Washington, D.C. Metro

From nycsubway.org


WMATA Red Line station at Gallery Place-Chinatown. Photo by David Pirmann, August 2008.


The Washington, DC Metrorail system is a regional rapid transit system consisting of five lines, 83 stations and approximately 103 miles of track. System completion as originally planned was achieved on January 13, 2001.

Construction began on December 9, 1969, with the first stations opening on March 27, 1976. Since then, there have been numerous extensions to the original system. Not only is the District of Columbia served by the Metro system, neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia also have Metro service. The National Airport has its own station, and there are stops throughout central Washington DC, many of them near key government buildings and tourist attractions. The system is a tourist attraction in itself - the stations features high, vaulted concrete ceilings, indirect lighting and wide, tiled platforms. Trains are fast and frequent, especially during peak hours. They can reach a maximum speed of 85 MPH, but rarely exceed 75 MPH. The lines are designated by color: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and Orange. These colors are found prominently throughout the system: on pylons at the entrances, on train destination signs and on platform route signs. The Red line runs entirely by itself (formerly, there was a rush hour service where some trains turned on to the northern end of the Green line at Fort Totten during rush hours), but the other lines share various stretches of track: Blue with Orange and Green with Yellow in the District, and Blue with Yellow in Virginia. In addition to the modern design and efficient service, this is the first subway in the world to be fully air-conditioned underground, both on the trains and in the stations.

The system does not operate during the overnight hours (opens 5 a.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. weekends; closes midnight Sunday-Thursday, 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday). During these hours, trains and stations are swept and cleaned. Every station is accessible to the mobility impaired, with special elevators leading all the way to the platform. There is a kiosk at every station entrance, where security personnel observe the station activity on television monitors. Cameras are strategically located throughout the stations; as a result, crime is extremely rare and graffitti is non-existent.

Most underground stations have banks of escalators leading to the station mezzanines, or 'pods'. In a few cases, there are staircases as well. The escalators descend into short, curved tunnels which open directly onto the entrance pods, which sit above the tracks. Beyond the turnstiles (known as 'faregates'), another set of escalators lead to the platform level. There are around 600 escalators serving the stations of the Metro. One of the world's longest escalators, at 230 feet, can be found at the Wheaton station on the Red line.

Outside of each station entrance is a tall, brown pylon. The station's name is printed in white letters running sideways up the pylon. The Metro "M" is shown at the top; and just beneath the "M" there is a colored stripe (or combination of colored stripes) that indicates which line (or lines) serves the station. Underground station entrances are generally set in small plazas or squares, although some can be found inside building entrances or even in buildings themselves. Outdoor station entrances vary in appearance and location, depending on the geography and topography.

System Construction and Architecture

Construction of the Metro system was accomplished using a variety of techniques. Many sections of the system were built using the traditional cut-and-cover method; other sections were tunnelled deep into the earth (Red line subway above Silver Spring). A section of tunnel beneath the Anacostia River was built using prefabricated tunnel units sunk into the river bed. Some parts of the system are in shallow tunnels, with stations in open cuts, or trenches. There is a bridge over the Potomac River, as well as numerous other elevated and ground-level sections. A number of Metro lines follow CSX and Amtrak rights-of-way.

Stations in the Metro system tend to look similar to one another, but there are some architectural style differences. Underground stations all feature vaulted ceilings - either coffered arch (referred to as "waffle" design in this document), or one of three broader arch designs (referred to as "Arch I", "Arch II" and "Arch III"). Platforms are predominantly of the island variety, although a number of stations feature dual side platforms. Six transfer point stations feature bi-level designs; at four of these stations two lines intersect on different levels. Elevated and surface stations use mostly a gull-wing roof design, but a number of these have roofs with peaks in the center, other stations (Franconia-Springfield, Huntington, Prince George's Plaza, West Hyattsville) have unique designs.

Very few materials are used in the Metro system - concrete is used for all underground stations, and all elevated structures are set on concrete roadbeds supported by heavy concrete piers. All platform surfaces are the same - hexagonal terra-cotta tiles with a non-slip surface. At the edges of the platforms are granite strips with lights set in them that flash when a train approaches. Smoked plexiglas panels are found in the roofs of elevated stations. Most stations (except a few on the Orange line) have sheet metal pylons on their platforms and mezzanines; these are enameled in dark brown and have white lettering indicating the station name running sideways up the pylon. Many have lights set in their crowns, which shine upwards at the station ceiling. In addition, many of these pylons (the thicker ones), contain air-conditioning ducts, which circulate cooling air throughout the station. Other air-conditioning ducts are located in the bases of the station walls. Acoustic soundproofing panels are everywhere - in the ceiling coffers, in the ceilings beneath the entrance pods, even in the trackbeds, offering a good degree of noise abatement.

