Attention, passengers: The ’70s are finally dead.
Or at least they’re slowly dying.
“No more brown. No more orange and yellow and circus colors,” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said. “We’re not only creating a highly reliable car, a technologically advanced car, but we’re also saying to the customers: ‘This is brand new. This is something completely different than you had. This is something exciting.’ ”
Although it won’t happen quickly, Metro envisions the biggest leap in the evolution of its trains since the subway opened, as the agency says goodbye (very gradually) to those familiar, chocolate-striped cars of dull aluminum that D.C. area commuters have known since the disco era. The four new cars, the first of 748 due to be delivered by 2018, represent a move into the future that is expected to cost about $2 billion, Metro said.
Improved safety features, better seating, more standing room, digital information displays, enhanced audio systems, a blue interior color scheme and no more stained and soiled carpeting or poles blocking the aisles — in describing it, almost giddily, Metro officials sound a lot like auto dealers. “You’re going to love this car,” Sarles said.
“A clean break with our past,” said Rodrigo Bitar, Metro’s assistant general manager for infrastructure and engineering services.
From the mid-’70s, when Washington’s underground transit system was born, through 2008, the agency acquired six batches of cars (1,134 cars in total, nearly all of which remain in service) as Metro expanded, becoming America’s second-
biggest and second-busiest subway network. If aligned end to end, the cars would stretch for 16 miles, each one resembling the next, regardless of how recently or long ago it was built.
The reason: Over the decades, Metro wanted each new batch of cars to be mechanically and stylistically compatible with the cars already in the fleet so that cars from different batches could be mixed together in trains.
The problem: Maintaining mechanical compatibility meant limiting the technological upgrades in each new batch that came off the assembly line. And keeping the cars stylistically consistent meant generally sticking with an interior layout and visual design conceived when bell bottoms were in and Gerald Ford was president.
“When you’re continually trying to match backward, the further away you get from the original, the more difficult it becomes,” Sarles said.
Until eventually it’s time to unmoor from the past and start anew.
“A fresh page,” said Sarles.
Gradually replacing fleet
The 748 cars in the seventh batch — the 7000 series, as it’s called — will constitute half of Metro’s rail fleet by the time the last one arrives in 2018 and nearly 400 older cars have been retired, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. The 7000-series cars will run as separate trains, apart from older cars in the system. And in future decades, as Metro acquires more cars, they will be designed for compatibility with the 7000 series.