A woman's recorded voice soon would tell Metro riders when the train doors are opening, under a plan being considered by transit officials.
The voice, which would announce, "The doors are opening," would precede the distinctive, high-pitched "ding-dong" chime that warns Metro riders when the train doors are closing. Officials also are considering a lower-pitched chime instead of the voice and are supposed to choose between the two sometime this week.
An announcement broadcast near the opening doors is needed, officials said, so visually impaired riders can find the door opening more easily by listening for a person's voice. Most falls by blind riders in the nation's subway systems occur when they slip between two cars while searching for the door.
The addition of the voice would be part of a broader effort by Metro's new general manager, Lawrence G. Reuter, "to make the place easier to use."
Among the planned changes:
* New electronic message signs would be installed at most stations, under plans being studied.
* Rail cars would get new signs that display the color of the line brightly. Bigger, more legible bus stop signs would be installed.
* Brighter lighting would be installed at some of the darker rail stations.
* Inside the rail cars, the posted warnings to riders -- "No eating" and so on -- are too numerous and too small, officials believe. Those would be simplified.
* More comprehensible signs would be posted in Metro's transfer stations, where riders switch from one line to another. Officials believe those stations often are difficult to negotiate.
* Even the brown pylons outside stations that locate the subway stops are being reviewed to determine whether they are in the right places.
"This is the beginning of what will be a very long list of refinements in the system," said Metro spokeswoman Patricia A. Lambe. Some would have to be approved by the board, but Reuter hopes that most could be put in place during the next year.
Since arriving in March, Reuter, who rides the subway to and from work between Vienna and downtown Washington, has been bothered by what he believes are confusing signs throughout the Metro system that repel riders instead of attract them. For example, he noticed that most rail stations do not have signs and maps to assist riders who may want to transfer from the train to a bus to complete their trips.
Reuter ordered a review of the visual aspects of Metro stations, trains and bus stops. The results of that study are beginning to show up.
At Union Station, Metro's busiest station, the directional signs that riders see when they get off trains have been repainted with new information. The middle of the sign says "Union Station," as it did before, but one side now says, "Union Station shops and Metrobuses" while the other side says "Amtrak and commuter trains."
In this way, Reuter is attempting to simplify the directions for riders while promoting the use of buses and the Maryland and Virginia commuter trains.
As more directional signs are changed in stations, transit officials will look for nearby tourist landmarks to include on signs. At Judiciary Square, for example, the words "National Police Memorial" have been added to the F Street NW sign.
Last week, the Metro board endorsed a plan to install multicolored electronic message signs on map cases, platforms and mezzanines in rail stations. The three-line signs would provide riders such information as delays on train lines and elevators that are out of service. The signs, a requirement of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, would cost $9 million; the money still must be found.
Electronic signs on trains indicating the color of the line would be a sharp contrast to the signs with big, colored dots on them now displayed in the operator's cab.
The board historically has been split between those who want to limit the spread of signs and those who believe many riders are bewildered by Metro.