Next stop, Metro's future

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; C02

What if transit users could build their own ride? What would a Metrorail car look like? Because the transit authority is in the midst of creating the next generation of railcars, the 7000 Series, we asked travelers to offer their design suggestions, setting no limits on the possibilities. Scores of ideas came in, some reflecting the tensions among different categories of riders, others striving to make the commute more fun.

Changing cars

Metro signed a contract last year to have Kawasaki build the new cars. Now, the transit authority's engineering staff is working with an industrial designer to develop concept drawings for the design. When that's done, "we will use them as a basis to begin to get employee and customer input on many aspects of the new cars," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. Those aspects include interior lighting, floor coverings, colors, seating and signs. Focus groups involving riders will probably begin in March, Farbstein said.

The transit authority will break some traditions and maintain others with the 7000 Series. All other generations of cars purchased since Metrorail opened in 1976 are similar in appearance and work with each other. That gave Metro added flexibility in maintaining and deploying the cars. But it's time to build cars that take greater advantage of new technology and design opportunities.

Changing times

Metrorail has a mid-20th century look. Design ideas to lure commuters to the railcars included carpeting the floors and cushioning the seats and giving them armrests. The environment would be similar to the interior of an auto, without the steering wheel and pedals.

Many who submitted ideas liked the current train carpeting about as much as they'd like wall-to-wall shag in their homes. Riders and transit planners also have practical concerns about the positioning of the poles and the style of seats and handgrips.

Your turn

Here are some suggestions submitted to our online forum. For the full version, along with some photos, go to, but these excerpts include major themes, as well as some way-outside-the-box thinking:

Kyle: Fewer seats so there is more standing room and wider doors to facilitate easier exit/entry. Also, I would get rid of the carpet and instead use an epoxy floor for the rail cars. Basically, I would use the same design that you see in New York subway cars.

Ken Clark: Even at 6-foot-2, I have more leg room on an airplane than I do with Metro seats. So I propose to eliminate all two-by-two seating in favor of bench seats.

Boris: Think Moscow! Lightly padded bench seats along the side, plenty of room for the physically challenged, no rugs or other allergy challenges, plenty of places to hold on and faster loading and unloading of passengers.

andrew: Making the trains articulated would save all of the space that's currently wasted at the ends of the cars and also eliminate unnecessary extra driver cabs. . . . I also like the fact that Metro offers carpeting and padded seats. It absorbs noise inside the train and sets Metro apart from other transit systems. I'm not going to join the chorus that we should race to the bottom and reduce ourselves to the level of filth and grime of the New York subway.

Kara Harkins: None of those seats with no armrests! Whenever I see one, there is always someone who is taking up two-thirds of the bench. That means whoever sits on the outside is going to wind up on the floor (especially with a jerky train).

fed up commuter: Get rid of those low-hanging rubber hand straps! Everyone who's 5-foot-10 or taller can hit their heads on them.

Observant Traveler: Scrap the current three-door design and give the cars four doors. This would make ingress and egress quicker and less problematic for those trapped in the middle of crowded cars. The continuous-car designs that are in contemporary trains in Germany (Berlin and Munich) would help with crowding and allow people to move throughout the trains.

Josh B.: Aside from more standing room to accommodate the growing number of commuters, I would like to see more electronics installed into the cars. In the Tokyo systems, they have small LCD screens along the ceiling edge that show everything from the Metro's position on the city map to various ads to up-to-the-minute news and weather, even daily health and safety warnings. It gives riders something to look at when you're packed in like sardines and don't want to be rude and stare directly at the person in front of you.

JG-wheelchair rider: When designing a place to have passengers in wheelchairs sit/park, have the designated spots in the corners of the cars between the passenger doors at the end of the car and the very end of the car. Because most of the walking traffic turns toward the center of the car, having the wheelchairs as close to the end of the cars as possible reduces the chances of someone tripping because of a wheelchair footrest.

dc native world traveler: Make more handholds in more places, widen doors and make more room to sit in seats that face the front of the car or rear of the car. Limit the number of those seats so a majority of the seats face the aisle. Perfect example: Prague metro.

Commute with Kids!: I would make it easier for working moms with strollers (and kids!) to ride the Metro. Maybe one section of the end car that had space for multiple stroller parking, kid-themed seat covers or wall decorations, absence of mid-aisle poles, etc.

Marty: I would create a car (or whole train) that featured glass-windowed ceiling and sides. Then I would install colored neon lights in the tunnels that would come on just ahead of the train and turn off after it passed.

Cliff Enz: I would add a lounge car to every train with a bar and jazz combo. Riders would pay a surcharge to ride the car.

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