Metro shows off newest rail car

October 24, 2012

A view from the center to the end of the new rail car shows the future flooring, rails, wind screens and seats. (Robert Thomson – The Washington Post)

There’s no mistaking Metro’s new rail cars for anything that’s in service now. If we blindfolded a bunch of riders, then opened their eyes inside car No. 7000 now in a Metro workshop in Landover, they wouldn’t immediately know they were aboard a Washington, D.C., transit vehicle. (They’d figure it out pretty quickly by looking at the new signs.)

I got a chance to look at No. 7000 Wednesday afternoon, along with most of the transportation team from The Post. You can see in the photo how this full-scale model looks. So let me tell you how it feels: For those used to traveling aboard the oldest cars in the rail fleet, this is like going from your parents’ home with the shag carpeting, dark wood and heavy drapes to a trendy new downtown apartment, with white walls, bare floors and big windows.

A transit historian might say we’re leaving behind a design from an era when planners weren’t sure D.C. commuters would ride a subway. We’re moving to a transit space that acknowledges many, many people will cram their way aboard the trains.

I’ll tell you what I like about it, but keep in mind that I saw No. 7000 as it stood still in a quiet room with only a handful of very well-behaved people aboard.

The new car’s design addresses many of the concerns riders have been writing in about for years. The doors are more robust, and the operator up in the cab will have much more information available for monitoring their performance. And you know how Metro doors are different from elevator doors: The Metro doors don’t bounce back open when a rider tries to push them open.

I stuck my leg between the closing doors on No. 7000. The first thing I noticed was that the doors didn’t crush my foot. The second thing was that they gently bounced back — up to a point. They moved back far enough to let me extract my leg. (And in case you’re curious, you could probably pull back a briefcase or a stroller, too.) But they didn’t reopen completely. There would be no point in performing this experiment for the sake of holding the doors open for your buddies. There’s not enough room to squeeze through before the doors reseal.

Once safely aboard, you may want to rethink your sitting and standing habits. My hope is that many of you will feel less trapped at rush hours because of this new design. Window seats are nice, except when you’re approaching your station and you need the person on the aisle to get up and the crowd blocking the exit to part.

The new cars maintain the same basic configuration — you’re seated facing forward, back or into the center of the car — but design tweaks with the seats, better placement of handholds and a bit more space in the middle will make movement somewhat easier.

When we talk about standing in a rail car, I think first of all the people who have written in with complaints about the placement of the floor to ceiling poles and the rails along top of the car. These riders either can’t reach them or find there’s nothing at all to hold onto — except maybe another passenger — as the train comes to a stop. The new design does not restore the center poles, but it does place poles and railings more logically for riders trying to maneuver their way to the doors.

The only obvious downside in the new design is this: It will be years before the new style dominates the entire rail fleet. Riders may enjoy a trip to work on one of these new train sets, then return home on a dingy, older model that looks far worse because the rider has just seen the future.

 

 

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Mark Berman · October 24, 2012