Great thread here at SubChat (h/t to Kurt Raschke) on the new Kawasaki 7000-series railcars Metro is getting. It led into quite an interesting discussion. In particular, there was one comment that deserves to be reposted here. It gets to the heart of what has plagued WMATA for decades and which the organization still has not come around to: Metro is urban mass transit, not commuter rail. Let’s act accordingly.
Seating capacity IS NOT the issue it was 37 years ago. When the system was designed, any notion that the ridership pattern would ever deviate from suburbs-downtown-and-back and circulating tourists between the Zoo and the monument core was quickly eradicated. (As plainly evidenced by the 2-track construction and routes.) Today, there is way, way more utilization by customers going only a few stops within the District. No one ever imagined there would be attractions and nightlife like Verizon Center or Nats Park. Or that anything east of Connecticut Avenue or south of Pennsylvania would ever become desirable neighborhoods and destinations. The handful of extra seats in a 3-door versus 4-door car configuration is meaningless in today’s reality of the system not being a convenience for suburbanites.
And, as far as there being a car shortage, that was a conscious decision on Metro’s part. You have said so yourself. While the stations were built for 600’ [8-car] trains, the power grid was not and still is not capable of supporting them. Without the requisite power, those cars would just be collecting dust. Oh, wait…there isn’t yard capacity for them, either.
WMATA needs to wake the f* up and get real about the future. I am sick and tired of the constant whining about “there’s no money!” Forget about the master plans from 40 and 50 years ago. Put together a goddamned master plan of what is needed to address the present day’s conditions and needs, and then push to make it happen. Things like 2 new 24/7 4-track trunks coming through the center of town (one east-west and the other north-south, with connectors allowing regular service between them and the existing routes). Upgrading power generation so 8-car consists could run at all times on all routes. Extend the system to Centreville, Woodbridge, Laurel, Bowie, Upper Marlboro, and Waldorf. Implement night-owl bus service that traces the existing subway routes, and key travel corridors to encourage people to use transit over driving.
The reason “there is no money” is that the public has not been engaged. With the green push, and various groups promoting “car free” and “car lite” lifestyles, this is the perfect time to get these things out there for people to make them priorities. The money will come once it’s clear there is money to be made building it.