WMATA's design concept of an 8000 series rail car. Image by WMATA.

On Tuesday, Metro released an initial “expression of interest” asking some preliminary questions about creating its next series of railcar, the 8000 series. Those cars won’t arrive for a very long time, but when they do they might include open-gangway railcars and push-button doors.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean 8000 series trains are on the way yet, nor that they will be anytime soon; new cars likely won’t come online until at least 2025. All the document signals is that Metro is starting to shape the ideas that could end up in the railcar designs.

These are two of a number of ideas Metro asked for information about for potential inclusion in that design.

Open gangways

An open-gangway train is basically a train that's one long railcar rather than one multiple short ones. “US transit systems are slowly beginning to catch on to the benefits of longer open-gangway trains,” says GGWash editorial director Dan Malouff. “There’s less wasted space between cars, less expense per rider, and passengers can move back and forth inside the train to find the least crowded spot. Overall, having one long open interior increases the capacity of a train by about 10%, and it costs less.”

Open gangway train on Paris Metro. Image by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Unlike Metro’s current cars, open-gangway 8000s would mean essentially that you could walk between each of today’s “married-pair” cars. Instead of two doors between the cars, there’d be an open passageway that you could easily walk through. Moving to this design would mean more room for people in the cars, and thus a system that could carry more people.

There is a catch, though. Unlike other systems worldwide, Metro’s open gangways would really only be miniature open gangways; it wouldn’t be possible to do away with all interior doors, only those in the middle of a married pair (each set of two railcars which are semi-permanently joined together). Metro’s rail shops are designed for the length of married pairs of cars (which is around 150 feet long), and the agency isn’t pursuing options to retrofit all those buildings to all be able to fit a full-length train.

Push-button doors

Push-button doors are what they sound like: When a train is in the station, instead of all doors opening by default, someone wanting to get on or off the train presses a button to request that the door they’re in front of open. That way, only the doors that need to open will, and the ones with nobody wanting to use them them will stay closed. Metro’s document notes that in addition to reducing wear and tear on the doors, this system would keep cool air in during summer and out in the winter.

The push-button doors could also pair with Metro’s automatic door system should it choose to bring it back (Metro stopped using the system in 2008). With that, a signal instructs trains to open the doors, and on which side, so an operator doesn’t have to do it. If the system only opened the doors passengers needed, it would save energy over the long run, and it’d also likely lead to greater reliability: doors are one of the couple top causes of train delays; if they don't need to open, there's less chance of an issue occurring.

Other items of interest that Metro asked for information on include WiFi hotspots built into each railcar, how to increase reliability beyond that of the 7000s, and interoperability with the 7000s and any future railcar purchases.

As I said before, the release of this document is just a preliminary step in the process for buying a new type of railcars. For example, a document similar to this when Metro bought the 7000s would have come out sometime before 2007/2008, and the railcars only started to be delivered in 2015. It’s a lengthy process from design to build to delivery, but this is at least the first step in designing what the new cars might look like.

Do we need these?

There is something one point worth considering: Instead of speccing and buying brand new rail cars, Metro could buy more 7000s, making minor tweaks in the design and committing to sticking with that for the long term.

GGWash board member and former Metro interim GM Dan Tangherlini made the case last year that Metro needs to stop buying brand new sets of cars; the more different types the system has to work with, the more complex running them will be.

Tangherlini noted in his post that “The fact is that the best railcar you will get out of this process is the last one delivered. And, frankly, the manufacturers generally just figure out how to build the car when the contract term ends.“ This would be the case for both the 7000s and any new 8000s.

Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.