Metro Blue Orange Silver Capacity & Reliability Study

About this study

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Metro launched the Blue/Orange/Silver Capacity & Reliability Study (BOS Study) to identify the best and most cost-effective solutions to address future ridership, service, and reliability needs on these Metrorail lines. The approval of dedicated funding from Metro’s jurisdictional partners provides funding to bring the existing system into a state of good repair and keep it well maintained going forward; however, there are future transportation needs that we must begin addressing now.

We’ve worked with our partner jurisdictions and planning agencies to identify four goals for Metrorail service in the shared BOS corridor:

BOS Corridor Study Goal 1

Serve current and future ridership needs
The maximum number of trains that can run through the shared lines using existing techonogy is 26 trains per hour (TPH) in each direction, and that 26 TPH is divided between the three lines. Today, trains on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines are already crowded during rush hours, when some Orange Line trains between Court House and Foggy Bottom are at maximum capacity. By 2040, both population and jobs along the three lines are forcast to grow by more than 30%, which is estimated to increase Metrorail ridership by 18%. Even with alll 8-car trains, there simply is not enough rush-hour train capacity to meet the future demand.

Comparison of an equal distribution of 24 trains per hour under an eight minute headway versus an unequal distribution of 26 trains per hour under six minute headways. Metro cannot increase service on any one of these lines without reducing it on another line.

Study area map showing morning peak-hour train passenger loads in 2018. It shows where trains experienced crowding, where they carried optimal loads, and where they were nearly empty. The section between Court House and Rosslyn was overcrowded, while the sections between Ballston, Pentagon, and McPherson Square were nearing maximum capacity.

Study area map showing morning peak-hour train passenger loads by 2040. It shows where trains will experience crowding, where they will carry optimal loads, and where they will be nearly empty. As expected, the sections between Ballston, Pentagon, and McPherson Square will be overcrowded, while the segment between Court House and Rosslyn will be dangerously overcrowded.

BOS Corridor Study Goal 2
Maintain and improve on-time performance
As a result of Metro’s emergency repair program, SafeTrack, a robust preventive maintenance program, and schedule adjustments, on-time performance has significantly improved on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines, but it’s still below our target for good service. In April 2016, Metro did not run the scheduled number of trains during the AM commute even once. Things have improved a bit: In April 2019, Metro ran the expected number of trains 60% of the time.

This is not a matter of not having the trains, or the employees to run them. Rather, it’s usually the result of congestion caused by having many trains sharing a single track.

Comparison of the percentage of days in April Metro met train throughput targets during peak hours at Rosslyn, 2016 versus 2019. In 2016 Metro missed the target under six minute headways on all days. In 2019 under eight minute headways Metro missed the target 40% of days.

Shows the average percentage breakdown for the causes of delay and disruption over one minute. Shows that only around half of delays are caused by mechanical issues with railcars and tracks. The other half are fire, police, and medical issues, customer behaviors, and/or unanticipated scheduling and operations adjustments. Those types of disruptions will always happen and Metro needs the ability to manage them more effectively.A delay on one line can create a domino effect, impacting all three lines. In severe cases, delays can even spill over onto the Yellow and Green lines.   While about half of delays are caused by mechanical failures and infrastructure issues and can be addressed with ongoing maintenance, the other half is caused by unanticipated problems such as sick passengers, police activity, customers holding doors, and other factors.

When unanticipated disruptions like this occur, Metro’s ability to minimize the impact of single tracking or to quickly deploy relief trains is limited due to the two-track system and available infrastructure. Addressing these limitations requires solutions that will allow Metro to manage disruptions more efficiently.

Illustration showing how delays on one line impact service on all three lines.

BOS Corridor Study Goal 3
Increase operational flexibility
The physical constraints on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines limit Metro’s service patterns, meaning how Metro operates trains. At the same time, Metro’s robust preventive maintenance program is necessary to the long-term health of the system. To accommodate track work and minimize the inconvenience to customers, Metro needs more areas where trains can switch tracks or turn around, allowing Metro to reduce lengthy single-tracking and to deploy better service patterns during disruptions or special events.

The ability to run varied service patterns may also be more efficient, providing the appropriate number of trains to address your travel needs, while reducing unnecessary or redundant trips.  In some areas, underutilized trains run nearly empty all the way to the end, while other parts of the system that are already crowded need more service. This end-to-end service on all lines at all times comes at a real cost to taxpayers. Metro could better serve taxpayers by building the infrastructure for added flexibility to increase service where demand is strong, and to maintain or reduce service levels in other areas. Taxpayer subsidies would also be reduced if station areas are more intensely developed (transit-oriented development). TOD would generate higher ridership and revenue, which in turn would reduce the taxpayer subsidy.Illustrative comparison of the cost to taxpayers of operating fully-occupied trains versus almost empty trains.

