D.C. area Metro tests extra lighting in subway station

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

For all of the riders who have complained that Metro subway stations are too dark, check out what Metro hopes is a bright idea at the Judiciary Square Station.

Crews have installed extra lights at the F Street entrance mezzanine, where the fare gates are. That area is now so bright -- unlike the rest of the Metro underground -- that it could almost double as a movie set.

The entrance on the other side remains shrouded in darkness. It still uses the soft, indirect lighting that Metro architects designed for the underground stations 33 years ago to show off the stations' vaulted arches.

The extra lights at Judiciary Square are Metro's latest response to continued grumbling from riders about stations too dimly lit to read newspapers or even make out an escalator step.

The cost of the new lights? $38,000.

"They had to install multiple fixtures. There are six different fixtures and a lot of wiring they had to install," said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

The fluorescent lights use bulbs that are supposed to last as long as 16,000 hours, double the life of those Metro uses elsewhere, he said.

The cost includes installation, labor and materials.

Metro is hoping to light two more underground stations: Likely candidates are other stations with mezzanines that overlook rail station platforms, such as the Dupont Circle, Metro Center and Foggy Bottom-GWU stations. But Taubenkibel said he did not know how much it would cost to do more stations and when that might occur.

The Judiciary Square entrance was chosen as a pilot because it has one of the darker mezzanines in the rail system, he said.

The pilot is part of a lighting architecture program, Taubenkibel said, the latest attempt by Metro to brighten the stations.

Three years ago, then-interim General Manager Dan Tangherlini said crews would replace burned-out bulbs within 10 days instead of three months. Crews were also to do a total replacement and inspection of station lights every 10 months, instead of annually. In some cases, a thorough cleaning of light fixtures produced dramatic improvements.

At one point, Metro officials said they were commissioning a $200,000 study of ways to improve lighting while maintaining architectural integrity.

Taubenkibel said that the agency is continuing to do total change-outs of lights every 10 months but that he didn't know whether crews were replacing burned-out bulbs at a faster rate. Nor did he know whether Metro conducted a lighting study.

Metrorail stations have 73,836 lights. Many of them are impossible to reach from the platform. Metro has to stop the trains to allow workers to replace a bulb along the granite platform edge.

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