At roughly $2 million each, Metro's 7000-series railcars are designed to be far safer than the oldest cars in the system.
"This car is made out of stainless steel, not aluminum," pointed out Dave Kubicek, Metro's Deputy General Manager, who added that helps make the cars more rugged.
For years, the National Transportation Safety Board has pushed Metro to retire its oldest rail cars, the 1000 Series. NTSB investigators have concluded the oldest cars crumple too easily when involved in a collision.
The new cars will be equipped with multiple cameras (so the operator can keep an eye on passengers). In the future, the pictures might also be transmitted to Metro police headquarters.
There will be multiple electronic signboards inside the new cars, but customer focus groups were firm on one thing: "They are silent," declared Barbara Richardson, an assistant general manager at Metro. "We listened to customers who said they do not want audio."
With no arm rests, the seats feel a little roomier, and the aisles are therefore a little wider. There is space underneath every seat for a backpack or even a suitcase. Carpeting is history. It's been replaced with (what's called) "non-slip, resilient" flooring.
Like older Metro railcars, there are three sets of doors on each side. But on the new cars, the outer doors have been moved 36 inches closer to the center. Managers think this is going to improve traffic flow.
Here's how: under the old configuration, there were just a couple of seats between the outer door and the end of the car, so boarding passengers tended to all move toward the center of the car.
On the new cars, there are more seats on both sides of the outer doorway, so passengers are expected to move in both directions as they enter.
All previous generations of Metro railcars came in two-car pairs. The 7000-series will come in four car sets. What's the advantage?
"This allowed us to have fewer [operator's] cabs in the car, therefore there's more room for seating (as well as for standing) for passengers," explained Metro's General Manager Richard Sarles.
Metro managers, mechanics and even police will inspect the hard mock-up railcar for the next month to suggest any finishing details. Manufacturing will then begin in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Phase One of the new Silver Line (in Virginia) is scheduled to open in 2013. Metro will first use its older railcars to get the Silver Line going.
In 2014, the new Series 7000 cars will start coming into the system. That's when Metro will begin permanently retiring its Series 1000 cars, which began service as the rail system opened in 1976.