The station lighting is indirect - a mixture of mercury-vapor lamps (in the crowns of the pylons), and flourescent tubes (located at the bases of the station walls). At side-platform stations, there is also a bank of flourescent lights located on the station floor between the two tracks. There are incandescent floodlamps located in recesses on the ceilings of the undersides of the station pods. Outdoor stations feature clusters of glass globes mounted on the platform pylons, each with a bright, clear incandescent bulb within (In some stations, these have been replaced with brighter, compact flourescent lamps). These globes are also found on the undersides of the platform roof eaves. As a result, the outdoor stations are somewhat dimly lit. A few of the more heavily-traveled ones (i.e. West Falls Church) have sodium-vapor light under their platform roofs.

A reason for the architecture change between the older stations and the newer ones was simply an economy measure: the Arch design stations use concrete panels, pre-cast in Winchester, VA then hauled underground and erected. About 280 of these precast panels make up each station's ceiling and sides. System-wide, a savings of about $10 million was achieved over casting in place as was done in the waffle-design stations.

Route Map


Line By Line


WMATA Red Line


WMATA Blue Line


WMATA Green Line


WMATA Orange Line


WMATA Yellow Line


WMATA Silver Line


Washington, DC Metro Subway Car Manufacturers

delivery dates and unit numbers


The first shipment of cars to the Washington Metro consisted of 300 Rohr-built cars. There were three shipments of Breda-built cars in 1982, 1986 and 1991. 192 cars ware built by CAF Industries of Spain and were delivered beginning in 2001, and a 184-car order from Alstom was delivered between 2005 and 2008.

Beginning in 2013, WMATA began the process of replacing the earliest cars in its fleet with 748 new "7000 series" cars from Kawasaki Heavy Industries. These new cars would replace all of the 1000-series Rohr cars still in service and most of the 1980s-era Breda cars, with some fleet expansion to service the Silver Line. 7000-series cars entered service on April 14th, 2015.

Washington, DC Metro cars all have a similar exterior design. Each car is 75 feet in length and 10 feet wide. They are arranged in permanently coupled married pairs, similar to those found in many other transit systems (like New York). They have six doors (three per side), with three large picture windows on each side between the center and end doors. The passenger capacity is 68 seated, 119 standing, for Breda cars and 78 seated, 102 standing for Rohr cars (Breda cars have extra standing room around the end doors; Rohr cars have seats there). The sides taper slightly toward the roof line from below the window line. The roof itself is flat, with a slight curve at the corners. The ends have large windows in the knockdown transverse cabs. There are destination signs above the car end doors, and also on the sides of the cars above the windows at the forward end. Around the windows, the car bodies are enameled dark brown with silver or white lettering displaying the Metro logo. The car numbers are found either on small plates or stenciled onto the body just below the cab windows. They are not very large, and can be difficult to spot. Speakers have also been added recently to the car exteriors, enabling those on the platform to hear the announcements made inside the cars. The cars feature a digital voice that announces "doors opening", "doors closing" and "Please stand clear of the doors, thank you". In addition, there is a two-tone door chime, identical to that found in the New York City Transit R44, R46, R62 and R68 car series. Each car also contains an intercom, which can be used in an emergency to communicate with the train attendant. The car end doors are locked, preventing passage between cars while the train is in motion; this is for obvious safety reasons and is standard practice with 75-foot subway cars.

These cars are computer-controlled; the attendant (motorman/conductor) is responsible only for opening and closing the doors, and announcing the station name and what side the doors open on. They are also very fast; they have a balancing speed of 79 MPH, which is above the maximum speeds of most other systems. Since many stations are separated by considerable distances, there are quite a few places where trains can reach 70 MPH or more. [The fastest speed that the author has recorded is 79 MPH, aboard a Blue Line Rohr train, in a tunnel between Stadium-Armory and Benning Road.] The acceleration rates range from 0.75 MPH/sec to 3.0 MPH/sec; deceleration rates range from 3.0 MPH/sec to 0.75 MPH/sec. All Metro cars are equipped with both dynamic (electronic) and friction braking systems; you can hear the "whine" of the dynamic brakes as the train comes to a stop. The overall system is known as Automatic Train Control (ATC), and controls all train movements - braking, acceleration and speed control, but can be manually overridden by the attendant in the case of an emergency. In each cab is a fully digital console, with all of the appropriate controls. The train's maximum allowed and current operating speeds are shown via orange (Rohr) or red (Breda) LEDs and are visible from behind the cab window. There is also a master train control handle as well as an emergency stop button on the console.

