NYC subway cars with 4 doors. Photo by gmpicket.

WMATA will soon order new 7000 series railcars. These will be the most advanced in the fleet when they arrive in 2013. However, they miss the chance to make several key improvements that could add capacity and speed boarding, including more doors and articulation.

Doors limit boarding

With this addition to the fleet, Metro had the opportunity to rethink its railcars based on 30 years of experience. Crowding causes excessive dwell times at busy stations. Metro could significantly speed boarding and alighting by adding a fourth door-pair per side. More doors would also help spread crowding throughout the car.

Some other systems with cars of similar lengths have four doors per side. New York’s B Division (lettered lines) uses cars with 4 doors per side. Some of Boston’s Red line cars also have 4 doors on each side.

But Metro has chosen to keep 3 doors on each side of the car. This is a significant missed opportunity.

Articulation could add space

Continuous articulation in Berlin.

Another way to increase capacity and also improve circulation would be to use articulated railcars or cars without end bulkheads. These types of cars are becoming more and more popular, especially in Europe.

When Yonah Freemark, of The Transport Politic, asked Metro why they didn’t consider articulated vehicles for the 7000-series, Metro spokesperson Lisa Farbstein responded: “We have not designed our cars that way. It’s a choice we made when we started the system decades ago. No plans to change it just to change it.”

But articulated vehicles add more standing room for passengers. That’s not “just to change it.” The system was designed in the 1970s with a cab on each end of married pairs, and WMATA changed that.

BART cars. Photo by Thomas Hawk.

Even including diaphragms between cars in a pair and allowing movement between those cars would be an improvement. San Francisco’s BART has diaphragms and sliding doors between cars, and has had them since 1972.

Retain design element uniformity

Metro was designed with many motifs and unifying elements. That uniformity extends beyond the architecture of the stations. Even the railcars play their part. The color palate used on the current fleet is similar to the standard station architecture.

The brown stripe, which Metro is ditching for the 7000-series, is one of the major common colors systemwide. In terms of the station architecture, the stripe reflects the browns of the columns, signs, sides of escalators, and other elements. Additionally, it reflects many other aspects of the system, from faregates to station agent booths.

Photo by the author.

The reddish-orange platform tile is mirrored by the orange-brown or maroon carpet inside the railcars. The silver of the train exterior echoes the gray-white of the station vault. This is further reinforced by the backlighting from the platform edge lights, which helps evoke the indirect lighting of the train room.

And when a train is in the station, the red-orange floor, the brown stripe, and the gray-white walls play together to create a unified ensemble.

One of the drawbacks of the 7000-series railcars is their proposed departure from the Metro palate, especially the loss of the brown stripe. Not only will the cars not match the rest of the fleet, they’ll be missing a major aesthetic design element of the system.

The 7000-series will make up a very large part of the railcar fleet once all the cars have arrived. Failing to make some of the changes now means that we will be stuck with certain inadequacies for decades to come. At the same time, a failure to consider the design elements standard across the system threatens the uniformity and quality of the experience - a major basis for the popularity and success of the system.

And that success has become a major hurdle. Dealing with the throngs of riders, especially in this funding climate, has become increasingly difficult for Metro. While the design of the 7000-series will allow for longitudinal seating, and more standing room, Metro’s failure to consider other improvements is shortsighted.

What other opportunities are being missed by the 7000-series?

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.