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Metrorail Track and Structures


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Metrorail System:

Metrorail System:

Click here to refer to the Metrorail system map

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA, has been in existence since about 1967 when the Metrorail, or Metro, system began construction. Today, the original 103 mile system has been completed following the last two uncompleted sections of the Green line, called the mid-E, or mid-city, and outer-Green lines. Construction of the expansion to Dulles Airport through Tysons Corner is currently ongoing.

The tunnels of the Metro system are nothing like New York or Boston because of the age of the system. There are no abandoned stations or hidden architectural marvels deep within the Metrorail system. Furthermore, even if there were, the Metrorail system is definitely not adventure-friendly for the average trespasser. First, all lines use a third-rail system, making a track-walker one slip away from toast. Also, all platforms have multiple cameras monitoring public areas and all doors, emergency exits, vent shafts, etc., have alarms on them. Even before 9/11, Metro Transit Police had a zero tolerance policy because of the number of suicides in the system and are very observant of people walking on or near the tracks or in restricted areas.

On that note, here are a few of the interesting aspects of the Metrorail system:

Non-revenue track between the blue/orange lines and the red line.

The Metrorail system was built in stages, The first stage was a 4.2 mile section of the red line from Rhode Island Avenue station to Farragut North Station that opened on March 27, 1976. The sole rail yard at this time was off Brentwood Road on the red line just inside of the Rhode Island Avenue Station. To move trains from the rail yard to the blue/orange line, there is a segment of non-revenue track that runs from the red line, outbound between Metro Center and Farragut North Stations. This track then connects to the Blue/Orange line outbound between McPherson Square and Farragut West

Best place to view this: Red Line's Farragut North Station on the south end of the platform (K Street side) looking down the tunnel on the Shady Grove side. At the end of the evening, around 11:30 or so, you may catch the money train using the spur. Also, on the last car of an outbound blue/orange train from McPherson Square during rush hour, or the last car of an outbound red line train from Metro Center. Rush hour makes the best viewing time because the back window of the last car is usually accessible.


Old Money Train Platform.

When the Metrorail system opened in 1976, the only line, the red line, ran between Farragut North and Rhode Island Ave. The Transit Authority needed a way to collect the daily revenue and used a money train to accomplish this task. For whatever reason, they decided not to locate a revenue facility at the rail yard in Brentwood, which would seem to be a logical choice. The headquarters of the Transit Authority is located directly above the red line tracks between Chinatown/Gallery Place and Judiciary Square stations. There is a very small platform, amounting to no more than an emergency exit, located on the inbound side (toward Metro Center) of the red line tracks. On the other side of this door, a steep, narrow set of stairs leads to the basement-level of the headquarters building, known as the Jackson Graham Building ("JGB"). At the top of the stairs, a 90-degree left turn leads down a long hallway to the main, open section of the basement. Today, cameras, a heavy door and an intercom system are all that indicate the use of this hallway. However, you can only imagine the poor saps who had to haul bags of quarters up these stairs - it must have taken hours to unload the trains.

Best place to view this: last car of an inbound (toward Metro Center) train from Judiciary Square station, looking to the near-side tunnel wall. The platform is still lighted, but it is so small it goes by in a flash.


Union Station Tunnel.

On the North Mezzanine level of Union Station (the entrance closest to the railroad tracks), there is a 550 foot tunnel that exists for unknown (to me, anyway) reasons but (as of the late '80s) is used as an escalator repair shop and parts storage area. The double-doors leading to this tunnel are located just feet from the Station Manager's kiosk. After entering the double doors, the tunnel makes a 90 degree left turn and continues for 550 feet. The width of the tunnel looks to be slightly larger than the double doors.

Best place to view this: the tunnel itself is behind two steel double doors, located about five feet from the Station Manager's kiosk on the north mezzanine.


Originally-Planned Dulles Airport Rail Station.

