Metro Considers New Seating Plan for Railcars

The Metro seating proposal would offer riders more standing room. (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority)
By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 4, 2005

Commuters would encounter some subway cars with fewer seats, additional handrails and more overhead handles to grab as Metro begins a test of ways to squeeze more people onto a rail system already at capacity.

The plan -- which received preliminary approval yesterday and will begin in the spring if the full board approves it this month, as expected -- calls for installing cameras on two dozen test cars to study how three seating arrangements with up to 32 fewer seats and 40 percent more handrails could accommodate more riders and allow them to move on and off trains more quickly.

The decision to try out various interior designs is part of Metro's effort to find inexpensive ways to increase capacity and efficiency on trains and platforms as daily ridership surpasses 700,000.

"The seating configuration was laid out when Lyndon Johnson was president, and we were hoping people might leave their Oldsmobile at home and try transit. Now we're dealing with success," said board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County.

Seats on the 24 test cars will be laid out in one of three ways.

Eight of the test cars will have 48 seats, instead of 64 to 80 in current cars. They also will have four folding seats at the front, as well as padded, waist-high rests for standing riders and more open space for wheelchairs and bicycles.

Another group of eight cars will have 52 seats with additional seating against the wall near the center door. And a third group will have 64.

All of the cars will have double handrails anchored to the ceiling above the aisle, some with spring-loaded metal handles for shorter passengers. Vertical poles near doorways will be replaced by handrails that extend from the seat backs to the ceiling.

The test designs also have fewer windscreens -- the partitions near doorways that riders tend to lean on, blocking the door.

Testing the designs will cost about $783,000, officials said.

Once Metro officials decide on a new seating design, it could take several years to reconfigure the agency's 952 cars.

At yesterday's meeting of a committee that oversees planning for the subway system, officials got a chance to see for themselves how passengers board, exit and move around today's train cars. Video taken aboard 16 cars beginning in August showed consistent problems:

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