The downside of riding one of the new Metrorail cars is that it reminds you what’s not to like about the rest of the fleet.
Doors. A common experience for veteran riders: watching the eyes of tourists get really big as they realize that the closing doors aren’t going to reopen just because they’ve pushed their arms between them. Another common experience is having to get off the train because it’s taken out of service for a door problem.
The new cars, the 7000 series now in testing on the rail lines, is designed so that the doors will neither crush tourists nor bounce back all the way. And the operator shouldn’t have to fiddle with all the doors when dealing with an issue involving one of them.
During a test ride Tuesday, Metro project manager Debo Ogunrinde volunteered his arm to demonstrate the new doors. As he stretched out his arm from inside the car, the doors closed on it but then reopened a little bit, enough for him to extract the arm but not enough to allow him or anybody else to get on or off the train. But if need be, the operator could reopen and close that one set of doors, without reopening and closing all the doors on that side of the train.
Seats. The best seat on a Metrorail car is the one nearest the doors, where a rider needs only to stand up and walk straight out. The worst seat is the interior one on the bench right next to the two seats facing into the car. (The one to the right of the guy who’s stretching his legs out onto the interior-facing seats.) On a crowded car, with all the seats occupied and the aisle jammed, there’s no place I feel more trapped. You’ve got to say “excuse me” to two people just to stand up.
The new design keeps that same seating arrangement, but the spacing and the placement of the railings gives the person in the interior seat a fighting chance of getting out — without actually fighting. Plus, the new railing makes it a lot less comfortable for that guy to stretch his legs out.
Aisles. When standing, my least favorite place to be is in the center of the aisle equidistant from the end doors and the middle doors, especially if I have to grab an overhead railing or, worse yet, one of those plastic straps that hang from the railing. That’s the spot Metro wants you to move to, but when you’re standing there, arriving and departing riders will come at you from all directions — and often at the same time.
In the new cars, the aisles are wider, and there’s a vertical rail at each seat, so you can get a grip on something at shoulder level and allow passengers to move past you — even the ones with the backpacks.
Signs. The Metro map is a model for designers, but a rider on a crowded car can’t always get near one. Even a regular commuter who doesn’t need a map may lose count of the stations, then have trouble hearing the station announcement or seeing outside the car to find the station name.
In the new car, Metro will give you several chances to figure out the name of the upcoming station, and you’re almost certain to catch one of them. The easiest one probably will be the display panel that just below the car’s ceiling that faces down the aisle. You have seen this in the current rail fleet’s newer models, but the new ones are brighter and much easier to read from a distance.
To the sides of the doors, you will see a new style of display screen that shows the next station and some stations after that. Plus, it will show information about the upcoming station, including any rail transfer opportunities, and guidance for connecting to buses, parking, biking or car-sharing.
The last way-finding feature is more of a “maybe” than a “like”: There will be two new-style panels toward the front and back of each car showing the upcoming stations, plus the end of the line station. You would look at this sign, as we did during a Tuesday ride on the Red Line, to see that the next station is White Flint, to be followed by Twinbrook and Rockville, before reaching the end of the line at Shady Grove.
I’ll be curious to see what you think of this particular feature. The new panels, especially when taken together with the other way-finding devices, are a significant upgrade to the rider information now available inside Metrorail cars. This particular feature takes some getting used to. For those of us who are used to looking at Metro system maps, or the line maps on the brown pylons on platforms or the stations-ahead maps on the sides of platforms, this new panel is a bit disorienting at first.
We’re used to seeing the stations ahead laid out on a line, from the closest station to the farthest. As you can see in the photo atop the blog posting, “This stop” is to the left side, in a red box. The second, third and “Last stop” are named in boxes to the right. Of course, that’s helpful, but your instinct may be to view those upcoming stations the way you would look at a traditional Metro map — as though they were stations you had already passed.
Overall experience: very positive. But it will be many months before we get to see the cars carrying a full load of passengers at rush hour.