Riders consider the future of Metro car design

An examination of the nation's second largest rail transit system comes at a time when Metro tries to weather an unprecedented season of danger and dismay.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 6:56 PM

What if transit users could build their own ride? What would aMetrorail car look like? Since the transit authority is in the midst of creating the next generation of rail cars, 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 are likely to 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 rail cars 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 hand grips.

Your turn

Here are some of the suggestions submitted to our online forum. You can see the full version, along with some photos, at http://wapo.st/railcars, 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 the 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 much faster loading and unloading of passengers.

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