Photo by the author.

On Monday, June 18, Metro will make big changes to the rail system with Rush Plus. Under the Rush Plus service plan, the Yellow Line will have more potential destinations than it does today.

While Metro has been installing new maps throughout the system and in railcars for several weeks, some riders have wondered about the effect on Yellow Line trains. Foremost among those questions: Will they serve Fort Totten at all times now? The answer is yes… mostly.

Right now, Yellow Line trains start at Huntington and run north toward downtown Washington. During rush hour, those trains only go as far as Mount Vernon Square. If it’s not rush hour, the trains continue to Fort Totten. (A few Yellow Line trains run to and from Greenbelt at the beginning and end of rush hour, since Metro stores those trains in the Greenbelt rail yard.)

Once Rush Plus is in effect, new Yellow Line trains will run between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt every 20 minutes during rush. Meanwhile, the existing Yellow Line trains, that start or end at Huntington, will still run, and still turn at Mount Vernon Square as they do today.

Off-peak, Huntington trains will run to Fort Totten as today. And the Huntington trains stored at Greenbelt Yard will continue to start or end their runs at Greenbelt.

What this means is that the section of the Metro system between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten will have Yellow Line service at all times. Yellow service north of Fort Totten will operate only during rush hours.

However, most rush hour Yellow Line trains (and all of those from Huntington, except the few trains stored at the Greenbelt yard) will still end at Mount Vernon Square.

What does the map say?

Metro struggled with figuring out how best to show that service north of Mount Vernon Square is limited during rush hour. In an initial draft, they showed the section between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten with white dots overlaid. Some found this confusing so Metro eliminated it. After all, there will always be trains in that section, it’s really just a question of how many.

First draft of the new map.

One of the other things Metro nixed from the final version of the map were icons indicating stations that were used as terminals. Metro discovered through focus groups that people found these icons confusing.

Left: The first draft of the revised map. Right: The final version.

But that means that Mount Vernon Square, which is a terminal for several hours each day, gets no special recognition on the map.

Customers need to be able to find the terminal stations on the map quickly and simply, since those are the stations that appear on the sides of trains. If you’re expecting a train to end at Fort Totten, but it shows up saying that it’s going to Mount Vernon Square, it should be very easy for you to find Mount Vernon Square on the map.

Why stop at Mount Vernon Square?

While the tracks between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten will now play host to Yellow Line trains at all times, you might still have to get off of your Yellow train at Mount Vernon Square during rush hour.

Discussions about the Yellow Line’s northern terminals invariably bring up questions about why the line doesn’t run to Fort Totten or Greenbelt at all times.

There are two primary reasons. The first is that Fort Totten does not have a pocket track, where trains can turn back. That’s fine off-peak, when the trains are farther apart. But during rush hour, trains come so frequently that blocking the main line to turn around would cause major delays.

The second reason is that there are not currently enough railcars for a full-time extension. Metro would need 30 more railcars (in addition to the pocket track) to run Yellow Line trains all the way to Fort Totten during rush hour. Extending the line to Greenbelt would require another 30 cars, for a total of 60 cars necessary to operate the extensions.

For those reasons, we’re stuck with a complex service pattern on the Yellow Line for the foreseeable future.


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Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Dupont Circle. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.