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Blue Line Changes Will Relieve ‘Orange Crush’

by ARLnow.com October 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm 10,950 59 Comments

(Updated at 1:05 p.m.) Changes approved by a Metro committee yesterday will provide some much-needed relief to the “Orange Crush” — the overcrowding of passengers on the Orange Line around rush hour.

Starting mid-2012, six additional Orange Line trains will be put in service each peak hour, three in each direction. Those trains will run from West Falls Church to Largo Town Center, which is normally a Blue Line station. To allow that to happen — the Orange Line tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom operates at capacity during peak hours — six Blue Line trains will be diverted over the Yellow Line Bridge.

Those “former Blue Line trains” will operate between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt, a Green Line station. The trains — three in each direction during peak hours — will be identified as Yellow Line trains.

The so-called “Blue Line split” will serve to relieve passenger congestion between Rosslyn and Courthouse, identified as the most crowded section of the entire Metro system. It will also free up some capacity for the future Silver Line to Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport.

From a Metro press release:

During peak periods, more than 46,000 Orange Line customers will benefit from six additional trains per hour — three in each direction — resulting in 18 percent more capacity on the line, or approximately 2,600 seats per hour. The new trains will operate between West Falls Church and Largo Town Center.

The Orange Line is Metro’s second busiest, carrying approximately 180,000 passenger trips on a typical weekday. In a phenomenon known as Orange Crush, peak trains on the Orange Line between Courthouse and Rosslyn carry more passengers per car than anywhere else on the system.

During peak periods, the tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom is at capacity, with 26 trains per hour in each direction. The additional “slots” in the schedule will be made possible by routing three Blue Line trains in each direction over the Yellow Line bridge each peak hour. Trains following this service pattern will travel between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt and will be considered Yellow Line trains.

For 33,500 Blue and Yellow Line customers in Virginia, the realignment will mean more trains providing faster access to downtown via the Yellow Line bridge. A smaller number (about 16,000) weekday peak-period customers who travel on Blue Line trains via Arlington Cemetery will experience a maximum of six-minutes additional waiting time for a train.

In addition, stations on the northern segments of the Green/Yellow lines will see additional trains during weekday peak periods. Stations from Shaw-Howard to Greenbelt will benefit from six additional Yellow Line trains each peak hour — three in each direction — between Greenbelt and Franconia-Springfield. For the first time, a customer can travel from Greenbelt to Franconia-Springfield without transferring. More than 28,000 customers will benefit from the change.

Members of the Metro board gave the plan “preliminary approval” at a meeting yesterday. They also approved a new Metro system map (above). The service changes are expected to take effect in June.

  • Brian

    Sounds like a great plan, but I’m sure Metro will find some way to screw it up

    • CW

      Lol. What I don’t understand is why they don’t just go to more 8-car trains. The issue with crowding at Rosslyn is because the trains have to alternate coming through the track merge to where the line goes to a single track (from Rosslyn to Stadium-Armory) and offloading at the platform. A blue has to wait for an orange, and vice verse. In this respect, there’s no incremental increase or decreas in throughput due to the length of the train. A train is a train; it still has to merge and offload. One will notice that once the trains are through Rosslyn, there’s hardly any slowdown going into downtown. They could actually increase throughput by running FEWER trains, but having them be 8 cars. Fewer trains means less inefficiency getting everyone onto the shared track.

      • Steve

        I think I read that they don’t have the electrical capacity to run all 8 car trains without building more substations.

      • Lou

        Each two-car set on a train provides its own locomotive power. So an 8-car group is drawing 33% more juice from the rail than a 6-car set. The system simply does not have enough power running through the third rail to turn many more trains in to 8-car trains. They have juggled 8-car trains around the system as best they can to satisfy the multi-jurisdictional governance they are stuck with.

        • CW

          I’ve heard that reasoning before, but to make sense it depends on how the system is wired. I don’t know much about high-voltage distribution. Is the whole system on a single circuit, with all the trains in series? If so, it shouldn’t matter if they take the same number of two-car sets and distribute them differently (into 8-car trains instead of 6); the current draw would be the same. Conversely, if each small section of track had its own power supply, then one would think that it would be sized to peak load, that being an 8-car train. Note that I didn’t suggest to increase the total number of cars on the line at a time – that would clearly require increased power supply – but simply to reorganize same the number of existing cars to cut down on the bottleneck at Rosslyn.

          • Lou

            Well, if you are familiar with any kind of engineering and implementation you probably know they are dealing with diversity factors and safety overhead in their system calculations anyway, so there is probably enough power to add some cars anyway.

            I think you are focusing on a track switching issue at Rosslyn that is not the main problem related to the “Orange Crush”, which is simply a capacity issue. The only way to relieve the crowding would be adding more cars. Turning 8 6-car trains in to 6 8-car trains just means fewer packed trains that arrive less often.

          • CW

            Alright, fair enough. But if they’re going to have to accomodate the extra silver line trains, they’re going to need to upgrade the power system anyhow.

            Maybe the track switching isn’t as much of an issue, like you say. But it certainly gets mentioned quite a bit, and anecdotally but with a large sample size (500 morning rush-hour rides or so), it certainly seems that trains always have to wait to get into Rosslyn, then things smooth out from there.

