Metro Makeover

October 12, 2012

I hope you’re sitting down for this. Although if you’re not riding the Metro railcar of the future, you’re probably not particularly comfortable.

There’s plenty to get excited about when it comes to the new 7000-series railcars, which are on track for 2014. When the media got a sneak peek of a full-scale mock-up Wednesday, general manager Richard Sarles did his best Vanna White impression to show off all the ways these new, shiny boxes will change lives. And save lives.

Video arrival screens let passengers know which stop is next and what transportation connections are available. The non-slip flooring has red, white and blue speckles for patriotic flair. Cameras are everywhere for safety. The stainless steel body is expected to fare better in a crash.

What really got me going, however, was the little stuff — like the lumbar support. The seats, covered in a blue textured vinyl, curve gently and are tilted just so. The cushions have extra padding and the indented seat backs give long-legged folks a wee bit more room, explained Metro chief of staff Barbara Richardson, who urged me to experience how pleasant it is to take a load off for a while. (It was.)

The railcars of the future are also ready for those times you don’t get a seat, with poles that extend from the top of each row of seats. Not only does that mean that short folks like me don’t need to hang from above to keep our grip during a ride, it also encourages people to fill in the aisles instead of clustering by the doors. (The lack of armrests makes for wider aisles, too.) One other favorite thing about the poles: They bend out slightly, so grabbing one won’t put you practically on a stranger’s lap.

Since some of these cars will eventually be on the Silver Line to Dulles, travelers will appreciate that the seats are cantilevered. With the empty space along the floor of the car, passengers can store luggage, and cops can quickly glance down the length of a car.

As far as the high-tech stuff goes, it’s nice to have screens and LCD maps that let you know how many stops until your destination. I nodded with recognition when Richardson admitted she sometimes uses the peer-through-the-window-and-crane-your-neck-to-see-the-station-sign strategy.

What’s really got the gee-whiz factor is the door technology. Unlike the old railcars, which force operators to open all of the doors whenever something is blocking any of them, these newfangled things can pinpoint the problem and open and shut just that one door. If the culprit’s tiny — say, a penny or button — the door can even push it out of the way.

I see only one potential drawback to having fewer door-related delays: We won’t get to sit as long.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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