Metro History

The Past, Present and Future of Metro.

Current Metro Logo
Current Metro Logo

WMATA broke ground for its train system in 1969. The first portion of the Metrorail system opened March 27, 1976, connecting Dupont Circle to Rhode Island Avenue on the Red Line.  The 103 miles (166 km) of the original 83-station system was completed on January 13, 2001 with the opening of Green Line’s segment from Anacostia to Branch Avenue.

WMATA’s bus system is a successor to four privately owned bus companies. While WMATA’s original compact provided only for rail service, by 1970 the need for reliable bus services to connect passengers to rail stations led to calls for authority over the bus system as well. The compact was amended in 1971, allowing the authority to operate buses and take over bus companies. After months of negotiations failed to produce an agreed price, on January 14, 1973 WMATA condemned DC Transit and its sister company, the Washington, Virginia and Maryland Coach Company and acquired their assets for $38.2 million. On February 4, it acquired Alexandria, Barcroft and Washington Transit Company, which operated in Northern Virginia, and the WMA Transit Company of Prince George’s County for $4.5 million. While AB&W and WMA Transit were in better financial condition than DC Transit, their owners did not wish to compete with a publicly owned bus system, and requested takeover.

In 1998, Congress changed the name of the Washington National Airport to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport with the law specifying that no money be spent to implement the name change. As a result, WMATA did not change the name of the National Airport station (which never included the full name of the airport). In response to repeated inquiries from Republican congressmen that the station be renamed, WMATA stated that stations are renamed only at the request of the local jurisdiction. Because both Arlington County and the District of Columbia were controlled by Democrats, the name change was blocked. Finally, in 2001, Congress made changing the station’s name a condition of further federal funding.

Since opening in 1976, the Metro network has grown to include five lines and 106.3 miles (171.1 km) of track. The rail network is designed according to a spoke-hub distribution paradigm, with rail lines running between downtown Washington and its nearby suburbs. The system makes extensive use of interlining – running more than one service on the same track. There are five operating lines and one line under construction. The system’s iconic official map was designed by noted graphic designer Lance Wyman and Bill Cannan while they were partners in the design firm of Wyman & Cannan in New York City.

There are 40 stations in the District of Columbia, 15 in Prince George’s County, 11 in Montgomery County, 11 in Arlington County, six in Fairfax County, and three in the City of Alexandria. The Silver Line will add 11 new stations, eight in Fairfax County and three in Loudoun County, Virginia.

About 50 miles (80 km) of Metro’s track is underground, as are 47 of the 86 stations. Track runs underground mostly within the District and high-density suburbs. Surface track accounts for about 46 miles (74 km) of the total, and aerial track makes up 9 miles (14 km).

At 196 feet (60 m) below the surface, the Forest Glen station on the Red Line is the deepest in the system. There are no escalators; high-speed elevators take 20 seconds to travel from the street to the station platform.

The Wheaton station, next to Forest Glen station on the Red Line, has the longest continuous escalator in the USA and in the Western Hemisphere, at 230 feet (70 m).

The Rosslyn station is the deepest station on the Orange/Blue Line, at 117 feet (36 m) below street level. The station features the second-longest continuous escalator in the Metro system at 194 feet (59 m); an escalator ride between the street level and the mezzanine level takes nearly two minutes.

The system is not centered on any single station, but Metro Center is at the intersection of the Red, Orange and Blue Lines, the three busiest lines. The station is also the location of WMATA’s main sales office. Metro has designated five other “core stations” that have high passenger volume, including: Gallery Place, transfer station for the Red, Green and Yellow Lines; L’Enfant Plaza, transfer station for the Orange, Blue, Green and Yellow Lines; Union Station, the busiest station by passenger boardings; Farragut North; and Farragut West. In order to deal with the high number of passengers in transfer stations, Metro is studying the possibility of building pedestrian connections between nearby core transfer stations. For example, a 750-foot (230 m) passage between Metro Center and Gallery Place stations would allow passengers to transfer between the Orange/Blue and Yellow/Green Lines without going one stop on the Red Line. Another tunnel between Farragut West and Farragut North stations would allow transfers between the Red and Orange/Blue lines, decreasing transfer demand at Metro Center by an estimated 11%. The Farragut tunnel has yet to be physically implemented, but was added in virtual form effective October 28, 2011. The SmarTrip system now interprets an exit from one Farragut station and entrance to the other as part of a single trip, allowing card holders to transfer on foot without having to pay a second full fare.



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