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Washington Metro

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The Washington Metro was established in 1966 to plan, construct, finance, and provide for the operation of a rapid rail and bus transit system for the Washington metropolitan area. It was to be managed by elected officials from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

From the very beginning, it was decided that the bus and rail systems would complement, not compete with, each other. Buses would take riders into outlying Metro stations.

As the rail system continues to expand, the bus routes are coordinated with it. The local governments whose representatives manage the Metro set the level of bus service in their areas, where and how often the buses run, thus determining how much or how little they want to provide their taxpayers.

Metro bus

The Metro bus system, which operates a fleet of approximately 1,800 buses, complements the rail service with its 400 basic bus routes and some 800 route variations, making it the fourth largest bus system in the country. All of the buses are equipped with two way radios, silent radio alarms, flashing lights for protection, and air conditioning for comfort.

In the communications center, radio dispatchers are constantly on duty providing two way communication with each Metro bus operating in the region. This enables the dispatcher to adjust quickly to any unexpected crisis, such as an accident. A silent alarm built into the radio system enables police to respond to an operator's signal for help.

The system has modem bus garages for the storage, maintenance, and repair of its vehicles. Most of these are located in the outer suburbs to give more efficient service to Maryland and Virginia passengers, since many of the bus lines act as feeders into the Metro trains.

Metro Trains

This is how the Metro described its automatic train system:

People backed up by highly sophisticated communications and control equipment, run Metro.

Safety, efficiency, and security were prime considerations in the selections of an advanced wayside control system, computer assisted control center, radio communication, a 2,000 line capacity private telephone net work, system wide public address systems, TV surveillance network, and a failsafe system for nearly every conceivable equipment malfunction or human error.

Although trains operate automatically in normal service, a well trained operator sits at the control console, opens and closes doors, announces upcoming stations, communicates with central control, informs passengers of items that may affect their trip, takes manual control of the train at a moment's notice, and performs scores of other duties.

He [or she] takes orders from the supervisors in central control, but, like the captain of a ship, bears first line responsibility for the well being of the passengers, which may number more than 1,500 on an eight car train during peak periods.

Here is a description of the control room:

Control room supervisors, having an electronic overview of the entire Metro system, make and implement decisions to keep it running smoothly.

The operations control center, located in the Metro headquarters building, is the hub of the vast Metro communications and control network.

Control room supervisors perform three major tasks: taking corrective action as problems occur, dispatching repair crews for equipment mal functions or failures, and performing emergency communications.

When trains fail to move as they should, the supervisors choose and execute a solution after considering a list of options. When a malfunction occurs, the supervisors know whom to call to fix it. In an emergency, the supervisor summons help via police and fire hot lines.

Train control supervisors operate two push button consoles, one for train operations and the other for Metro support systems. Eight CRT (TV) screens arranged in two horizontal rows face the consoles. The supervisor at the train operations console monitors and controls train movement. The supervisor at the other console handles problems with support systems, such as the electrical substations, station air conditioning, tunnel ventilation, drainage, station fire and intrusion alarms and other facilities.

Support system failures appear as alarms on the CRT screens, or they are called in by station attendants.

The train operations supervisor uses the CRT screens as electronic windows to view schematic representations of tracks, trains, and stations throughout the Metro system. The displays on the screen show tracks, cross overs, turnouts, pocket tracks, stations, and moving trains. As the train (shown in triangles moving along the track lines) enters the station (shown as open rectangles), the rectangles are filled in to show that the train in the station has its doors open.

An alarm flashes on the screen showing the time when the train fell behind, if a train falls behind schedule by more than a minute. By asking the computers via the console, the supervisor learns the complete history of the train's movement for the last five stations, enabling him [or her] to find the cause of the current delay. He [or she] may keep hands off and allow the computer to correct the delay, which is one of its programmed functions. He [or she] may also execute a plan in which some of the trains ahead and some behind the slow train will mimic its movements in sequence, thus maintaining constant spacing.

All transit systems are not as automated as Washington's, but many of the newer ones have incorporated numerous electronic and fail safe systems to protect their passengers. Even the older systems like those in Boston, Chicago, and New York are gradually adopting many of these innovations, but it is difficult and expensive to modernize these older subway and bus operations.


If a transit career interests you, inquire about possible transit tech courses in your local vocational/technical schools. In 1986 "Transit Tech" was instituted in New York City and 400 students applied to the High School of Transit Technology. In 1995, 5,000 students filed applications to study both underground and surface train mechanics.

A retired subway car provides real laboratory experience for the student body, 25 percent of whom are female. Welding, rail car maintenance, climate control (air conditioning), and electronics are a few of the courses offered.
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