The car interiors are carpeted and have soft vinyl seats in shades of red, orange, yellow and brown (see note below). All cars are fully air-conditioned. There is a bar running down the center of the car ceiling, as well as handholds on the seat backs and steel poles to hold on to. The lighting is fluorescent, and the fixtures run down the lengths of the ceiling corners. There are partitions near the doors, with lights in the bases and safety glass in the upper half. Rohr cars (1000-1299) have interior panels that feature a light grey, grained design; the Breda cars have a smooth, cream-colored finish. In addition, the Breda cars have an enlarged standing-room area around the end doors, which means that there are fewer seats in these cars. The transverse cabs can be "knocked down", or partially opened up, allowing passengers to sit in a "catbird seat", behind a smoked-glass partition. This allows passengers in the rear cars of trains to get a spectacular view of "where they've been" from the full-sized picture window. Interior advertising is kept to a tasteful minimum. The new CAF cars will have a new interior color scheme: navy blue, maroon and a yellowish-beige "sand" color. If this goes over well, it may also appear in any cars which undergo overhaul.

Washington DC Metro cars out of service

Dates (where available) and unit numbers

Jan 13, 1983Rohr 1029
Jan 6, 1996Breda 3252
Jan 6, 1996Breda 3191
Work motorsRohr 1028
Work motorsRohr 1114-1115


The signals differ from most - instead of the standard railroad red, yellow, and green, there are just two colors: red (stop) and white (proceed). Caution or switch is indicated by a flashing white signal. The tracks are all welded rail, curves on elevated and ground-level sections are slightly banked, allowing the trains to round them at up to 45 MPH. There is a 'tripping' mechanism which can stop the train if it should attempt to pass a red signal while under manual operation.

Fare Collection

The Metro system uses a farecard system to collect fares. The farecard is a lightweight (tag board) card, with a magnetic strip on the back. It is quite intelligent - not only does it record where you enter and exit the system, but it remembers how much money is left on the card. Farecards are purchased from machines located at the station entrance. Passengers insert currency into the machine, then can either the adjust the value of the card or simply buy one for the shown amount. The farecard value is shown on the front of the machine. A new refillable plastic fare card known as the SmarTrip is also available. These cards are also used to pay for parking at daily lots on weekdays (parking lots are free on weekends and holidays).


Once a farecard is purchased, it is then inserted into a slot in what passes for a turnstile, locally known as a faregate. On some of these, the card is sucked into the faregate and ejected on the top; on others it is returned to the cardholder in the same slot after being read. The faregate then opens, and the passenger enters the system. The farecard is also needed to exit the system - The fare is zoned, which means the longer you ride, the more the ride costs. The maximum fare is $4.50. The fares are reduced on weekends, and several types of reduced fares for the elderly, disabled, and children are available. All-you-can-ride off-peak day passes are also available.


A timeline of milestones in the construction and operation of the Washington Metro:

1969: December 9. Ground is broken at Judiciary Square.

1976: March 27. Metro opening day. 4.2 miles of revenue miles and five stations opened on the Red Line, Rhode Island Avenue, Union Station, Judiciary Square, Metro Center, and Farragut North. Gallery Place didn't open due to a court order relating to the lack of handicap access.

1976: December 15. Gallery Place opened following a waiver issued that stated that the handicapped persons' elevator would be in operation by July 1, 1977.

1977: January 17. Dupont Circle opened on the Red Line adding 1/3 revenue mile.

1977: July 1. Blue Line makes its debut between National Airport and Stadium-Armory; It includes 18 stations and 12 miles of track for a total of 17.6 miles & 25 stations.

1978: February 6. Red Line is extended from Rhode Island Avenue to Silver Spring; It was a snowy day and it now brings all three "players" (Maryland, Virginia, & Wash. D.C.) together with revenue service. The system is now 23.3 miles long with 29 stations.

1978: November 20. Orange Line makes its debut with trains running from Stadium-Armory to New Carrollton; To make things simple & logical, all trains ran from New Carrollton to National Airport to eliminate unneeded overlapping. Five stations opened, Minnesota Ave and Deanwood in the District with Cheverly, Landover and New Carrollton in Prince Georges County, Maryland.

