What Will Happen to the rail schedules with the Silver Line?

March 12th, 2013


When the Silver Line opens, Metro will adjust the rail schedule to accommodate increased service. What will change, and how will it affect you?

The Silver Line, which will run from Reston and Tyson’s Corner to Largo Town Center, will bring a net increase in rail service. But exactly how will it affect you? That depends on when you travel.

At peak times, Metro will need to make a few adjustments to make room for the Silver Line. The map below shows where the number of trains goes up, down, or stays the same. Metro’s main constraint is at Rosslyn, where three lines – Orange, Blue, and Silver – come together. At Rosslyn and into downtown, Metro can handle a maximum of 26 trains per hour, or a train every 2 minutes and 20 seconds or so.  (To keep things simple, this blog post uses the AM peak hour to illustrate peak rail changes).  In a nutshell, the Silver Line rail operating plan will:

  • Add Silver Line trains every 6 minutes,
  • Redirect 2 more Blue Line trains per hour onto the Yellow Line,
  • Convert some Orange Line trains from Vienna to Silver Line trains,
  • Discontinue some one-way Orange Line trains we currently run (called “trippers”) because they will be replaced by Silver Line trains.

As a result, service will increase in several places, shown in green below:

At peak times,

At peak times, Metro will add new Silver Line service, and send 2 more Blue Line trains per hour over the Yellow Line bridge to make room.

What will happen with the Blue Line in Virginia? Because of the limitations at Rosslyn, the frequency of Blue Line service will be reduced from an average of every 8.5 minutes, to 12 minutes. From Pentagon and points south, trains will arrive just as frequently as today (every 3 minutes), but more will be Yellow, and fewer will be Blue. What does this mean for riders?

  • Riders from south of Pentagon in the morning to Metro Center, McPherson Square, Farragut West, or Foggy Bottom may find it faster to take the first Yellow Line train they see, and transfer at L’Enfant Plaza for any train (Orange, Blue, or Silver) westbound. Metrobus options also exist – the 7Y, 16X, 9E/10E run from Pentagon to Rosslyn and downtown.
  • For riders from south of Pentagon in the morning to Rosslyn, Arlington Cemetery, and points west on the Orange Line, Blue Line service will be reduced.
  • Riders from south of Pentagon headed anywhere on the Green/Yellow Lines from L’Enfant Plaza to Greenbelt will benefit from more trains.

What will happen with the Orange Line from Vienna? Trains from Vienna, Dunn Loring, and West Falls Church will depart on average every 5.5 minutes, from 3.5 minutes today.  On average, a customer from these stations will see an increase in wait time of around one minute. The trains are not expected to get much more crowded than they are today, since we expect many Orange Line riders to switch to the Silver Line – especially because many Fairfax Connector bus routes now serving West Falls Church will move to Silver Line stations.

What will happen with the Orange Line in Arlington? Service will be increased. The combined Orange and Silver Lines will serve stations in Arlington about every 3 minutes.

What will happen with the Blue Line in Maryland? The combined Blue and Silver Lines will increase the number of trains by 50% to and from Largo Town Center station. Trains will arrive every 4 minutes, rather than 6 minutes today.

What will happen to the Yellow Line? At Huntington and Eisenhower Ave, nothing. Everywhere else, there will be more Yellow Line trains between Greenbelt and Franconia-Springfield.

What will happen to the Green Line? South of L’Enfant Plaza, nothing will change.  North of L’Enfant Plaza, there will be more Yellow Line trains to/from Greenbelt.

What will happen to the Red Line? Nothing.

What will happen to the Silver Line? These stations will be served by trains every 6 minutes.

At off-peak times, things are less complicated. Metro will will simply add new service on the Silver Line, and make no changes to anything else.  So if you travel at any time outside of rush hours on weekdays, and you ride anywhere the Silver Line is added, you will get today’s service, plus the Silver Line trains.  That’s anywhere on the schematic map below indicated in green:

Change in Train Frequency with Silver Line, off-peak times

At off-peak times, Metro will add new Silver Line service, and change no other frequencies.


So what’s the overall effect on passengers? Whether you have a longer or shorter wait time depends on your origin and destination, not just whether there are more trains passing you by.  So, we overlaid the ridership of a typical weekday on the new schedule, assumed no one changes their origin or destination, and made some estimates about passenger’s path choice. We found:

  • About 50% of all existing riders are unaffected,
  • One-third of all existing riders will see shorter average wait times, and new riders will use the Silver Line.
  • 11% of existing riders will see longer wait times

With the Silver Line, around a third of existing riders will see shorter wait times, and about 11% of riders (primarily on the Blue Line) will see longer wait times.

