Metro Blue Orange Silver Capacity & Reliability Study

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About this study

Metro launched the Blue/Orange/Silver Capacity & Reliability Study (BOS Study) in early 2019 to identify the best and most cost-effective solutions to address future ridership, service, and reliability needs on these Metrorail lines. After conducting an analysis of the key issues and trends, Metro presented a range of alternatives seeking public feedback. The study team is now evaluating the alternatives to narrow the options and conduct a more detailed analysis. 

*Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the study period has been extended and is reflected in the updated timeline. 


Project status: at a glance

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Purpose & Need: Identify study purpose and need for improvements to the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. Assess key issues and trends in study area.  
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Alternatives Development:
Identify and prepare conceptual designs that address the purpose and needs identified.
 check box image Alternatives Evaluation: Compare and evaluate options based on criteria including impacts on ridership, capacity, reliability and service levels. 
 Image of checkbox in progress Cost/Benefit Analysis: Assess total construction and operating costs for each alternative against the benefits it would produce in order to identify the most cost-effective option(s). 
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Selection of a Preferred Alternative:
 Selection of preferred solution, likely to be comprised of both long-range and short range solutions, described as a "locally-preferred alternative" (LPA). 

Study Goals

The study and preliminary concepts seek to address four goals for Metrorail service in the shared BOS corridor:


1. Serve current and future ridership demand 

The maximum number of trains that can run through the Rosslyn tunnel on shared track using existing technology is 26 trains per hour (TPH) in each direction divided between the three lines. 

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.

Today, trains on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines are already crowded during rush hours. Some Orange Line trains between Court House and Foggy Bottom are at maximum capacity. By 2040, population and job growth in the BOS corridor is forecast to grow more than 30%, increasing Metrorail ridership by 18%. Even with all 8-car trains, there will not be enough rush-hour train capacity to meet the future demand.

Passenger Crowding (click on images to enlarge) 

Map shows AM peak-hour passenger loads in 2018 - where there was crowding, optimal loads & nearly empty. The section b/t Court House & Rosslyn was overcrowded, while sections between Ballston, Pentagon, & McPherson Square were near max 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.

2. Improve reliability and on-time performance

On-time performance on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines remains below target, despite significant improvement as a result of Metro's SafeTrack emergency repair program, robust preventive maintenance, and schedule adjustments. In April 2016 trains incurred delays every day during the AM commute, compared to only 40% of days in April 2019.

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

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.

About half of delays are caused by mechanical failures and infrastructure issues that can be addressed with ongoing maintenance. The other half 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.

Today, a single disruption can impact all three lines and in severe cases may even disrupt service on the Yellow and Green lines.

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

3. Improve operational flexibility and cost-efficiency

The physical constraints on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines limit Metro’s ability to operate more efficiently and adjust service during disruptions or preventive maintenance necessary to the long-term health of the system. Building more infrastructure for trains to switch tracks or turn around would allow Metro to shorten single tracking or run different service patterns that minimize the impact of disruptions, scheduled track work or special events.

Operational flexibility also gives Metro the ability to match service to demand. In some parts of the system, trains run nearly empty all the way to the end of the line, and that imposes higher costs on Metro and taxpayers. We can maximize the cost-effectiveness of Metro service with more dense development around stations, known as Transit Oriented Development (TOD), and by providing the ability to vary service patterns. To better serve taxpayers service may be increased where demand is strong and maintained or reduced in other areas. 

Illustrative comparison of the cost to taxpayers of operating fully-occupied trains versus almost empty trains.

4. Support sustainable development and expand access to opportunity

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.

Sustainability Goals Graphic v2

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 improve service with more trains and less crowding, reduce delays, optimize ridership and provide more cost-effective service.

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.

Comparison of passengers missing their train to passengers boarding on-time. Metro will explore options to maintain and improve on time performance.

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.

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.

After the study is completed and a "locally-preferred alternative (LPA)" is identified, Metro will move forward with the federal environmental review process, design and competition for federal funding. The future phase of project development will also include additional opportunities for public engagement. 

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.