BOS Corridor Study Goal 4
Meet sustainability targets
Metro's Energy Action Plan is our roadmap to reduce energy usage, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and save money through green initiatives. Public transit systems like Metro already play a vital role in providing sustainable transportation that keeps cars off the road. The BOS Study supports the Energy Action Plan by identifying ways to make Metrorail more cost effective and energy efficient.

Summarizes Metro's sustainability targets. 15% reduction in energy use per vehicle. 20% reduction in water usage per vehicle. 50% reduction in greenhouse gas per vehicle. 25% increase in regional transit ridership. 30% increase in renewable energy use.

Visit the Documents and FAQs page for more information on this study.

How this benefits you

Through this study, Metro will look for a solution or solutions that will aim to:

Improve service with more trains and less crowding. Trains are already crowded through Rosslyn during rush hours and will continue to get worse.
Comparison of platform crowding under different train frequencies. Peak hour trains through Rosslyn are already crowded, and we know it will get worse in the future. Metro will not be able to significantly reduce crowding on trains and platforms unless we can find a way to run more than 26 trains per hour through this corridor.

Get you where you're going, in less time.
Comparison of passengers missing their train to passengers boarding on-time. Metro will explore options to maintain and improve on time performance.

Reduce delays due to service issues and track and maintenance work.
Illustration showing how construction work zones impact reliability and on time performance. Delays on one line impact all three. Metro will explore options to better manage work zones and unanticipated delays.

Optimize ridership to provide more cost-efficient rail service.
Illustrative comparison of the cost to taxpayers of operating fully-occupied trains versus almost empty trains.

Study area

The project area includes the Orange and Silver lines, from Vienna and the future Ashburn Station to the New Carrollton and Largo Town Center stations, as well as the Blue Line between the Pentagon and Largo stations. Once Silver Line Phase 2 opens, the total area includes seven jurisdictions, 44 Metrorail stations, and 56 miles of track.

While any improvements recommended by this study will focus on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines, the analysis will also consider potential operational impacts on other lines in the Metrorail system.

Map of the study area. Includes the entire Silver Line from the future Ashburn Station to Largo Town Center, the entire Orange Line from Vienna to New Carrollton, and the Blue Line between Pentagon and Largo Town Center.

Study process - finding the solution

The BOS Study is a type of study known as an Alternatives Analysis (AA). The AA is a two-year effort that complies with best-practices guidelines from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This will allow Metro to move forward with the study recommendation(s) and compete for federal funding, while reducing the length and cost of any future environmental review process. The study recommendations will be based on data analysis, with input from regional stakeholders and the public to define the problems and determine the preferred solution.

The study is likely to recommend a comprehensive strategy to improve service on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines, consisting of both long-term and shorter-range solutions. The recommendations will be based on input from a large set of external stakeholders and the public.

Visit Get Involved for the latest information on ways for the public to participate and make sure your voice gets heard!

Project phases: at a glance

22A Process

  • Purpose & Need: This phase identifies the study's purpose and states why improvements to the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines are needed. This phase includes an assessment of key issues and trends in the study area.
  • Alternatives Development: The project team will identify and prepare conceptual designs for a set of options that address the purpose and need defined in the previous phase.
  • Alternatives Evaluation: The project team will then compare those options against each other using a set of evaluation criteria, including impacts on ridership, capacity, reliability, and service levels.
  • Cost/Benefit Analysis: The project team will assess the total construction and operating costs for each alterative against all the benefits it would produce, to help Metro leadership, stakeholders, and the public identify the most cost-effective option.
  • Selection of a Preferred Alternative: Based on the comparative analysis of alternatives and input from the public and key stakeholders, the project team will support Metro’s leadership in selecting a preferred solution, described in NEPA terms as a "locally-preferred alternative" (LPA). That LPA is likely to be a comprehensive corridor strategy that includes both long-range and short-range solutions.

After this study is completed and Metro has identified an LPA, it will carry that solution forward through the federal environmental review process, full design, and competition for federal funding. That future phase of project development will also include additional opportunities for public and stakeholder input.

Stakeholder committees

In addition to input from the public, the study will be guided by input from six technical and advisory committees:

The study is guided by input and feedback from six stakeholder advisory groups: an Executive Committee of elected officials from the study area. A Strategic Advisory Committee of regional transportation and planning executives. A Technical Advisory Committee of transportation and land use planning experts. A Business and Community Advisory Committee of representatives from business groups and large community based organizations. A committee of Metro technical staff, and one of Metro leadership.

Read a full list of the agencies and organizations participating in the external stakeholder committees.

Additional Information

See Get Involved to engage and share your input on the study.

See Documents and FAQs for project documents, news highlights, and further reading.