I fully agree with Amy Schwartz's piece, "Metro: Why Not Longer Hours?" {Close to Home, June 28}. After all, it's not something exotic we're demanding here. It's no more than Metro itself promised us in the late 1960s, when the various jurisdictions were negotiating their unprecedented compact to construct a rail system. Robert Abrams, a transit expert who worked for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority at the time, says seven-days-a-week service from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. was promised.

If Metro now finds that promise unrealistic, it need only look at the many other cities -- in fact, all but a few of American cities with subway systems -- that have managed to offer longer hours of service than ours.

The rail system is without a doubt successful. It is now the third busiest rail transit system in the country -- exceeded only by New York's and Chicago's, both with much larger metro areas -- and soon Washington may pass up Chicago in riders carried on weekdays. That is significant because Chicago has more than 100 miles of rapid-transit rail lines in service while Washington has only 70 miles; Metro has already exceeded Chicago in passenger density.

So why not full service? Chicago has one all-night train on almost its entire system. The elevated and subway cars operate about every half hour. New York has even more frequent all-night service on many lines. Even the Staten Island Rapid Transit runs all night. Okay, that's New York -- known for its night life and round-the-clock activity. Then try Philadelphia. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority runs all-night service on its subway/elevated system. Legend has it that Philadelphia closes down at night, but the trains, at least, keep rolling every half hour.

Now the argument goes that our Metro is different because it serves the suburbs -- almost a commuter railroad. Fine. How about Patco? The suburban electric line beginning in Philadelphia as a subway ends up in Luducold, N.J., some 16 miles from downtown. Yet it runs a service every hour, all night, seven days a week.

Worse than the curtailment of service at midnight is the late start of Metrorail on weekends (8 a.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday). No other system begins that late. For example, in Boston, Charlie can begin riding the subway at 5 a.m. seven days a week. Same goes for Toronto. In Atlanta, trains run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. except Sunday when service begins at 6 a.m. and concludes at 12:30 a.m.

Even some of the new light rail systems in much smaller cities do better than Metro. In Portland, Ore., for example, weekday service begins at 4:30 a.m. and Sunday service at 5:30 a.m. The two San Diego light rail lines begin service at 5 a.m. every day of the week (and, by the way, operate until 1 a.m.).

In Pittsburgh, service on the light rail lines begins at 5:30 a.m. every day -- and the last trolleys leave the downtown subway at 1 a.m., except for Sundays when service stops at 12:30 a.m.

Newark -- with its short 4 1/2-mile trolley subway -- begins weekday and Saturday service at 4:30 a.m., Sundays at 5 a.m. Newark operates later than our Metro (the last trip beginning at 12:30 a.m.) -- if one can imagine wanting to ride the subway in Newark at that hour.

In Cleveland, hardly as sophisticated as Washington, service on both light and heavy rail lines begins at 4 a.m. each day except Sunday, when the trains roll at 5 a.m.

The brand new light rail line in sleepy Sacramento starts Sunday service about an hour and a half before Washington -- and this line carries fewer than 10,000 passengers a day.

And in Miami, where the rail system is very controversial for its lack of ridership, Sunday service begins at 6:30 a.m. Perhaps there are more church-goers in Miami than in Washington.

There are some exceptions to all this: Baltimore quits running at 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and its trains don't run on Sunday at all. Buffalo's light-rail cars also don't run on Sundays. But those are the only North American rail systems with weekend hours worse than Washington, and in both cities weekday trains roll before 6 a.m.

Baltimore and Buffalo? We ought to decide that our transit role model is Chicago -- or at least Atlanta. The time for keeping that old commitment to the people of Washington is long overdue. -- Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation and serves on the board of directors of Amtrak.