Brookland-CUA Station Rises to the Challenge of Papal Proportions

October 5th, 2015

Brookland-CUA station enabled over 24,000 trips for visitors attending the papal events at the Basilica on Wednesday, September 23, 2015. 

Brookland-CUA Metro station in Washington The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the Catholic University of America campus is in the background. Photo Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid at English Wikipedia

Metrorail can handle crowds for most events downtown where the demand can be shared across a variety of stations and lines.   The papal mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, however, required a little extra planning.  The Secret Service was in charge of the regional planning of the event, and as the event approached Metro staff became aware the event would have a ticketed attendance of 25,000 people and that an additional 15,000 people might amass outside the venue to watch the ceremony on the jumbo-trons and try to catch a glimpse of the Pope on his way in and out of the area.  Preparing to enable safe and efficient trips for up to 40,000 customers at a station with one of the smallest capacities in the system required some extra effort.

First off, under normal operations the Brookland-CUA station has a capacity of around 4,000 customers per hour.  There is only one set of escalators between the mezzanine and platform, and each has a capacity of 4,320 customers per hour under current operational protocols.  Also, there is a total of seven regular faregates at the station, each with a capacity of 35 customers per minute or 2,100 customers per hour.  Normal station configuration has two entry gates (as customers tend to trickle in) and five exit gates (to serve waves of customers exiting trains) regardless of time of day.  So, under normal operations, exits are limited by the escalators (4,320 pax/hour) and entries are limited by the fare gates (4,200 pax/hour).    Upon comparing the station capacity with projected event attendance, we discovered that without special attention it could take up to 10 hours to serve all of the potential customers to the event.  Therefore, we devised a special event operating plan for Brookland that included:

  • Operating the station as exit-only before the mass and entry-only after, effectively doubling the capacity of the station to 8,000 customers per hour.
  • Staffing the station with Metro Transit Police, additional station personnel and technicians for the fare collection systems and elevators/escalators to ensure safety and proper operation of the capacity-limiting facilities.
  • Monitoring platform crowding and preparing for trains to skip Brookland if the station was overwhelmed.
  • Running Circulator buses as shuttles from Rhode Island Ave through Brookland to Fort Totten, and providing extra service on the H3 from Columbia Heights to provide overflow capacity.  Thanks to DDOT for providing the Circulator shuttle service!
  • Working with OPM before the event to encourage telework to ensure ample capacity on the rail system.

All in all, we served over 13,000 customers before the mass and around 11,000 customers after, between four and six times the number of customers served on a usual weekday.  During the busiest hour — between 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM — nearly 5,000 customers entered the station, illustrating that normal operation of the station wouldn’t have been able to handle the crowd.

The chart below shows the dramatic increase in entries and exits versus an average weekday in September of 2015.


Did you travel through Brookland-CUA station for the pope’s visit on Sept 23, 2015?  What was your experience?



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  1. Mr. Transit
    October 7th, 2015 at 08:58 | #1

    This is a great example of what are known as “exit surges” at special events. Peoples arrivals are more spread out than their departures for most special events and transit agencies have to plan accordingly.

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