          • Lou

            In terms of scheduling, the switches at Rosslyn are a big issue during rush hour. As Metro says, they are running the maximum number of trains through there during rush hour. Per the schedule, that is 26. In real life, who knows. The limiting factor is the switch cycle time, which is the cause for a lot of waiting in the tunnel.

            I think the other shoe to drop will be that there will not be extra Silver Line trains. They will just displace Orange Line trains. Again, an upper limit on the number of cars per line. Still the same throughput through the core, but degraded service beyond the splits.

          • CW

            That made me realize an interesting point. The anecdotal saying has always been that orange and blue line trains come every 3 minutes (ideally) during rush hour. That would be 40 per hour. But if only 26 can get through, then that can’t be…

          • Sam

            CW, how do you get 40? Trains coming every 3 minutes would be 20 trains per hour. Of those 20, ten would be blue and ten would be orange. In this case, there are 26 per hour. This means that they are arriving at the station (on average) every 2 minutes and 18 seconds.

          • CW

            Sam – I meant on each line. Go to court house and you see 3, 6, 9 minutes when it’s running well. Every 3 minutes on the orange and same on the blue. So 40 total if this really were the case.

          • Josh S

            There are definitely strange bunchings in the schedule. The 3, 6, 9 is not consistent for any length of time on the Orange line. I frequently am seething at EFC when I have to wait 5-6 minutes at 7:45 in the morning. You can guess just how crowded that train is even at EFC with a six minute headway.

          • rock u

            wow. i scroll down to the comments and find an actual, factual discussion on transportation optimization instead of a bunch of children insulting each other. How refreshing! 🙂 I wish you guys worked for Metro…

      • wat

        There are less merging trains because there is effectively only 1 blue line station, Arlington Cemetery. All other stops are serviced by either Orange or Yellow line trains.

        Less merging means they can fit more orange trains on the line to fill the time merging used to take.

        The electricity thing is an odd argument point, mainly because it costs more to have a train operator than it does to run the extra electricity. If they are increasing the number of trains then they need more operators.

        • CW

          I think the concern is not the operating cost of the electricity itself, but the up-front cost of the circuitry and power supply to handle that much current (transformers, etc.).

          • Lou

            Yes, it is not because they do not want to pay a higher electric bill, it is an infrastructure investment issue.

  • Steve

    According to WRC TV yesterday this is merely a proposal and the metro board votes on it in two weeks. It isn’t certain yet.

    • Sam

      Correct. But they voted to approve the update to the map that includes this route change. So, it is pretty likely that they’ll vote for the route change itself.

  • John B

    I’m always amazed at how much ammunition we give potential terrorists via news releases: “In a phenomenon known as ‘Orange Crush,’ peak trains on the Orange Line between Courthouse and Rosslyn carry more passengers per car than anywhere else on the system.”

    But yeah I agree, I’d rather see more 8-car trains than anything else during peak hours. Even if it means fewer trains (because of a limitation on the number of cars Metro has) it would work out because of fewer delays at the chokepoints.

    • JB

      Oh please, like that’s not popular knowledge…

    • Josh S

      Who are these “potential terrorists?”

      Crowded commuter trains have existed around the world for decades. It ain’t news.

  • John Fontain

    Bravo! Smart move by Metro. I’ll be looking forward to this.

  • Bob

    John B – I’m pretty sure that these boogeymen that you are worried out don’t need a WMATA press release to figure out that the orange line gets a bit crowded in the evenings.

  • Robin

    How is this “new” Blue line substantially different from the Yellow line except a few stops at the ends? Wouldn’t it be easier/less confusing to call it a “special” Yellow line?

    • FW

      Jaundice Line?

    • Lou

      The main change will be that someone going from Ballston to Pentagon City will have a longer wait at Rosslyn to get on a Blue.

      • wat

        But someone going from Chinatown will have less of a wait because there will be more Yellow line trains.

    • SomeGuy

      I agree.

    • wat

      if you look at the map, that is exactly what it is. Yellow will start in Springfield.

    • Sam

      They are calling it a change to the blue line because it will take blue line trains off the Arlington Cemetery-Largo Town Center part of the route. It’s being shown as a change to the yellow line. And the map reflects that. But they are “blue line changes” as the headline describes.

      When implemented (assuming that it is), it will be Yellow Line to Franconia-Springfield. And when you board at Franconia-Springfield, you’ll see yellow and blue trains.

  • FW

    Then what about when the Silver line comes into the Orange?

  • Downside

    For all of those who work in SoArl (Pentagon, Pentagon City, Crystal City) and live in NoArl this sucks or vice versa. It will add alot more waiting time as less trains will be going from Pentagon-Arl Cemetary-Rossyln as theyll be routed over the 14th street bridge.

    Im surprised, ARLnow, a blog about all of Arlington would not pick up on this…

    • Baja

      It’s all about the greater good. The article clearly discussed the implication of longer wait times for “NoArl to SoArl” via the Blue Line. However, while it might suck a bit more for you, it will suck a whole lot less for the much greater number of Arlington folk and others who use the Orange Line.

