WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since they went into service, I have been eager to get my first ride on the new 7000 series Metro cars. Actually, I’ve wanted to do that since I saw this 2012 video of the prototype. They recently debuted on the beleaguered Blue Line in and thus far I had only seen one going the opposite way at Pentagon, though I had seen it prior to revenue service going down the Red Line through NoMa. Had one come through during my morning commute, I would have been tempted to jump on it instead of my normal Yellow Line train to Gallery Place.
On Monday, the second 7000 series train began service on the Red Line. I had some ambition of catching it, but due to delays on the bus to Pentagon and Yellow Line, I did not get to Gallery Place in time. In the afternoon, I saw it arrive on the platform at NoMa, but could not get to it before the doors closed.
Yesterday, afternoon though, I was able to catch it. When I saw there was an 8-car train coming next, I waited in the hope it’d be a new one. When I saw the black face of the train coming down the hill from Rhode Island Ave. station, I knew my wait would be rewarded.
MORE: Here's when and where to find the Red Line's 7000 train – Greater Greater Washington
What’s initially striking about the 7000 series is the lack of livery on the exterior. The little branding it has is the Metro logo in white-on-silver with pixels which seems like 2003 design. It’s underwhelming aesthetically, but that’s apparently the point. Changing that from white to black would probably go a long way in improving the look of the train. That’s really low on WMATA priorities right now.
Sorry about the white balance, stinkin’ refurbed droid
Inside, the train feels much larger than the traditional Metro car. The seats are sleeker with metal instead of plastic and smaller, blue cushions. There is more “air” in this design. Also, smartly, the seating arrangement in the front and back of the car between the end and the doors has three seats against the wall instead of two pairs in rows. That should improve flow at stations.
The cars have improved information with a screen showing the system map, other information and presumably, advertising.
Another map, similar to ones on the New York subway, is specifically for the line with the next six stops listed and then the last 5 stops.
The audio is different than the current cars with all announcements from a recording instead of the operator. The “doors closing” tone is also different and sadly not the old school ding from the 1990s.
Performance is certainly improved over the manual operation riders have been accustomed to since the 2009 crash. Looking inside the driver area, I could not determine if the new controls allow for more subtle manual operation than the first six generations of Metro cars. I certainly hope so, but at least for the time being, the 7000 series will travel as 8-car trains under automatic train control (ATC). The performance of ATC is much better than the manual.
The 7000 series is a sliver of hope in a dark time for WMATA. The daily breakdowns, congestion on the Blue Line in particular and January arching incident that killed an Alexandria woman near L’Enfant Plaza are making it hard for even the staunchest Metro cheerleaders to defend the agency. The detractors are getting the “I told you so’s” in and politicians sympathetic to that point of view are getting elected and Congress isn’t happy. The House wants a $50 million funding cut (DCist) too, something I saw referred to as “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”
What is lost in this is that building a 100+ mile subway system in this region is an unprecedented achievement that is being taken for granted. Seeing this bold experiment, conceived and built at a time where the automobile was king and required regional cooperation between 2 disparate states, a large city with limited autonomy and the federal government, struggle so much is disheartening. The agency, the unions, local, state and federal governments need to remember the past and rededicate themselves so that these shiny new rail cars are more than just prettier places to be stuck in.