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Metro’s trying some new arrangements again, and…

December 8, 2007, 6:49 PM

Metro is once again trying some new designs with its railcars. On Alstom 6104 and 6105, they’re testing some new “resilient” flooring. On Breda 3283, Metro is testing a new seating arrangement, involving more bench-style seating near the center doors. Then Metro tested metal “straps” on all three cars.

First of all, the flooring. Here it is:

Test flooring on Alstom 6104-6105
Photo: WMATA

The flooring instead of the carpet is something that I’m personally not all that concerned about. Metro’s carpet gets kind of gross pretty quickly, and so switching to something a little hardier, as long as people won’t slip around on it in wet weather, is fine by me.

However, I do have one complaint: The areas at the doors are not marked on the floors as they are with the carpet. Presently, the carpet in front of the doors is a different color than the carpet in the rest of the car. This essentially designates a “door zone”, which, in a perfect world, people should stay out of to facilitate passenger movements in and out of the rail cars. It also takes away some of the monotony of all one color flooring. For those of you not familiar, let me illustrate with this 2003 photo of Breda 4063:

Orange carpet on Breda 4063

See that brown swath on the floor? That carpet runs between the left side door and the right side doors. Designates the door location, so that people can (hopefully) stay clear to allow for movement in and out.

Though I will admit that the new flooring looks nice. And if it holds up like they say it will, it’s going to be a winner. Just as long as they put in those stripes. Metro’s going to be testing a few other colors and styles with the new flooring, so we’ll see what we get in the end. And then the door portions should be made a few shades darker than the rest. I would recommend to Metro that, when picking a color to go on their newer railcars (CAF, Breda rehab, Alstom), that they pick a neutral color, so that, if they decide to change the seat color scheme again, it will still look “right” with the new seats. On the old cars, getting the new color scheme looks weird:

Breda 4063 with CAF carpet and seats

By the way, that’s the more recent photo of Breda 4063 that I took in September.

And now for the arrangement where I have a little more concern: the seating on Breda 3283, which Metro rearranged to install bench seating. Observe:

Seating on Breda 3283
Photo: WMATA

Now first of all, if you’re wondering why Metro only did the bench seating as far back as it did, it’s because with the current car design, Metro can’t move that double-ended seat, because there’s equipment under those seats, and the double-ended seat keeps the equipment concealed from the public.

But have you noticed the look of those new seats? Those aren’t rail car seats – those are bus seats! See what I mean:

Similar seats on WMATA Neoplan bus
Photo: Oren’s Transit Page

Yeah, Metro put bus seats on their rail cars. I’m hoping that they only got bus seats because they were cheaper to buy and retrofit in than regular rail car seats, as the car will be going in for rehab sooner rather than later, as it’s an un-rehabbed 3000-series car. If Metro replaces their nice, padded rail car seats with bus seats, I’ll be unhappy, as I spend like an hour or so a day in those seats (my Metro ride to work is roughly 30 minutes each way). I also ride a bus to get to and from work to get up Georgia Avenue beyond Glenmont, and I can barely stand those bus seats for the five or so minutes it takes to get up the road, let alone thirty…

Now as for the bench seat arrangement, I think that Metro would probably make some other change that they couldn’t do on this set of Bredas that would change the results. For instance, they didn’t install a double handrail along the ceiling (likely due to the impending rehab), which they would probably do if they actually went with bench seats on new cars. That was a big complaint about it from what I read from various people online. If the arrangement can get people to cram into the center of the car more efficiently, then maybe it will work, but with the handrails in the old configuration, no.

Now, speaking of handrails, notice anything strange in the back of that WMATA photo? There is a floor-to-ceiling pole with three hand-holds on it. Verdict: No. The pole is located by a door, which would encourage people to congregate around the door. As for the three-handled design, I’d send it back to R&D, since it sticks out, and I could imagine a small child hitting its head on it accidentally, or adults getting hung up in it. Having seen the wall-mounted grab bars, and how those work rather well, the three-handled bar should go.

But the bench seating isn’t all in terms of seating testing. Metro also installed “leaning rests” in the non-cab end of Breda 3283. Observe:

"Leaning rests" at blind end of Breda 3283
Photo: WMATA

Now this solves one problem and creates another. The “blind” end of the cars, as normally configured, are a bit of a no-man’s land as far as standees go. There are no ceiling hand-holds, so standees can only hang onto the rails on the seat backs. Thus it’s easy to get thrown around in there if you’re standing. So as you can see, they put more handrails in. However, those lean rests seem to be an inefficient use of space, with there being a lot of dead space behind them, and they have sides on them. Personally, I can imagine the imprint of one of those side railings in my leg, as I’m somehow mashed into one on a crowded ride back to Glenmont.

First of all, if the seats are to go, then fine. However, what would I do? I’d add more wall-mounted hand-holds similar to those on the Alstoms, and about four to six additional floor-to-ceiling poles in that area. You could certainly cram a load of people into the space that currently only holds eight in the normal Breda/CAF car configuration, and ten in the Rohr configuration.

So all in all, I’m glad that Metro’s working on their traffic flow problem. I’ve witnessed firsthand how people crowd the door area while the car centers are fairly empty. However, they need to come up with something more elegant and practical than they’ve got now to come up with a permanent solution. They should also consider more fundamental changes for new orders of rail cars as possible solutions. Might a redesign of the rail cars be possible to eliminate the double-ended seat? Add a fourth door on each side, perhaps? Hmmm…

Web site: WMATA's press release about the new designs

Song: The "Fred" song.

Quote: Another link I wanted to share: Metro Tests Bench Seats, Carpetless Cars, from The Washington Post.

Categories: WMATA