Metro Blue Orange Silver Capacity & Reliability Study

About This Study

Home | About This Study | Get Involved! | Documents and FAQs | En Español

Study Purpose

Metro has started a two-year study to identify ways to address the current and future needs on the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines. The study will identify strategies to meet four key goals:

  • Serve current and future ridership
  • Improve on time performance
  • Increase operational flexibility
  • Meet sustainability targets

Metro Riders icon 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 20%, which will increase Metrorail ridership by 18%. The use of all 8-car trains alone is not enough to relieve the crowding and absorb future ridership growth.

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.

The impacts of regional population and employment growth on ridership demand within the study area. Analysis shows population will grow 25% and jobs by 21%. That growth will add around 40,000 new riders to these three lines - equivalent to a packed Nats stadium!

Study area map showing 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.

On Time icon 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 is still far below target. In April 2019 Metro reached its target only 60% of mornings due to unanticipated delays and service disruptions, compared to April 2016 when Metro missed the target every morning.

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 and, in severe cases, impacting Yellow and Green line service. Half of delays are caused by mechanical failures and infrastructure issues and can be addressed with ongoing maintenance. The other half of delays are 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.

Flexibility icon Increase operational flexibility
The physical constraints on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines limit Metro's service patterns, meaning where and how often trains operate. 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 provide cost-savings to Metro, while staying within the 3% operating cap. 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.

Sustainability icon Meet sustainability targets
Metro has established an Energy Action Plan - a detailed roadmap to reduce energy usage, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and generate cost savings. Transit already plays a vital role in providing sustainable transportation that keeps cars off the road. The BOS Study will support this initiative 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.

Study Area

The project area includes the east-west Orange and Silver line corridor, 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 study that complies with best-practices guidelines from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to quality as "early scoping". 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.

Metro will engage stakeholders and the public throughout the study. In June and July of 2019, project teams will distribute information and be available to answer questions at 13 Metrorail stations across the corridor. Starting in Fall of 2019, Metro will hold workshops, meetings, and surveys to get public input and ideas for potential solutions to address the needs and opportunities listed above.

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

Project Phases: At a Glance

Study process timeline. Shows the entire study will take from the Spring of 2019 until winter 2020. The study tasks are organized into five broad categories: 1. purpose and need, which is currently underway, 2. developing potential alternatives, 3. evaluating alternatives, 4. analyzing all costs and benefits, and 5. selecting a preferred solution. Public and stakeholder engagement will take place throughout the two years.

  • 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).

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 five technical and advisory committees:

The study is guided by input and feedback from five stakeholder advisory groups: an Executive Committee of elected officials from the study area. A Strategic Advisory Committee of regional transportation and planning executives.

Agencies participating in external advisory committees include:

Transportation Planning Board (TPB)
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments - Department of Transportation
National Capital Planning Commission
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA)
Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT)
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)
Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT)
Loudoun County Department of Transportation & Capital Infrastructure
Arlington County Department of Environmental Services (DES)
City of Alexandria, Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES)
Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA)
Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC)
City of Fairfax Department of Public Works, Transportation Division
City of Falls Church Department of Planning
DC Department of Transportation (DDOT)
DC Office of Planning (DC-OP)
DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST)
Washington Suburban Transit Commission
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) - Planning Department
Maryland Department of Transportation, Office of Planning & Capital Programming (MDOT)
Prince George's County Department of Planning, Transportation Section
Metro's Accessibility Advisory Committee
TPB Citizens Advisory Committee
TPB Access for All Committee