1979: December 1. Orange Line again grows in Arlington with four new stations opening beyond the Rosslyn Station: Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square and Ballston; Orange Line trains now run from Ballston to New Carrollton with Blues running from National Airport to Stadium/Armory. The system is now 33.63 miles with 38 stations.

1980: November 22. Blue Line grows out beyond Stadium/Armory to Addison Road with three new stations, Benning Road, Capitol Heights and Addison Road; System is now 37.13 miles and 41 stations.

1981: December 5. Red Line grows again. It's now extended out from Dupont Circle with three new stations at Woodley Park-Zoo, Cleveland Park, and Van Ness-UDC. Total mileage is now 39.12 with 44 stations.

1983: April 30. Yellow Line makes its debut with trains running between Gallery Place and National Airport crossing over Metro's new Potomac River Bridge. The new segment brings into operation the lower level of Gallery Place, the upper level of L'Enfant Plaza and one new station: Archives-Navy Memorial.

1983: December 17. The Yellow Line is extended south of National Airport to Huntington adding 5.2 miles to the system making it 47.7 miles long. This also marks the first time the Metro goes beyond the Capital Beltway (I-495); Four stations opened, Braddock Raod, King Street and Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria and Huntington in Fairfax County. This is the first of many stations for Fairfax County.

1984: August 25. Red Line extended to Grosvenor adding 6.81 miles and 5 stations...Tenleytown and Friendship Heights in the District and Bethesda, Medical Center and Grosvenor in Montgomery County, MD.

1984: December 15. Red Line extended north to Shady Grove adding 4 new stations in Montgomery County, all outside the Beltway: White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville and Shady Grove. This is a 7-mile extension bringing the system to 60.5 miles and 57 stations.

1986: June 7. Orange Line is extended out to Vienna adding 4 new stations, East Falls Church, West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna. All four stations lie within the median of I-66. This is a 9.1 mile extension making the system 69.6 miles long with 61 stations.

1990: Sept. 22 Red Line is extended out to Wheaton opening up some of the deepest stations in the system, Forest Glen (which is the deepest) and Wheaton. Total number of stations is now 63.

1991: May 11. Green Line makes its debut opening from Gallery Place north to U Street-Cardozo. For simplicity reasons, all trains run from U Street-Cardozo to Huntington as Yellow Line trains. 3 stations open: Mount Vernon Square-UDC, Shaw-Howard University, and U Street-Cardozo.

1991: June 15. The Blue Line is extended west from King Street (trains actually terminated at National Airport w/ Yellow Line trains serving Braddock Rd. & King St.) to the Van Dorn Street station. This was the only station opening. At this time the system has 67 stations and has 79 miles of track in service.

1991: December 28. Green Line makes its formal debut. Three new stations open: Waterfront, Navy Yard and Anacostia. Yellow Line service now terminates at Mt. Vernon Square-UDC.

1993: December 11. North end of Green Line opens between Ft. Totten and Greenbelt. The segment is 6.7 miles in length and adds 4 new stations, West Hyattsville, Prince Georges Plaza, College Park-U of MD, and Greenbelt. 74 stations are now in operation.

1997: June 28. The Blue line is extended once again, this time to its planned terminus at Franconia-Springfield. This brings the total number of stations open to 75.

1998: July 25. Red Line reaches completion with opening of the Glenmont Station. The total number of stations is now at 76.

1999: September 18. Green Line inner-city segment opens, linking Fort Totten and "U" Street-Cardozo. Two new underground stations open: Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Columbia Heights. The Green Line Shortcut between Greenbelt and Farragut North is discontinued. Total number of stations is now 78, with five to go.

2001: January 13. South end of Green Line opens between Anacostia and Branch Avenue. The segment is approximately 6.5 miles long and adds 5 new stations. The system as originally planned and conceived is now complete. 83 stations are now in operation.

2004: December 18. East end of Blue Line extended beyond the Beltway as Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center stations open. The Extension is 3.1 miles in length and brings Metrorail to a total of just over 106 route miles and 85 stations.

2014: July 26. Silver Line opens, adding 11.5 miles and 5 stations from Largo Town Center to Wiehle - Reston East, sharing tracks with the Blue and Orange lines to East Falls Church.

Future Plans

As the Washington DC metropolitan area grows, so grows its transportation system. Currently, there is one active expansion plan in the works for Metro.