With the Silver Line, around a third of existing riders will see shorter wait times, and about 11% of riders (primarily on the Blue Line) will see longer wait times.

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  1. JP
    March 13th, 2013 at 11:03 | #1

    So the BL riders get screwed again. Is metro trying to shutdown the blue line? There is no better plan that helps ALL riders?

  2. Stephanie
    March 13th, 2013 at 11:40 | #2

    JP asks a fair question about the Blue Line. Lots of people commute by rail from Blue Line stations. How can they stand a chance of getting to work on time with fewer trains and usual delays?

  3. East Wheaton
    March 13th, 2013 at 13:47 | #3

    1] Re-do the math re: Largo Town Center. An improvement from 6 minutes to 4 minutes is 33% (2/6). It is a reduction from 4 minutes to 6 minutes that is 50% (2/4).

    2] Except for passengers boarding at Arlington Cemetery (?) and the 3 western Orange stations (which are supplanted by the Silver Line), no station/no person is getting a reduction in the number of trains available to them. That “reliable” Blue Line trips with spontaeneous passenger arrivals at the station now require a transfer is the price paid for the mess at Rosslyn. Maybe with buses you can stuff 8 pounds in a 5 pound sack, but you can’t with trains. Before any more extensions and branches are proposed in Virginia, make sure capacity, i.e., another river tunnel, is built first.

  4. Justin
    March 13th, 2013 at 15:32 | #4

    @Stephanie and @JP Good questions. It’s an issue of capacity – since Metrorail is already at maximum now at peak times, we can’t simply add the Siliver Line and keep everything else the same. All Metro tunnels have a maximum capacity of 26 trains per hour in each direction, and the Blue/Orange tunnel from Rosslyn to Stadium-Armory today already reaches that maximum. So, the only way to make room for Silver Line trains is to reduce both Blue and Orange Line trains. This may not be much consolation, but it was discussed as part of the original plans for the Silver Line nearly a decade ago. In fact, original plans called for Blue Line trains every 14 minutes during peak periods, and we’ve refined that to provide Blue Line service every 12 minutes. We also plan to operate more 8-car trains on the Blue Line to provide more capacity once the Silver Line opens.

    Also, EastWheaton is right that nearly all Blue Line stations in will be served by the same number of trains or more, but more trains will be Yellow or Silver Line trains. Depending on your destination, it may be faster to take, for example, the Yellow Line to L’Enfant Plaza and transfer.

  5. Justin
    March 13th, 2013 at 15:34 | #5

    @East Wheaton Good point, thanks – it’s a 50% increase in the number of trains, but only a 33% decrease in waiting time. I’ll change the wording!

  6. Michael
    March 13th, 2013 at 15:37 | #6

    I would also like to add two additional pieces of information:

    1) Many of the customers on the Blue Line have the option to take Yellow the core, whereas Orange and Silver customers have no alternatives.

    2) GGW did a great job of summarizing some options we are looking at for bringing higher levels of Blue Line service to Rosslyn:


  7. Kara
    March 14th, 2013 at 12:16 | #7

    I moved so I do not have to deal with it now but I used to commute daily between Crystal City and Foggy Bottom/Farragut West. Even without the transfer time and rush- taking the yellow line to the core and transferring is MUCH more time than a straight shot with the blue line. Crystal City to Farragut is 13 minutes by blue, can people say that about the yellow line route?

  8. Alanne
    March 14th, 2013 at 12:37 | #8

    Could Metro please run an express bus line between Pentagon and Foggy Bottom stations? There are a great number of us who rely on the Blue Line to get to and from those stops. Taking a Yellow and then transferring to a Blue to ride through most of the city is significantly longer.

    The buses that currently go from Pentagon to downtown all go further into the city, and there is no bus line that connects from Constitution and 23rd to Foggy Bottom.

  9. Glenn
    March 14th, 2013 at 13:06 | #9

    Since you will be providing off peak service to those of us who have to use the Blue line, how about charging us non-rush hour fares? As a gesture of goodwill if nothing else since Metro is so bad at planning that you couldn’t have realized YEARS ago BEFORE you started building this new line boondoggle that this would have an enormous negative impact on so many of us? You should have just terminated the new line at EFC. Then you wouldn’t be trying to send all of these extra trains through the tunnel.

    I expect I will be driving a lot more. It’s much faster than taking the train.