      Plus, it will ease the transition to incorporate the Silver Line, as some Silver trains will replace Orange trains, but the ratio of Silver/Orange vs. Blue Line trains from Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom will probably stay the same.

      • John K.

        Greater good? Arlingtonians are rarely about the the greater good in transportation (ref. I-66, slip lane removal, and “traffic calming” in lieu of stop signs).

    • Or…


    • MC

      Traveling by public transit from NoArl to SoArl is horrific period. There need to be viable bus options. Metrobus and ART assume you will take the subway, but it never works, especially on weekends when you spend all your time waiting for the right train.

      • Tabs

        ART needs to be more reliable. The drivers have a real mañana attitude.

  • Dense

    I’m not sure I’m following what this means for people that take the blue line in Rosslyn in the evening then switch to yellow along the way to go to Huntington.

    • Patrick

      It means you will have to wait longer since there will be fewer blue trains passing through Rosslyn.

    • wat

      You will still have to switch trains. There aren’t yellow line trains from Springfield to Largo, there are yellow from springfield to mt vernon/ft totten/greenbelt (not sure where the terminus is supposed to be for these rush hour trains).

      So nothing will change but your wait times. It’ll pry be 7-9 min between trains rather than 4-7.

  • Josh S

    I can see this site needs a little bit more cross polination from GGW. They’ve been discussing all of this in great detail over there for years. Including all of the wrinkles/issues already mentioned here and many more.

    I think that while lack of power may be part of the issue, simply not having enough cars is really a better explanation as to why more 8 car trains are not run.

    • CW

      I used to read GGW; their ad infinitum bickering about trivialities and head-in-the-clouds optimism that smart growth can save the world eventually rotted my brain to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore, and I blocked out everything I ever read there. One can only take so many 200-post threads about a the definition of a curb cut, you know?

      • CW

        (Also, I might add, their non-hierarchical commenting format makes it nearly impossible to follow a given subtopic through a thread)

      • Josh S

        Oh I definitely agree about the incredible length of posts about very specific kinds of things. I, too, stopped reading it. It just wasn’t very interesting and populated by some of the dullest Internet commenters around. At least we’ve got Kalashnikev, Steve85 and the rest around here.

        On the other hand, they are generally very well informed about Metro, etc.

  • Chad

    I think this solution is ultimately short-sided. What’s the long term plan here? I ride from Farragut West to Pentagon City and vice versa in the morning and the trains in the evening hold a lot of people already. It’s not anywhere near the orange line trains, but they are packed generally. I’m not sure what this will do to capacity of the blue line trains too. It just seems like they are going to have a similar issue taking blue line trains off between those stations.

    Farragust West, GWU, Rosslyn, Pentagon, Pentagon City are the major stops on the blue line for a lot of riders.

    • Or…


    • Maria

      I’m having a little trouble visualizing how all of this works, so I could be wrong but… I think it’s maybe because more people who are going from downtown to Pentagon City and south (especially Van Dorn St and Franconia stations, which aren’t currently served by the yellow line) will take the special Yellow train instead of the normal Blue trains they take now. Therefore, the Blue trains towards Franconia might actually be less crowded (or the same amount of crowded because they will come a little less often).

      I have no idea if that makes sense, but I’m also having a little trouble expressing what I’m thinking!

  • Unless they build more tracks and tunnels and bridges this is merely a bandaid on a chainsaw injury.

    • clarendon

      for once I agree with you!

  • Amanda

    I agree with most of the comments; I take Blue line from Van Dorn to Farragut West, this article makes me think that I’ll be waiting longer for a blue line train at farragut west in the afternoons. Also; why are they running more trains in the opposite direction in the afternoon; I see both the Orange and Blue are near empty heading towards New Carrollton and Largo in the evening rush hour…

    • Lou

      Think of the linear path on the map as a stretched out loop. For the trains going in your direction to appear, they have to first go the other direction and turn around.

  • Or…

    Yeah, much better to screw over those of us on the South side who would like to get around our own county. Best that we wait, no need to inconvenience the Orange liners. What a load of crap.

    • Lou

      Maybe Zimmerman will build you a streetcar up and down Glebe Road.

  • Pedro

    At what stop along the “new and improved” lines will Dr. Dremo be located?

  • Valerie

    Just fix the escalators and elevator at Rosslyn

  • Charles

    How many more millions will this cost? Or did Metro lie to us when they claimed it costs $6 million to run Yellow Line up to Fort Totten during rush hour?

  • Akashi

    Mid-2012? How about just paying the Circulator folks with their $1 fare buses to extend the current Dupont Circle-Rosslyn route to Court House? That will divert enough passengers from the Orange Line Rosslyn-Court House segment to take away its status as most crowded. I bet they could institute that change before Halloween! Too simple or too cheap for WMATA?

  • aed939

    What they really need to do is run the silver line trains from Courthouse down to Arlington Cemetery and then over the Yellow line bridge. They would need to build an underground bypass track just South of the Rosslyn station. This would balance the volume across the two Potomac river crossings, which would also facilitate better emergency evacuation.

    • Josh



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