Dr. Gridlock: Metro considers new train destinations

By Robert Thomson
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 1:51 PM

Orange Line train to Largo? Blue Line train to Greenbelt? Riders may be hearing those announcements starting in mid-2012, depending on decisions Metro will make as it plans to split the Blue Line and add some trains to the Orange Line.

The transit authority staff will try to figure out how to best communicate with riders about why it plans to split Blue Line service next year and how the split will be accomplished. The first goal is important because if Metro starts sending some Blue Line trains over what is now the Yellow Line bridge across the Potomac, it wants those trains to have passengers. The staff figures many riders will choose this new option if they see a time savings in reaching their destinations on the eastern side of downtown Washington.

The second goal is important because the planners don't want people getting on the wrong trains. Metro board member Peter Benjamin pointed out during this morning's meeting of the board's customer service committee that riders who board the correct color line can't be taken to the wrong place. The train might stop before they expect -- they might wind up on a Red Line train that turns around at Grosvenor when the rider wants to go on to Shady Grove -- but they can't be taken to a destination they didn't expect.

Board member Jeff McKay noted that many Blue Line riders at stations like Franconia-Springfield or Van Dorn Street simply step aboard the next train that arrives heading toward D.C. and know they'll wind up at Rosslyn, Foggy Bottom and Farragut West. That won't be the case when trains arriving at those stations are destined either for Largo Town Center or Greenbelt.

Board member Elizabeth Hewlitt worried about the fate of Orange Line riders hoping to reach New Carrollton. Under the new plan, some rush hour trains arriving at their platform will be bound for Largo Town Center.

So, should those new trains have new colors, or just different destination signs?

New colors you say? Think that would make things clear? Metro staff would like you to think about what the nice, simple Metro map would look like. The transit authority is bringing back the designer of the original, iconic map -- the one that to many riders is the symbol of Metro. He will be tasked with revising the map to account for the Blue Line split, the additional Orange Line service and the new Dulles rail line. How many colors would you want him to add?

As you think about that, consider also that this Blue Line split and extra Orange Line service is for rush hour only.

Metro already has done some research on what riders will be most comfortable with, but needs to do a lot more. And as board member Catherine Hudgins pointed out, station managers should be involved in the discussions along with riders. Right now, a station manager can tell a tourist to get on the next Blue Line train. In June 2012, that interaction is going to get more complicated.

The transit staff's feedback from riders, which included an online survey, found that people are open to some stylistic changes -- but not many, and nothing drastic. The staff got a negative reaction when testing new colors for lines, although riders do accept that there should be a new color for the Dulles line, since that will be a brand new service.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said the board still needs to approve the Blue Line split, as a policy matter. But it's difficult to see a fallback position on this. Metro needs to clear room in the Rosslyn tunnel to accommodate trains coming in from the new Dulles line, starting in 2014. No alternatives to the Blue Line split have been made.

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