A newer version of this animation is here.

Metro is debuting its “Rush Plus” service today. In honor of this, the latest step in Metro’s 34-year growth and evo­lution, here is an updated version of our popular animation showing the history of Metrorail service.

Slideshow image

Opening Day

Opening Day for Metrorail. 5 stations open on the Red Line.

Gallery Place opens

Gallery Place opens. A court order delayed its opening for missing disability access.

Red Line to Dupont Circle

Red Line extended to Dupont Circle.

Blue Line opens

Blue Line opens from National Airport to Stadium-Armory.

Red Line to Silver Spring

Red Line opens to Silver Spring, inaugurating the first service to Maryland.

Orange Line opens

Orange Line opens to New Carrollton.

All trains run from National Airport to New Carrollton, signed Orange heading toward New Carrollton and Blue heading towards National Airport.

Orange Line to Ballston

Orange Line extended to Ballston.

Orange and Blue are now two separate services.

Blue Line to Addison Road

Blue Line extended to Addison Road.

Orange and Blue run a strange service pattern (see notes below for more discussion).

Red Line to Van Ness

Red Line extended to Van Ness.

Yellow Line opens

Yellow Line opens from National Airport to Gallery Place.

Yellow Line to Huntington

Yellow Line extended to Huntington.

Red Line to Grosvenor

Red Line extended to Grosvenor.

Red Line to Shady Grove

Red Line extended to Shady Grove.

Orange Line to Vienna

Orange Line extended to Vienna.

Gallery Place renamed Gallery Pl-Chinatown.

Red Line to Wheaton

Red Line extended to Wheaton.

Navy Memorial opens; Archives station renamed Archives-Navy Mem’l.

Yellow Line to U Street

Segment to U Street-Cardozo opens.

Service runs as Yellow Line temporarily.

Blue Line to Van Dorn Street

Blue Line extended to Van Dorn Street.

Green Line opens

Green Line formally opens from U Street to Anacostia.

Northern Green Line to Greenbelt

Northern Green Line segment opens from Fort Totten to Greenbelt.

Green Line Commuter Shortcut

Green Line Commuter Shortcut opens as 6-month experiment. Peak period Green Line trains use a switch to access the Red Line to Farragut North.

Ballston renamed Ballston-MU.

Blue Line to Franconia-Springfield

Blue Line extended to Franconia-Springfield. Green Line Commuter Shortcut continued, though it never appeared on official maps as it was always meant to be temporary.

Red Line to Glenmont

Red Line extended to Glenmont. Waterfront renamed Waterfront-SEU.

Inner Green Line opens

Inner Green Line segment opens from U Street to Fort Totten, replacing Green Line Commuter Shortcut. Woodley Park, U Street, West Falls Church, Dunn Loring, and Vienna get additional elements added to their names.

Green Line to Branch Avenue

Green Line extended to Branch Avenue.

The originally-planned system is now complete.

Addison Road renamed to Addison Road-Seat Pleasant.

New York Ave opens

New York Ave-Florida Ave/Gallaudet U infill station opens on the Red Line.

Mt. Vernon Sq., Rhode Island Ave., and National Airport get new names.

Blue Line to Largo

Blue Line extended to Largo Town Center.

Yellow Line to Fort Totten

Yellow Line begins running off-peak to Fort Totten.

Music Center at Strathmore opens; Grosvenor station renamed to Grosvenor-Strathmore.

Rush Plus

“Rush Plus” adds new rush patterns on the Orange and Yellow Lines. Map adds Silver Line under construction. NoMa station gets new name; Ballpark and Old Town added to names; SEU removed. 11 stations with long names use new concept of subtitles.

Yellow Line trains will head to Franconia-Springfield and Orange to Largo Town Center. The official map now also uses subtitles for some long station names, and a few stations get new names, most significantly “NoMa-Gallaudet U.”

The rush hour service changes mean that riders headed east of Stadium-Armory or south of King Street (now King St-Old Town) will have to check the destination signs on their trains. Yellow Line and Blue Line riders may want to adjust their travel patterns.

The even more confusing service: Trains changing color

This isn’t the most Metro has ever asked of riders, however. From November 20, 1978 to November 30, 1979, and then again from November 22, 1980 to April 29, 1983, some Blue and Orange trains used one color going in one direction, then switched colors heading back. If you lived in Clarendon in 1981, you would board a Blue Line train headed to DC and then catch an Orange Line train to get home.

Metro had to do this in 1978-1979 because trains at the time used physical rollsigns with text printed on a colored background. The New Carrollton sign had an orange background, while the National Airport destination sign used blue. Therefore, Metro had to have the trains switch colors for each direction.

Then, in the early 1980s, they started doing this again after the segment to Addison Road opened. At the time, with the Yellow Line not yet built, the demand for service on the Rosslyn to National Airport segment (now Blue) better matched the Stadium-Armory to New Carrollton segment (now Orange), and the demand on Rosslyn to Ballston (now Orange) lined up better with Stadium-Armory to Addison Road (now Blue).

Metro map from 1982.

Therefore, Metro ran trains from National Airport to New Carrollton and Ballston to Addison Road. But since the rollsigns didn’t allow using the same color for each end of those services, the trains had to switch colors in each direction.

If Metro had to try something like this today for some reason, how do you think people would react?

The other rush-only service: Green Line Commuter Shortcut

This is also not the first time Metro has had rush hour only service. From December 11, 1993 to September 18, 1999, the Green Line had 2 unconnected segments, one from Greenbelt to Fort Totten and the other from U Street to Anacostia.

On January 27, 1997, Metro started using a single-track switch at Fort Totten to send rush hour Green Line trains from Greenbelt onto the Red Line. They ran on the Red Line tracks to Farragut North, where there is a pocket track to turn around. This “Green Line Commuter Shortcut” continued until the Green Line opened through Columbia Heights and Petworth, connecting the two sections permanently.

Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

Metro never included this on its maps except for a green box explaining the service. Therefore, while today is not the first time Metro has run a rush hour-only service pattern, it’s the first time the maps have displayed it, now using a dashed line.

Metro’s maps did show planned and under construction segments until 2004, but these maps do not. I’ve included the Silver Line under construction, however.


Most of this data comes from the nycsubway.org timeline of the Washington Metro and WMATA’s history page.

The dates of station name changes come from Wikipedia’s pages on individual stations and other online sources. To keep the number of maps manageable, and because many stations’ exact renaming dates are not available, I’ve grouped station renamings in with the next major service change, even when that takes place years later; for example, Metro renamed Ballston to Ballston-MU in 1995, but the next map, showing the Green Line Commuter Shortcut, depicts the system in 1997.


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David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.