DjangoCon 2012 - Metro

15 August 2012

The DC area has a commuter rail called the Metro. It's pretty easy to use in my opinion. Still, I've had to give enough impromptu lessons to tourists to know it's not completely intuitive.

The Map

A map of the Metro rail system

Do yourself a favor and get a copy of the Metro's rail map now, whether you store it on your phone or in your backpack. They have one of these maps on every car and in every station, but sometimes people stand in front of them.

Lines are indicated by color (that part should be intuitive). Stops are indicated by circles. If a stop appears on more than one line, then you can transfer there.

A close up of the Metro map, showing which stations are transfer points, and which are not. In spite being next to an orange line, one station is red line only because the station dot is not on the orange line.

Why are some of the stops double circles? Because they're the first or last place you can transfer to a new line. They're not the only places you can transfer. Any circle on any color (even those that run under two other lines of color) are transfer stations. For example, at L'Enfant Plaza you can transfer to orange, blue, green, and yellow lines.

One metro stop where four lines stop.

Something to keep in mind: The map is not to scale. Some stops, you can get off and walk to the next stop with no issues. Some will land you miles away from where you wanted to be. Unless you know for certain that another stop is a good alternative, do not get off of the Metro at a stop that seems to be 'close'.

Catching a train

Trains are labeled by two things: color and end destination. When you're in a station, look for the platform that matches the color of the train you're trying to get and the end destination of that line. So, if you're at the Crystal City station and you want to go to Gallery Place / Chinatown, get on the platform for the Yellow Line, on the side that ends in Fort Totten (or Greenbelt, if you happen to see a yellow train going to Greenbelt. Either works).

To find your platform, follow the signs and pillars for your line's color AND final destination. In some stations, one line has trains in both direction serviced by one track. In others, you're on completely different levels.

Once you're at your platform, there should be a sign announcing when the next train is, what color it is, what it's final destination is, and how many cars it has. Trains stop at the end of the platform (consider the opening where the train is coming from the beginning).

The stations

On the escalators: Stand on the right, walk on the left. For the love of god, please do this so you don't give some poor Washingtonian a coronary.

The stations in the city are all underground, while the ones outside of the city are a mixed bag (though mostly above ground).

Many of the stations have cell service in the stations. This drops in the tunnels for some carriers. Get your stuff done before the train moves.

There's often more than one exit for a station. Some people look at one of the posted maps to figure out which one would be best for them. Me? I take the closest one, then turn on my GPS to figure out how to get where I'm going.

Tickets and fare

Fare is determined by three things: where you are, your destination, and what time it is. Either use the trip planner tool or look at the fair list in your beginning station (the fare list is almost always right above the rail map). Fares are one-way, and you need to add a dollar each way if you're using a paper ticket.

You can get either a FastPass or a paper ticket. If you're going to do any more Metroing besides going to and from the Regean National Airport, get a FastPass. It costs five dollars (you pay ten, but it comes with five bucks on it). Also, if your FastPass doesn't have enough money to get out of the station, it'll let you go negative. With a paper pass, you simply won't get out until you up the balance.

FastPasses are magnetic cards, so just touch the FastPass card to the FastPass shield, and the gates will open. A screen should show you how much you have on your card.

Transfers are free. Screwing up and going too far is free. Metro doesn't charge you until you leave the station.

We do not run 24 hours

We are not a cool train system that runs at all hours. It was a fight to get them to stay open past eleven, trust me.

Each station closes at a different time, so they each post a sign as you go in, stating when the last train will leave that station. There might be separate times for each line.


UGH. Why did you do this to me, Metro? Rush+ was added recently to make trips a bit shorter for people working in the city who work off of one line, but live / park on another.

Anyway, some trains only run on certain tracks and certain times. These are indicated by the dashed lines (for example, a Yellow Rush+ train runs from King Street to Franconia-Springfield).

Rush+ trains only run Monday through Friday in the morning (6:30am - 9:00am) and in the evening (3:30pm - 6:00pm).

Mobility challenged

Every station has escalators and elevators. That said, they go out of service. It's rare that I walk into a Metro station and don't see an escalator / elevator outage warning. If you can't use the stairs, keep an eye on the outages, either on WMATA's site or through one of the Metro apps.

If there is an outage, they'll usually pick another stop and offer a shuttle from that one to the stop with the outage.


I think that's it for now! If you have any questions, hit me up in the comments!


Related tags: django python


1 Nathan says...

Thank you Katie! This is super useful.

One quick question: "If you're going to do any more Metroing besides going to and from the airport" is that for the Dulles airport or Reagan? We're coming in via Dulles. Is it possible to take the Metro from there?


Posted at 1:45 p.m. on August 15, 2012

2 Katie says...

Nathan: Sadly, no, you can't take the Metro directly from Dulles. The closest station is a good taxi ride away (Vienna). If you have a bunch of luggage, you might want to arrange for a shuttle into the city.

Posted at 3:13 p.m. on August 15, 2012

3 jedrek says...

Did I just really skim a multi-page blog post on how to use a public transportation?

Posted at 3:37 p.m. on August 15, 2012

4 Katie says...

@jedrek: Heh. That's every 'save the tourist' speech I've ever given, rolled into one. Trying to save myself some effort down the road.

Posted at 5:31 p.m. on August 15, 2012

5 Jonathan Street says...

I've recently moved to Washington and so have been following this series with interest. Perhaps I have "just enough knowledge to be dangerous" at this point but I'm slightly confused by the passes.

When I arrived I purchased a SmarTrip card. It cost $5 and to use it you just touch it to the SmarTrip targets (though I think it is some sort of RFID technology). I had thought the FastPasses were magnetic, so you had to insert them into the turnstiles, but were used only for 7- and 28-day passes.

Can you clear up my confusion?

If anyone decides to buy the SmarTrip card one thing I almost missed the first time I loaded value onto it was that you need to touch your card on the target at the end of the transaction as well as at the start. The card I got also had no value already on it, I wasn't short changed as I only paid the $5, so you may need to request that or use one of the ticket machines afterwards as I did.

Posted at 7:09 a.m. on August 16, 2012

6 Katie says...


You tap the SmarTrip cards on the shield. The paper tickets get inserted into the machine, whether they're filled with money or a pass.

Posted at 9:43 a.m. on August 16, 2012

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