Extension to Dulles Airport. The Dulles Airport extension project involves the extension of the Metro along the 23.1-mile Dulles Corridor beginning at the existing Metrorail Orange Line near the West Falls Church station. Phase I of this extension opened in 2014 and was named the WMATA Silver Line. The 11.5 mile Phase II of the Silver Line is under construction from Wiehle - Reston East to Dulles Airport and beyond to Ashburn.

Georgetown. When the Metro system was in the planning stages, they wanted to include a route to Georgetown, but the residents of the affluent neighborhood thought the subway would bring crime and would be seedy, not the technological marvel that it became. There is now a talk of trying to create a sixth line that would run relatively along M Street NW, Massachusetts Avenue NW, H Streets NW and NE from Georgetown then up Bladensburg Road NE to Ft. Lincoln New Town (along the Maryland line near New York Avenue NE).

Purple Line. Another project being planned is the "Purple Line", a sort of rail beltway connecting the Red, Green, and Orange lines from Bethesda to New Carrollton. Project by the Maryland Transit Administration, plans call for it to built and operated under a franchise type contract and not by WMATA.

Other extensions that were planned but not implemented:

  • Lincolnia extension, from Pentagon along Columbia Pike and Seminary Road/Shirley Highway (I-395) to Lincolnia (no route color assigned)
  • Green Line north from Greenbelt through Beltsville to Laurel.
  • Orange line beyond New Carrollton to Bowie.
  • Green Line south to Brandywine and possibly Waldorf (Charles County)
  • Yellow Line south towards Mt. Vernon.
  • Blue Line south towards Dale City & Prince William County
  • Orange Line west to Centreville

Surface/Underground Portions of Lines

The Red Line is underground:

  • From south of Twinbrook to North of White Flint
  • From South of White Flint to north of Grosvenor
  • From halfway between Grosvenor and Medical Center to just northeast of Union Station
  • For about 500 feet somewhere between Rhode Island Ave. and Brookland
  • From halfway between Silver Silver Spring and Forest Glen to just north of the end of the line at Glenmont, but before the outdoor railroad carwash.

The Orange Line is underground:

  • From just west of Ballston to just east of Stadium-Armory-Hospital-Prison (to list everything at that station).

The Blue Line is underground:

  • For about 1/2 mile west of King St.
  • For about a mile somewhere between National Airport and Braddock Road
  • From Crystal City to halfway between the Pentagon and the Cemetery
  • From just after the cemetery to just after Stadium-Armory
  • From just before Benning Road to the end (except for the area surrounding and including Addison Road station)
  • From just east of the Addison Road station to Morgan Bouelvard.
  • From Morgan Bouelvard to just inside the Capitol Beltway.

The Yellow Line is underground:

  • The southern third of the Huntingdon station is buried in a hillside, so it is partly underground
  • A section just between Eisenhower Ave and King St for about 1/2 mile
  • From there, same as blue to Pentagon, then still underground for a mile up to the aboveground section over the Potomac River
  • From just before L'Enfant Plaza to Mount Vernon Sq.

The Green Line is underground:

  • From Anacostia to inches before the Fort Totten Station
  • From just after Fort Totten for about 1.5 miles, then under and over to W. Hyattsville, then under and over to PG Plaza, then under and over to College Park, then overground to Greenbelt.

The Silver Line is underground:

  • From east end of Greenboro to double crossover west of Tysons Corner.
  • From just west of Ballston to just east of Stadium-Armory-Hospital-Prison (to list everything at that station).
  • From just before Benning Road to the end (except for the area surrounding and including Addison Road station)
  • From just east of the Addison Road station to Morgan Bouelvard.
  • From Morgan Bouelvard to just inside the Capitol Beltway.

Photography Rules

WMATA Filming Regulations for Non-News Media Requests pertains to professional film and photography shoots. Nothing found on their web site about amateur/railfan photography. First-hand experience and second-hand reports suggest Transit Police and/or Metro employees might approach you to find out what you're doing and remind you not to take photos of "sensitive areas", no flash and the usual reminders. Be prepared to show photo ID.


WMATA Photo Gallery-Car Interiors

Washington, D.C. SubTalk Field Trip Reports

WMATA. Official site of the Washington D.C. transit agency.

Building the Washington Metro. An online exhibit telling the story of the D.C. Metro, including planning, engineering, construction, architecture, and operations.

Metrorail Guide. The Washington Post's guide to using the Metro system.

Page Credits

By Wayne Whitehorne and Mark Greenwald. Thanks to John Cambron for the Silver Line description. Route Map by Michael Calcagno and Seth Morgan.

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