When Dulles Airport was built in the 1960s, the metrorail system was still in the planning stages. Although a Dulles Airport rail line is in the building and planning stages even now, rumor had it that the construction of the airport may have included a box tunnel and station for future rail operations. The Dulles rail station urban legend has since been disproved, in no small part by the current monetary and esthetic debates about where to build the airport rail station. To fill in a few details for those who live outside the D.C. area, the new rail line will run from the West Falls Church Station through Tysons Corner, then along the median of the four-lane airport access road to the Airport.

After a little searching, I stumbled over an engineering study of the proposed rail project. According to the report, which was conducted in 1969-1970, the rail link could be up and running by 1978. Needless to say, the line is still not built. According to the engineering study, a station was to be built near the Dulles Airport terminal building, located 28 feet below a parking lot. To quote the study, the train tunnel from the median of the airport access road to the station "cuts diagonally across the airport property to the east end of the terminal building. The tunnel then parallels the terminal structure on the north side to its midpoint where a stub-end station is located." The single track of the station would branch out into an inbound and outbound track a short distance from the station.

Two images from that report are provided below. The images show a schematic of the location of the station with respect to the airport. The top image shows a cross-section of the airport (showing the characteristic roof line) and the station is shown in the lower right corner. The thick diagonal line shows the location of the people movers. The bottom image shows a cross-section of the station and includes the dimensions of the station.

The station itself, according to the study, was to include a trackbed, an adjacent train-high platform that is 600 feet by 12 feet, and has a 23 foot ceiling. The length of a standard WMATA platform is 600 feet and is capable of handling an 8-pack, or an 8 car consist - the longest train WMATA runs. In the middle of the platform, there was to be a mezzanine area measuring 50 feet long by 10 feet wide. As any Metro rider knows, a rider needs a farecard to both enter and exit the system. In this station, the farecard machines to exit the station were to be on the platform level and the farecard machines to enter would be located on the baggage claim level of the airport terminal. This was necessary undoubtably because of the small area of the mezzanine: travelers with luggage, etc., pouring off the escalator would quickly overwhelm this small area.

Another interesting feature of this station involves the people-movers. Unlike most Metro stations, this one was designed for an inclined, moving walkway. This was presumably to accommodate the baggage, etc., that goes with airports. This is in contrast to the Reagan National Airport Station, which uses standard Metro escalators. Most unique is that the people-mover from the station rises to the departures level of the airport, the upper-most level. The people-mover to the station runs from the baggage claims level, which is one level below the departure level.


Backlick Road Spur

According to the same engineering study (see Dulles Airport Rail Station), a never-built spur from the blue line just past Van Dorn and short of the Franconia-Springfield Station (the last station on the blue line, opened in late 1997) was proposed. The spur in the study ran from just inside of the beltway/I-495/I-95, parallel to the same road, to a station located at Backlick Road.

The Backlick Road spur was originally part of the 98 mile ARS (Area Regional System) dated 06 11 1970 and was known internally by WMATA as the J route. The spur appeared on maps aboard trains during the first 5 years of operation of the system. These maps also showed what is now the Franconia Springfield Station located at Franconia Road and the CSX ROW. The station at this location was to be called Franconia Station. When the planned station was moved south to the present location at Franconia Springfield Parkway and Frontier Drive, the Backlick Road spur and station were dropped from the ARS. The remainder of the line from the never-built junction to the junction (C and J junction) with the Yellow line south of King Street Station is also part of the J route. [This information courtesy of John R. Cambron]


Pentagon Stub Tunnels

Just past the south end of the Pentagon station platforms (upper and lower) on the yellow line, stub tunnels dead-end off the main tracks. These tunnels were built to accomodate future expansion along a proposed route along Columbia Pike in Arlington County. This may have been known internally as the I line. [Some information courtesy of John R. Cambron]

Best place to view this: South end of the Pentagon yellow line platforms, particularly on lower level platform. [This information courtesy of John R. Cambron]


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