  10. Tom
    March 17th, 2013 at 19:43 | #10

    Rush plus has already smited those of us taking the blue line from Springfield to Rosslyn and reverse for the afternoons. There are adays at rosslyn where I wait almost 20 minutes for a packed blue line train to arrive as 4 or 5 empty orange line trains go past. Why not ditch the silver line and just make orange extend all the way to the airport? its silly having an additional line which does essentially the same as the orange does. Or maybe scrap the blue line together and have a train shuttle go back and forth between pentagon/arlington cemetery/rosslyn similar to the shuttle in Manhattan which connects grand central to times square.
    It is a bit ridiculous to charge me a rush hour premium and give weekend service. It prices go up another 50 cents per trip I will start driving as it will be cheaper to drive in early and pay for parking/gas.

  11. March 19th, 2013 at 14:12 | #11

    I know that people are loss-averse, but as a Yellow/Green and Orange line rider, I do appreciate the additional service and shorter headways that I see. I know that this isn’t the best situation for Blue Line riders from the south who are headed to west-central D.C., or for some all-Virginia trips, but as the graphs say, 3X as many people benefit as lose.

    @Tom: there’s not enough platform space at Rosslyn to run a shuttle service. To do so would require a stub terminal at Rosslyn, which is discussed in the GGW link that Michael posted.

    @Glenn: this was indeed discussed in planning documents years ago. Not only was Rush+ first announced in Feb 2008 (over five years ago!), but part of Virginia’s goal with the Silver Line was also to increase service to North Arlington. Please take into account that many thousands of people actually benefit from this service realignment, from Capitol Heights to College Park to Columbia Heights to Capitol Hill to Clarendon/Courthouse to Tysons Corner.

  12. Steve Strauss
    March 19th, 2013 at 15:10 | #12

    Rail service planning and scheduling is a function that considers both train frequency and train loading. WMATA planning staff now have Board-adopted loading and frequency guidelines for rush hours. Based on the first round of reporting, Blue line ridership under Rush+ met the Board -adopted guidelines. We will have to see how loading levels change on the Blue line in Virginia with the introduction of the Silver line and fewer but probably longer Blue line trains.

    By adopting loading guidelines WMATA can begin to allocate service based on crowding and train utilization and not just frequency.

  13. Mike D.
    March 21st, 2013 at 00:17 | #13

    So you’re calculating new Silver Line riders as having a “shorter wait time” by the service becoming available to them. Are you calculating the +10 minutes that anyone from Herndon/Reston will experience on their commute having to detour through Tyson’s Corner as opposed to the former direct express buses to West Falls Church? I highly suspect not.

    The Silver Line basically only benefits its new userbase time-wise on weekends and then you’ll be running the typical miserable weekend service of the past 5 years.

  14. Justin
    March 21st, 2013 at 09:15 | #14

    @Mike D. To clarify, net new Silver Line riders are not included in the pie chart as “shorter wait time,” they’re just noted in the callout box. Existing riders who board at West Falls Church today are shown as “longer wait time” in the pie chart, since Orange Line trains from Vienna to West Falls Church will depart less frequently than today.

  15. Ryan
    May 2nd, 2013 at 17:36 | #15

    Okay, so I’m late to the conversation, but I want to point something out.

    The difference between 17 trains per hour and 16 trains per hour is about 13.24 seconds. (Expected time between trains of 3 minutes and ~31.76 seconds versus a flat 3 minutes and 45 seconds.)

    The difference between 6 trains per hour and 7 trains per hour, on the other hand, is around 85.72 seconds. (Expected time between trains of a flat 10 minutes versus 8 minutes and ~34.28 seconds.)

    In other words, the amount of time saved for the average Blue Line rider by taking just one train away from the Orange/Silver riders is more than 6 times the amount of time the theoretical Orange/Silver rider could be expected to wait. Furthermore, sending the Silver Line to Largo is a distraction – the overwhelming majority of people who benefit from the new service are either not using Metrorail today or are taking the Orange Line today. Sending the Silver Line to New Carrollton is also a better use of capacity, as New Carrollton likely generates a larger demand than Largo.

    What this all boils down to is that no matter how many graphs you make or what colors you use, the current plan for distribution of traffic is horribly flawed. A vastly more equitable solution that doesn’t look like a poorly disguised attempt to Rush Plus the Blue Line out of existence is to go with 9/8/9 – 9 Silver Line Trains, 8 Orange Line Trains, 9 Blue Line Trains. A 9/8/9 distribution alongside a realignment of the Silver Line to New Carrollton instead of Largo increases service everywhere in the system, or keeps the amount of service the same relative to today, except for between Vienna and EFC (which would be reduced to 8 trains instead of the current plans to reduce to 10.5 trains), and between Stadium-Armory and Largo (which would be reduced to 9 trains, or 1 less train than the 10 it gets today). Silver Line Riders will start with only 9 trains per hour instead of 10, but this functionally translates into a mere extra 40 seconds of waiting for a train. The full 26 trains per hour we can jam through Rosslyn are still going through Rosslyn, and I daresay that this arrangement is the one that JP asked for – which helps all riders.

