Have you ever sat in the front seat facing forward in a 6000-series (the newest) Metro car that is leading the train?
You probably have. But have you really looked around? It’s easy to miss all the wonderful details of the rapid-transit system that we don’t even think about: The illuminated tunnels winding creepily through the city; the operator shifting in his/her seat, getting up to open the doors; and a first person roller coaster-style view of the world, best experienced on the elevated portions of the railroad, like the Red Line — and I bet the Silver Line Tysons segment won’t be too shabby of a view as well.
Also visible are the cool directional signs that help remind operators where they are. At McPherson Square, a sign points toward Farragut West, indicating the stations are only 1401 feet apart. I can sprint that faster than the train!
Of course, from this vantage point there are also reminders of what ails our going-on-40-years-old system. Most notably is the speedometer, which is manually controlled ever since the 2009 crash. Look closely and you will see two bright red numerals, indicating the operator’s desired speed of the train. No, the train can’t go 0-50 in a blink.
According the Slickapedia, the trains have a top speed of about 55 mph. However, going under the Potomac River, or many other places in the system, you can see how debilitated the tracks are when the operator lowers the speed through “slow zones.” The operator will knock the 55 mph down to 35 or even lower; you have likely heard odd beeping from the trains before. I am fairly sure this is the train (or someone at Metro’s communication center) telling the operator to slow down. Me, I want them to step on it, but what do I know.
From the first-person view, one can see that the trains go pretty damn fast, the operator’s job is harder than it looks, and yes, the system is falling apart. But I bet if you take a seat there, you will look at the Metro system in a different way from now on.
P.S. The front car is also always the least crowded. Don’t tell anyone.