Metro is hoping that with some dressing up, you might almost forget you’re riding in an old 3000- or 6000-series rail car.
In a video posted to YouTube Monday, the transit agency announced it will freshen up some 3000- and 6000-series rail cars to mimic the look of the system’s newest trains. The changes include installing a silver vinyl overwrap that mimics the appearance of the 7000-series cars, replacing carpet with confetti patterned, nonstick flooring and outfitting them with blue padded seats — from older, legacy models. Two 6000-series cars will “look like new trains” beginning this week, Metro said.
Metro says the changes will give its rail cars a clean, unified look — and save money in the long run. In all, 12 cars will be given the new treatment, with the most prominent change running Metro $4,776 per vinyl wrap, according to agency spokesman Richard L. Jordan.
Metro says the nearly $60,000 pilot will result in cost savings in the long run and reduce environmental waste in turn. The agency didn’t cite any specific data or provide a cost-benefit analysis — however it did note that it costs about $14,000 to paint a rail car and that the vinyl wrap is expected to last longer than paint.
Metro did not directly respond to a question about how often it paints its legacy cars, or how long the new overwraps are expected to last by comparison.
Cars are painted “as needed” based on their condition or unexpected causes such as graffiti, Jordan said.
“Painting is very time consuming, which means the car is out of service for an extended period of time,” he said. “It requires several coats and proper safety protocols due to the chemicals used. Removing those risks is another benefit of the wrap.”
Jordan said the agency will be evaluating the wraps’ durability during the pilot. The agency will also examine how effectively the pilot reduces environmental waste.
“The vinyl wrap allows Metro to use environmentally safe chemicals to clean the rail cars, which also benefits employees,” Jordan said. “The original aluminum surface requires harsher chemicals that are treated prior to discharge to the sanitary sewer.”
Still, the irony of cosmetic changes to old cars — especially for an agency already grappling with how to fund a new budget — wasn’t lost on riders and critics, many of whom questioned the agency’s priorities.
In his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has asked the District, Maryland and Virginia for a $165 million increase in subsidies to cover Metro’s needs. Riders are still reeling from rail and bus fare increases that went into effect in July, in addition to reduced service on five of six rail lines and changes to dozens of bus routes.
Monday’s marketing video prompted riders on social media to ask why the cash-strapped agency was making cosmetic changes, as opposed to pumping money into improving safety and service.
Some lamented aesthetic change itself, including the potential loss of the iconic brown stripe running down the sides of the trains, emblazoned with the Metro logo, which matches pylons and other design aspects of the Metro system.
Metro argued that customers prefer the new look.
“This exterior wrap is consistent with the customer feedback we used to create the 7Ks and was confirmed last month by focus groups aboard the new cars,” Jordan said. “Customers like the sleeker, modern, cleaner look. They favor moving away from the dated 70s color (brown exterior and orange interior). They vastly prefer the resilient flooring to carpeting.”
Metro says the new look will be restricted to the 3000- and 6000-series models because the 5000-series cars are scheduled for retirement. As new trains arrive, Metro said, the 2000-series rail cars will increasingly be used for maintenance purposes rather than passenger service. Metro has already retired the last of the 1000-series, deemed uncrashworthy by the National Transportation Safety Board, as well as the problem-plagued 4000-series.
If the pilot is successful, Metro said, riders can expect all 3000- and 6000-series cars to receive the new overwrap. Advertisers are welcome to purchase the wraps during the pilot, Jordan said. So what would it take for Metro to consider the pilot a success?
“We will be looking at the feasibility and durability of the product while also considering the potential to minimize the environmental impact of washing the vehicles,” Jordan said.