed in two phases: to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, Virginiamarker in 2013, and to Virginia Route 772, beyond Dulles Airport, in 2015.

Blue Line realignment

Blue Line trains share a single tunnel with Orange Line trains in order to cross the Potomac River. The current tunnel limits service in each direction, creating a choke point. A 2001 proposal would have rerouted the Blue Line between the Rosslynmarker and Stadium-Armorymarker stations by building a bridge or tunnel from Virginia to a new station in Georgetownmarker. The proposal was later rejected due to cost. In October 2008, Metro released a study on the possibility of rerouting some Blue Line trains over the 14th Street Bridgemarker, currently used by Yellow Line trains. This Blue Line realignment would increase service directly to downtown and relieve congestion at the Rosslyn tunnel. If implemented, the new service between Franconia–Springfield and Greenbelt stations may be referred to as a new line.

Fort Belvoir and Fort Meade extensions

In 2005, the Defense Departmentmarker announced that it would be shifting 18,000 jobs to Fort Belvoirmarker in Virginia and at least 5,000 jobs to Fort Meademarker in Maryland by 2012, as part of that year's Base Realignment and Closure plan. In anticipation of such a move, local officials and the military proposed extending the Blue and Green Lines to service each base. The proposed extension of the Green Line could cost $100 million per mile, and a light rail extension to Fort Belvoir was estimated to cost up to $800 million. Neither proposal has established timelines for planning or construction.

Potomac Yard station

In 2008, officials began to explore the possibility of adding a station in the Potomac Yard area of Alexandria on the Blue and Yellow Lines between the National Airportmarker and Braddock Roadmarker stations. The project remains in the exploratory stages, and construction funding (estimated at $150 million) has not been approved.

Non-Metrorail projects

A number of light rail and urban streetcar projects have been proposed to extend or supplement service provided by Metro. Like the Silver Line in Virginia, the proposed Purple Line has been in planning since the 1980s. The project was originally envisioned as a circular heavy rail line connecting the outer stations on each branch of Metrorail system, in a pattern roughly mirroring the Capital Beltway. The current proposal would create a light rail system in Maryland between the Bethesdamarker and New Carrolltonmarker stations by way of Silver Springmarker and College Parkmarker. Such a plan would connect both branches of the Red Line to the Green and Orange Lines, and would decrease the travel time between suburban Metro stations. The project is still undergoing regulatory approval but has received significant backing from local officials and Maryland lawmakers in January 2009.

The Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) would link Clarksburg, Marylandmarker in northern Montgomery Countymarker with the Shady Grovemarker station on the Red Line. The CCT is currently scheduled to open in 2016. In 2005, a Maryland lawmaker proposed a light rail system to connect areas of Southern Maryland, especially the rapidly-growing area around the town of Waldorfmarker, to the Branch Avenuemarker station on the Green Line. The project is still in the planning stages.

In Washington, a new DC Streetcar system is under construction to link various neighborhoods to Washington Metro stations. The first tram line will connect Bolling Air Force Basemarker to the Anacostiamarker station and is expected to open in late 2009. Streetcar routes have been proposed in the Atlas District, Capitol Hillmarker, and the K Street corridor. In Virginia, the Pike Transit Initiative is a streetcar project that will link Annandale, Virginiamarker along Columbia Pike to the Pentagon Citymarker station in Arlington. The streetcars are expected to begin service in 2011.

See also


  1. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Frequently Asked Questions, accessed July 2009: "What do I need to know to build near Metro property? Metro reviews designs and monitors construction of projects adjacent to Metrorail and Metrobus property..."
  2. Hedgepeth v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 386 F.3d 1148 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (Argued September 17, 2004 decided October 26, 2004)
  3. Appeals court decision: Original complaint:

External links

Transit enthusiast sites



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