WMATA's preview of its new 7000-series rail cars when they first debuted in 2015. Image by Aimee Custis Photography licensed under Creative Commons.

Should seats in Metro's new cars continue to face forward and back, or from the sides to leave more open space? You may have the chance to weigh in on this and other design elements for Metro's next generation of railcars, dubbed the 8000 series.

A survey was recently sent to Metro’s Amplify rider community to gauge interest in various elements. The current order of 748 7000-series trains is expected to be completely delivered ahead of schedule by summer 2019. These new trains replace three previous sets of railcars that were as much as 40 years old: the 1000, 4000, and 5000 series.

The 8000-series would build on the design of the 7000s, but likely with a few more tweaks and features. Order and delivery of these trains is still a long way off, and it's likely to be 2025 or later before passengers would be riding them. As Metro begins to think about the next set of trains, it’s also looking to get ideas from the public. 

Old (left) and new 7000-series (right) trains paused at the Glenmont Metro Station. Image by thisisbossi licensed under Creative Commons.

The survey wants to know how to make the trains better

About half of the survey asks riders about their familiarity with the new 7000-series trains and to rate different features in them. Respondents are asked specifically about the digital displays, floors, handrails, floors, and train exteriors. In Metro’s own words, they want to hear from riders “what we got right this time and how we can do better next time.”

The second half of the survey shifts toward possible new features for the 8000-series. Respondents are asked to rate the importance of various things like more handholds, WiFi, charging ports, and luggage racks (among others). 

Perhaps most interestingly, the final few questions are focused solely on seating layouts. Respondents are asked to rank which type of seat they prefer to sit in while on a train (facing forwards with the direction of travel, backwards, or to the side) and if they have any experience riding on trains with what the survey calls “perimeter" seating (also known as “longitudinal” seating). A final question asks if riders have a preference for the current Metro seat layout (known as “transverse” seating) or the longitudinal bench seats.

Longitudinal seating was considered when the 7000-series trains were being designed. This setup means there are fewer seats compared to the transverse design, but results in better overall capacity because there is more space for standees. Such a design was ultimately rejected back in 2010 for somewhat vague safety reasons.

This photo is from WMATA's media preview of its new 7000-series in 2015. Image by Aimee Custis Photography licensed under Creative Commons.

Here's what some of our contributors think about designing the new cars

Neil Flanagan says: 

The people demand a brown stripe. New train = nude train. 

Brent Bolin disagrees: 

Nope, all silver or bust! #futuretrain

Patrick Kennedy says:

I think this is an unpopular opinion on transit Twitter, but I like the forward-facing (i.e. perpendicular to the door) seating arrangement that Metro uses. I don't like being jerked from side to side on the NYC Subway or the Chicago L when the trains accelerate/decelerate in fits and starts — particularly if there's someone next to me whose lap I'd fall into. But I'll also admit that I'm a crank on this type of stuff.

I liked the carpeting — though I wish it were better maintained — and prefer an old train to a new train because the windows are larger, I can rest my arm on the rubber window sill, and there are more seats.

And Joanne Tang agrees:

I like perpendicular seats too. It’s harder for people to steal your stuff if you’ve got a metal bar and some people in front of you, and you can lean it against the seat in front so if there’s a sudden braking (there always is) your stuff doesn’t go flying to the floor.

I think that WiFi should, overall, be a lower priority but I also think that if a train was stuck in a tunnel having internet would be useful for contacting the outside world and getting updates, especially if the train PA was garbled. 

Maxime Develliers adds:

I really wish that WMATA would put Wifi/charging ports at the bottom of their priority list. Obviously, adding WiFi to the underground stations (currently ongoing) and to the trains (prosposed) is/would be great and would cost far less than more frequent and reliable train service, but I feel as though having free WiFi is more of a "WOW Factor" that just keeps riders distracted from long headways/stopped trains during their journey.

Matt Johnson points out:

The problem with doing surveys with things like seating preferences is that it doesn't ask riders to think about tradeoffs. There is a tradeoff to having transverse seating (forward and rearward-facing) versus longitudinal (side-facing) seating. And that tradeoff is overall capacity and circulation within the vehicle. If you ask a large number of people, I would assume virtually all of them would give a preference for sitting in forward-facing seats. But I think most people would also state a preference for being able to get on the first train that comes, whether that means sitting or standing.

Several times this year since the service cut, I have been left standing on the platform because the trains were already too full to board before they arrived at my station. I'm sure the people who boarded at Glenmont appreciate having a seat to use on their long journey, and I'm sure they are especially happy if it faces forward. But that luxury means that some of us have to wait for multiple trains.

New York doesn't have longitudinal seating because New Yorkers have some perverse desire to stare at each other across the aisle. They do it because it provides more room for standees, and they desperately need the passenger capacity. They do it because it makes it faster for people to get to the exits at their stops, and that means the trains sit in the stations for less time, and that means they can run more trains.

So, I have a preference for transverse seating, but I think WMATA should move toward longitudinal seating.

What features would you like to see in the new 8000-series cars? Which seating arrangement do you prefer?

Travis Maiers spent most of his life in South Florida before moving to the Washington region in 2009. He has a degree in International Studies from American University and works at a DC non-profit focused on international economic policy. He currently resides in the Forest Hills neighborhood of DC and enjoys learning about all things related to transportation and urban planning.