At some point in 2014, WMATA’s newest rail cars, the 7000 series, will enter service. These cars will depart from the same basic design of all of Metro’s current rolling stock in a couple of ways. However, despite the accolades of the new designs from Metro, the 7000 series design misses some key opportunities to squeeze extra capacity out of the system and run the trains more efficiently.
While the ship has sailed for the 7000 series, all is not lost. WMATA will need to eventually expand the fleet and replace the remaining older rail cars; and will do so with the yet-to-be-designed 8000 series. (WMATA current has four cars with 8000-level numbers from the 1000-series, comprising the money train.) Depending on the source, design work on the 8000 series could start between 2018 and 2020; the lead time for developing a new rail car is long; note this article on the 7000 series (again, set to enter service in late 2014) dated from January, 2008.
The 7000 series has potential to improve reliability and operate efficiently: WMATA’s contract holds the builder to meet or exceed a standard of an average of 150,000 miles between failures (WMATA’s current fleet achieves just over 60,000 miles between failures; 150k represents an improvement, but still shy of NYC’s fleet average, yet alone the performance of NYC’s newest railcars).
Efficient and reliable systems will be an important improvement, but they don’t address some of the broader elements of a good rapid transit system. With an eye towards improving the 8000 series, and after riding modern rolling stock in other cities around the world, I’ll offer some suggestions for future railcars in DC.
Maximize the number of doors: While riding Line 1 of the Paris Metro under crush loads, one thing that amazed me was the consistently short station dwell times. As a train pulled into a station, large numbers of people would board and disembark within a matter of 10-15 seconds, and then the train was on its way. Contrast that against WMATA during peak hours at one of the key transfer stations (Metro Center, L’Enfant Plaza, or Gallery Place): I’ve often seen train operators start to close the doors after 20-30 seconds, but people were still getting off of the car, to say nothing of those waiting to get on.
Metro’s current rolling stock features only three doors on each side of a 75-foot long rail car (New York gets four doors to fit on a 60-foot long rail car; Toronto’s new cars feature four doors on a 76 foot long car) Increasing the number of doors on each train makes the exchange of passengers from train to platform easier and faster, particularly with large crowds. The added ease also improves the reliability and consistency of station dwell times. Wider doors are also an option; the MP-05 trains in Paris operating on Line 1 feature three sets of wide doors per side of each 50-foot long rail car.
Despite pleading from train operators, when the dwell times are not long enough for passengers to board/alight, they will hold doors open. This introduces the potential for delay, both by degrading WMATA’s schedule adherence, but also by risking a door malfunction that will take the train out of service. WMATA’s procurement documents for the 7000 series sought a “proven linear door drive system” to improve reliability; however, changing the system’s design (by adding more doors) has the opportunity to improve efficiency and reliability above and beyond the technical systems.
Open gangways: More doors improves passenger flow between the train and platform; removing the doors within the train allows passengers to move along the entire length of the train. This increases capacity and improves the passenger experience, allowing them to naturally balance the load and move along the train if one car is too crowded.
Looking through the open gangway of new S-stock in London, and at the floorplate in the gangway going around a curve. Photos by the author.
The most compelling reason is additional capacity. In Toronto, the new ‘Rocket’ subway cars increased capacity by 8-10 percent. London’s new Sub-surface rolling stock features open gangways between cars, as does the MP-05 stock in Paris. New York is considering open gangways for future railcar procurements.
When asked about why the 7000 series did not include open gangways, Metro cited vague concerns about safety where a suspect might roam throughout the entire train. Yet, in New York, politicians have cited the inability to move between cars as a threat to safety. Both arguments rest on dubious assumptions, but appeals to a vague sense of safety cannot trump the obvious boost of an additional 10% capacity.
Seating arrangements: During discussions about the 7000 series, WMATA opted to keep the current seating arrangement, dominated by forward/rear facing seats, rather than sideways-facing seats that maximize standing room. In WMATA’s own mock-ups, the loss of seated capacity is minimal (about 8 seats per married pair, or 4 seats per car on average). While bench-style seating is common in Europe, is is not used exclusively – though all of the newer railcars make a strong effort to increase standing room and improve passenger flow within the car.
For example, consider the option of using forward/rear facing seats as singles instead of doubles. WMATA’s transverse seating is usually arranged 2+2, with a fairly narrow aisle. The MP-05 rolling stock in Paris uses a 2+1 combination, in addition to substantial center-facing seating. London’s S-Stock offers a variety of options, as does Toronto’s Rocket. Extensive use of flip-down seating adds flexibility for a variety of users, offering seats when necessary, but providing additional standing room during peak hours.
Passenger information: One of the most obvious improvements for passengers on WMATA’s 7000 series will be “next stop” displays (noted for the prototype’s typos), similar to the ‘FIND’ system in some of New York’s subway cars. These displays offer a strip map of the line, showing the next stations. However, more is possible. In Paris, the digital displays in the MP-05s not only display the upcoming stations, but the time to the end of the line, as well as major upcoming transfer points.
Digital displays offer flexibility to the operator to use trains on any line. However, many operators nonetheless use old-fashioned, route-specific strip maps.
Even though it’s not a subway or rapid transit application, the in-train displays from the Netherlands are impressive. The screens show the current route, next stops, scheduled arrival time and track. When arriving at a station, the in-train displays will show platform information for connection trains, allowing passengers to head directly to that platform. In the event of a delay or change in the schedule, the displays update immediately.
Overall: I’ll note that none of these are new or unique ideas; Matt Johnson (open gangways; more doors) and David Alpert (transverse seating) both suggested similar changes for the 7000 series. I’ve offered suggestions in the past, as well.
You don’t even need to look overseas to see many of these ideas in action. As mentioned above, Toronto’s new Rocket subway cars incorporate most of these ideas. WMATA has the same opportunities. Toronto’s Rockets feature permanently married 6-car trainsets (the maximum length for Toronto’s system), four doors per 76-foot long car, and lots of standing room without removing all transverse seating – something to aspire to for WMATA’s next railcar procurement.