  16. Justin
    May 2nd, 2013 at 17:56 | #16

    @Ryan Interesting idea, although a 9/8/9 would also reduce service between EFC and Rosslyn. The concern then would be crowding at Court House – combined Silver and Orange would be reduced to 17 TPH, which is less than today, at the same time as 5 new Silver Line stations would be adding to the strain. What do you think?

  17. Ryan
    May 2nd, 2013 at 18:06 | #17

    @Justin It’d be 17 each way as opposed to 19 east and 15 west, per today. I consider that effectively the same, just balanced.

    And as I said before, the Law of Diminishing Returns is in play here. The more trains you add to any particular stretch of the system, the less and less of an impact each new train has – ~3.1578 minutes for 19 TPH versus ~3.5294 minutes for 17 TPH, or about 22 seconds of additional wait time. I don’t know off the top of my head what the maximum capacity of any given Metrorail car is, but I think it’s a safe bet that the difference between 152 cars (19 TPH * 100% 8-car trains) and 136 cars is similarly not going to cause as large of a negative impact as the addition of those 16 cars to the Blue Line would cause a positive impact.

  18. McLean Old Timer
    May 7th, 2013 at 17:23 | #18

    I’m quite frustrated as the Silver Line will make a commute from Fairfax/Arlington counties to/from the Pentagon nearly impossible. The “Rosslyn Blue Line Crush” is already infamous amongst folks at the Pentagon, and the advent of the Silver Line makes things much worse, rather than better.

    Metro needs to figure out a way to send some trains along the Crystal City — Pentagon — Court House path. That might mean a Rosslyn bypass, maybe it means adding switches (turnouts) at Rosslyn, maybe is means something else entirely. Regardless of the engineering approach, there is a real need to support commuters moving from Virginia to Virginia via Metro Rail.


  19. Missgarbo
    October 12th, 2013 at 02:07 | #19

    Now, I can either take FFX Connector and spend 2 hrs commuting
    (30 mins of that waiting for the next bus) or 1 hr 45 min taking the absurd Blue to Rosslyn, Orange to W. Falls AND THEN! a FFC Connector to West Park Transit. Essentially, I have a back up of sorts should anything go amiss and there be delays on the rail lines.

    My concerns are this:
    *Will Taking Blue To Rosslyn and then Silver still “double charge” me as two trips?
    * Will This “new and wonderful” Silver decrease my commute time?
    * How is it eliminating the FFX Connector routes that currently service Tysons/West Park area (especially the 494 Express – which are much faster than rail) helping ease the overcrowding

  20. Justin
    October 15th, 2013 at 13:04 | #20

    @Missgarbo I’m not quite sure how to answer the question without knowing more about your trip. What’s your origin and destination?

  21. Missgarbo
    October 16th, 2013 at 22:00 | #21

    Blue @ Van Dorn to Roslyn– Orange @ Roslyn to West Falls Church– FFX connector Rte #425/427 to West park Transit, as I stated above

  22. Justin
    October 18th, 2013 at 11:40 | #22

    @Missgarbo Gotcha. Fares on the Silver Line will be computed just like the rest of the rail system – based on distance and time of day, no special charge. The change your commute from Van Dorn to Tysons will depend – at rush hour, you’ll see fewer Blue Line trains to Rosslyn, but you’ll see Silver Line trains every 6 minutes to Tysons. I’m not sure how that will compare to your Fairfax Connector options.

  23. Matt Dickens
    October 18th, 2013 at 12:54 | #23


    In terms of travel time, with the Silver Line things should be faster. On average you might wait a little more for a train at Van Dorn, but that will be more than canceled out by the fact that you won’t have to wait for the bus at WFC.

  24. Valerie Crotty
    June 4th, 2014 at 12:46 | #24

    Dear Metro,

    Tell me about the crime statistics at L’Enfant Plaza and I will tell you why I do not want to transfer there.

  25. Michael
    June 4th, 2014 at 17:16 | #25

    @Valerie Crotty
    Hi, Valerie:

    Thanks for notifying us about your concerns with crime at L’Enfant Plaza. We have notified several internal departments to see what can be done to increase safety and security at L’Enfant Plaza.

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