Thursday, March 08, 2007


No, not that trainspotting. For a while now, since I've been riding train to work regularly, I've been taking notes on the Metro cars. Metro cars all clearly display their registry number, so they are fairly easy to track. And there a number of differences between cars. Some are quite obvious - the plastic walls and outfitting in older cars is slightly yellowish, while newer cars are all white. Other details take a more attentive eye - the type of LED message boards installed, the arrangement of handrails, the emergency door handle covers.

To engage my mind while I sit in the cars for about 40 minutes every day, I've been drawing sketches of the arrangements and noting many of the details. It's true, I could probably find all the information about Metro cars by writing the WMATA, or doing some research at the library or perhaps even right here on the internet. But I'm enjoying the puzzle.

So far, I've been able to find 7 different series. Unsurprisingly, the registry numbers clearly reflect this division. I admit, I'm not cracking the Enigma code here.

1000s: Appear to be the oldest, the paleo-Metro cars. Yellowish plastic walls and details. No LEDs. Smooth metal handrails, one central overhead rail above aisle. Lots of steel handhold columns. Plexiglass dividers on both sides of all doors. The only type I've observed with single-seat benches (besides fore and aft doors). Orange carpets, orange seats.

2000s: Rarest on my routes on Yellow and Green lines. White plastic. LEDs installed at ends. Similar to arrangement of 1000s, with deletion of plexiglass dividers closest to midbody at fore and aft doors, and side benches removed from locations near the same. I suspect the ones I've seen have been remodeled updates of older cars.

3000s: Yellow plastic, no LED, otherwise identical to 2000s.

Remodeled 3000s: Identical to 3000s, now with LEDS, white interiors. Essentially the same as 2000s, but I've noted a plate noting "Remanufactured by Allstom."

4000s: Built by Breda Costruzioni Ferroviare. Yellow plastic. Same arrangements as 3000s. While the handhold poles and overhead rails are smooth steel, the handrails on the seats are coated with some kind of texturing, and are brown. The least aesthetically pleasing of the Metro cars.

5000s: Identical to 2000s. I suspect this was the new baseline the older 2000s and most 3000s were modified to match.

6000s: Brand new. Rather than plexiglass dividers at the midbody doors, there are two half-height opaque plastic divider with a diagonal top, one on each side of the car catty-corner from each other. There are no dividers at the fore and aft doors, and no side benches there either. The single handrail over the aisle is replaced by two in parallel. There are also two parallel overhead rails running athwartships at the doors. Vertical and horizontal handrails on walls near doors. All of the freestanding handhold poles are eliminated, though all the seats now have one (except the double benches halfway between each door set). LEDs fore, aft, and center. Radically different from any other series, clearly designed to increase standing room.

I mention this today because someone actually asked me about it this evening as I rode home. I sat next to a woman on the Yellow line, and she looked at my chicken-scratch diagrams and asked "Is that a language?" She thought it might be Sanskrit or Arabic. So I started to explain what I was doing. Pretty soon, I was talking about it to 3 or 4 people around me, and a few other guys were standing above looking at the notes. Since they were strangers, I had no reservation about completely geeking out. I was able to demonstrate my knowledge by telling them, without seeing the number, that it was a remodeled 3000 series car, probably in the low 3000s somewhere. It was car 3056. It was by far the most enjoyable conversation I've ever had with strangers.

Now, I understand that this is all severely dorky. But I think the world is an interesting place. Everything in it is interesting, and if you don't engage your mind with it, you are missing out. It doesn't matter what you investigate - just think about something. It won't make my life any more meaningful if I figure out what types of cars Metro owns, and why they are the way they are. But it makes my life richer. Everyone understands the importance of exercise to stay healthy. You should also walk out into the world and work out your mind.

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LifelongLearner said...

Seeing your notes, why do I have the sudden urge to watch Se7en?

The first thing that came to my mind too was "Did he learn Arabic?" Then I realized that it was engineering language - seating arrangement diagrams.

Which cars do you see most frequently on your routes? What is the highest registry number you've seen in each series? The lowest, overall - can you find the original 1000 car? Are there exterior differences, or does the Metro have as strict a set of standards for their cars' outward appearance as they do for the design of the stations? Are there any other manufacturer's labels on the cars? I don't know offhand what the name of the transit-car company in Montpelier is, but I wonder if they made any of them.

Dan said...

The most common sightings are Remodeled 3000s.

The highest registry number I've seen is 6056.

Exteriors of Metro cars are identical, except for the recent addition of "Ad Cars." The entire exterior of the car is an advertisement. Instead of the standard unpainted aluminum, the car is usually all one color (I've seen red and blue) with huge ads along the side. I've only taken notes on a 1000 series that was made into a Unisys ad.

The stations are not as uniform as you might think. There are at least 3 different concrete arch forms in use, and numerous arrangement variations: center platform, single end exit, single central exit, double end exit, crossing station (L'enfant, Gallery Place, Fort Totten), diverging station (Rosslyn, Pentagon). Stations are my next project.

Some cars do have labels - the Breda Costruzioni cars all do. I believe some cars were made by Bombardier, but I have never seen a plaque in the cars to confirm this. At least parts of those would have been made in Montpelier, I think.

MoneyMakin,MoneyMoneyMakin said...

Ad cars? Oh, dear.

Of course the stations are not completely uniform - architecture, especially public architecture, shouldn't be - but design standards for Metro stations are certainly very strict. Relating it back to Seaside FL, which earlier raised your concern for design authoritarianism, the Metro station standards are at least an order of magnitude stricter.

Christopher said...

They've recently started putting ads on eggs here.

Dan said...

Wow. I just saw ads on eggs for the first time last week. Will they stop doing it at Easter, I wonder?

Kelly said...

Ads on eggs? I have yet to see that...thankfully. odd.

I never did see any ads on the outside of the cars, that would have been neat to see. When I rode the metro, I rarely rode a newer car, but never though to look around for the numering. Very interesting blog filled with great observations!