Metro Blue Orange Silver Capacity & Reliability Study

About this study

Metro launched the Blue/Orange/Silver Corridor Capacity & Reliability Study (BOS Study) in 2019 to identify potential solutions to address multiple needs and opportunities on those three Metrorail lines. Following extensive community outreach, public meetings, and work with the community and local jurisdictions, we have come up with a range of potential infrastructure and operational improvements that will ensure quality service while meeting the needs of the growing region

Peak-hour trains on these three lines were dangerously crowded before the COVID-19 pandemic, and projected growth in households and jobs means overcrowding will likely occur again in the future. Population and jobs along the BOS lines are projected to grow more than 30% by 2040. But Metro cannot run enough trains to handle that growth as long as the three lines run through the same tunnel. This poses significant challenges for our capacity, reliability, and customer experience, as well as the region's goals for development, equity, and environmental sustainability.

Project status: at a glance

We are currently in the process of selecting a locally-preferred alternative, as reflected in the timeline below.

Image showing the BOS study process and timeline, currently in the final phase of selecting a locally-preferred alternative.

The study process has included the following steps:

Check mark showing that this step in the study process has been completed

Purpose & Need: Identify study purpose and need for improvements to the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. Assess key issues and trends in study area.
Check mark showing that this step in the study process has been completed
Alternatives Development:
Identify and prepare conceptual designs that address the purpose and needs identified.
Check mark showing that this step in the study process has been completed Alternatives Evaluation: Compare and evaluate options based on criteria including impacts on ridership, capacity, reliability and service levels.
Check mark showing that this step in the study process has been completed 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).
Graphic indicating the current phase of the study process.
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 Area

The project area includes the Orange and Silver lines from the Vienna and Ashburn stations to New Carrollton and Downtown Largo Station, as well as the Blue Line between the Pentagon and Downtown Largo stations. Including the recently-added Silver Line stations, the total study 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 also considered potential operational impacts on other lines in the Metrorail system.

Image showing the BOS study area, including a 2-mile buffer around the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.

Study Goals

The BOS Study was created to develop and evaluate a range of options to meet those needs. Based on the needs and goals, we have identified six alternatives for further evaluation. Metro's Board of Directors will then select a "Locally-Preferred Alternative" (LPA), based on data analysis, community partner and jurisdictional input, and public feedback. The LPA is intended to address regional problems, so it must be a regional solution.

The LPA needs to achieve four goals for the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines:

Image showing the four study goals: (1) Provide adequate transit capacity to meet demand. (2) Maintain and improve on time performance and Metro's ability to manage service disruptions. (3) Increase cost efficiency. (4) Ensure a sustainable future and access to opportunity.

1. Serve current and future ridership demand

Metro can operate a maximum of 26 trains per hour (TPH) per direction on any set of tracks, using existing systems and technology. Because the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines share one tunnel and set of tracks between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory stations, that 26 trains per hour must be divided between the three lines.

2.	“Shows train capacity per hour on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Metro can only run 26 trains per hour. With eight minute headways we can split those 26 trains equally between the three lines. But if we improve headways, for example returning to six minute frequencies, we will have to reduce service on at least one line.”

The areas around the three lines are projected to add 37% more people and 30% more jobs by 2040. With that level of planned growth and development ridership will also increase. By 2040, customers in the busiest segments of the three lines may experience levels of crowding similar to or even higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even operating all 8-car trains would not provide enough capacity to meet that level of future demand.

Graphic showing the impacts of regional population and employment growth on ridership demand within the study area. Analysis shows population will grow 37% and jobs by 30%.

2. Improve reliability and on-time performance

Because the three lines share one tunnel and set of tracks, delays on one line impact the other two. Delays that are severe enough even impact the Yellow and Green lines.

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

Metro's SafeTrack emergency repair program, robust preventive maintenance, and schedule adjustments have significantly improved reliability since the low points of 2015 and 2016, but maintenance is only part of the solution. 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.

Graphic showing 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.

When unanticipated disruptions like this occur, our 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 us to manage disruptions more efficiently. This is not a matter of not having the trains, or the employees to run them. Rather, it is usually the result of congestion caused by having many trains sharing a single track.

We would also enhance the system's reliability and resilience by giving customers additional trip options and path choices for connections to major destinations.

schematic map of the Blue Orange and Silver Lines. Multiple path-choices would increase resilience, reduce impacts of disruptions

3. Improve operational flexibility and cost-efficiency

The physical constraints on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines limit Metro's ability to optimize rail service and to vary service plans to better serve ridership demand. These constraints also limit our ability to maintain quality 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 us 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 our system 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 is a key player in helping the region attain its sustainability and climate goals. Transit has to be a core strategy for the region to reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions, and transit options need to be accessible, quick, and competitive enough to draw many more people away from driving solo. Metro's Energy Action Plan and Zero-Emission Bus Transition Plan are our roadmaps 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 and the region's goals to reduce emissions and improve air quality by identifying ways to make Metrorail more cost effective and energy efficient.

Graphic showing Metro's sustainaibility goals.

image of the cover of MWCOG's Region United plan.

Metro is also critical to the growth and development of our region. It drives the region's economy by attracting and catalyzing development, connecting people to jobs and other economic opportunities, generating new tax revenue, creating new opportunities and markets for housing, supporting home-grown businesses, and attracting new residents and large employers from outside the region. The BOS LPA should seek to support the region's plans for growth and provide new opportunities for transit-oriented development (TOD).

map image identifying areas of planned growth throughout the study area. The BOS LPA should support planned growth and increase opportunities for transit-oriented development.

Metro also centers equity as a core mission. Equity informs most the goals, objectives, and performance measures in the Your Metro Strategic Transformation Plan. One of the plan's priority initiatives is is implementing Metro's Racial and Social Equity Policy. Metro is the region's connective tissue -- it gets people where they want go - work, school, medical care, social outings - when they want to travel at a far lower personal cost than driving or ridesharing. It crosses political boundaries and neighborhood lines, and offers people who can't afford cars (or choose not to drive!) access to jobs and other economic opportunities. By doing so Metro is essential to advancing the region's equity goals and helping to address systemic and historic inequality. The BOS LPA should expand access to high-frequency transit and economic opportunities, particularly in equity communities.

map image identifying MWCOG Equity Emphasis Areas. Many equity areas do not have easy access to jobs or high-capacity transit.

Visit the Documents and FAQs page for more information on this study and other related regional efforts.

Study process - finding the solution

The BOS Study is a type of study known as an Alternatives Analysis (AA). The AA is a multi-year effort that complies with best-practices guidelines from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This pre-NEPA work will allow the preferred alternative selected by Metro's Board of Directors to eventually compete for federal funding, while reducing the length and cost of the environmental review process.

After the study is completed and a "locally-preferred alternative (LPA)" is identified, we will move forward with the federal environmental review process and project development. That future phase of NEPA and project development will include additional public and community partner engagement.

Stakeholder committees

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

Graphic depicting the five stakeholder 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.