More Doors Opening: 8 Cars on Orange Trains

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It was crunch time on the Orange Line yesterday-- that crazy time just before 9 a.m. -- when Ann Vaughan got on the train in Clarendon to get to her job on Capitol Hill.

Ready for a big squeeze, Vaughan instead found something she never expected: a seat. "I think it was a little less crowded. It was nice," Vaughan, 27, said as she relaxed and read a newspaper.

Metro began testing longer, eight-car trains on the Orange Line yesterday morning during the rush. Although less crowding is nice for Vaughan and other riders, Metro made the change hoping for a faster and smoother ride.

After dropping two trains, Metro is now running six eight-car trains and 11 six-car trains during the morning rush hour, all to try to ease congestion, particularly around the Rosslyn tunnel, where Blue and Orange line trains must alternate passing through. By getting rid of two trains, Metro is hoping to move trains on both lines faster during rush hour.

The first day of a six-month pilot program passed with no incidents or accidents, Metro officials reported.

Many passengers said they didn't notice any major difference.

"It's eight cars, but we had a holdup for two minutes at Courthouse, and two stops in the tunnel, and a hold outside the station at Foggy Bottom," said Ted Hayes, who commutes from East Falls Church to Metro Center. "They are still shaking it out, I guess."

It could take time for the riders and operators to adjust to the new system, said Jim Hughes, Metro's general manager of operations.

"We have to teach the public to spread out along the platform. They are used to bunching up," said Paul Bumbry, a customer service manager for the Blue and Orange lines, who spent the morning rush hour at the Rosslyn station passing out pamphlets and directing riders to wait at the ends of the platform, where the first and last cars were sometimes half-empty.

Metro also played station announcements and posted banners by ticket machines in some stations alerting riders to the eight-car trains.

For the trains' operators, the change was more noticeable. Usually, six-car trains stop automatically, and they have about 75 feet of leeway on either end. The eight-car trains need to be stopped manually, and they stretch the length of the platform. With only four feet of space on either end, operators must break with greater precision so they don't overshoot, Hughes said.

He said drivers practice the manual procedures once a week, which helps them prepare for the longer trains. "We're trying to do it without jerking the power and breaking back and forth," he said.

Having longer trains was recommended by an American Public Transportation Association panel of subway experts considering methods to improve the efficiency of a system that often handles more than 700,000 riders a day.

The Orange Line is the second-busiest on the Metro system. Some eight-car trains were tested last year on the Red Line, which the busiest.

Metro hopes to eventually have eight-car trains on all lines during peak hours once new rail cars are added this summer.

By December, Metro hopes to run 20 percent of its rush-hour trains with eight cars. That could rise to 33 percent by December 2007 and 50 percent by December 2008, Metro officials said.

But for the next six months, Metro officials will evaluate whether the longer trains improve efficiency and reduce crowding and how riders like them before extending the plan systemwide.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company