How to Ride the Washington D.C. Metro

The Washington D.C. Metro is an underground heavy rail train system that can help you get around the city and surrounding suburbs. If you're reading this page, you're likely new to the city, so you should be aware that many local residents use Metro to get to work. They are usually in a hurry, and it is courteous to stay out of their way as they rush through the crowds. Follow these steps to safely and efficiently reach your destination.


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    Avoid rush hour if possible. The trains can get pretty crowded between 7:00 am and 9:00 am or 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm on weekdays. Discounts are available if you ride between 9:30 AM and 3:00 PM.
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    Avoid game-day travel. There are seven professional sports teams that fans get to via Metro. Avoid using Metro when a game is about to happen. Since there are football (Redskins), basketball (Wizards and Mystics), baseball (Nationals), hockey (Capitals), and soccer teams (United and Freedom), plus Hoya games at the Verizon Center, the Metro can get crowded on game-days.
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    Travel light. You are allowed to bring your bicycle on Metro during non-rush hour, and many people travel the trains with suitcases from the airport or the Amtrak station, but be very careful not to overburden yourself. You are going to have to negotiate staircases, escalators and automatic doors with your bags. If you think you have more than you can carry nimbly by yourself, you should consider calling a taxi instead.
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    Plan your route. You can check the trip planner online, ask your hotel concierge for information on which station is closest to your destination or study the maps in the station. Once you jump on a train it's a lot harder to figure it out.
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    Find the station. Metro stations are marked with brown square poles with an “M”. this same symbol is used on most neighborhood and tourist maps.
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    Purchase correct fare. Look at the chart above the fare machines to find your destination and determine how much your trip will cost. Make sure to purchase round-trip fare. Five dollars per day is a good rule of thumb to start with. You will need a separate fare card for each person in your party. Be advised: the machines will only return a maximum of $5.00 in change, and it will be in quarters.
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    Pass through the turnstile. Locate a fare gate with a green and white arrow, not a red dash. Insert your farecard face up with the arrow pointed towards the feed located on the side of the gate. Remove your card from the slot on top of the fare gate to open the styles. Put your ticket in a convenient place. You will need to use it to exit once you reach your destination. Refrain from keeping it near cell phones as fare cards have been known to demagnetize!
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    Proceed to the nearest escalator that coordinates with the track line going in the direction of the subway train going towards the station you intend to get off on. While some stations (especially inside of DC) have escalators after the station attendant going towards the subways, if you don't encounter one before the station attendant you might very well encounter one shortly after the attendant. Observe escalator etiquette. Stand on the right to allow commuters to pass on the left. Stand facing forward and hold the handrail as the escalator moves downwards to the escalator exit.[1] The escalators are usually moving pretty fast. If you can't keep up, move over. Stay as far to the right as possible so others can get by easily.
    • Although the general written rule on WMATA's website is to not continue walking down or up the escalator, there are generally signs near the elevator or even some stations that have a verb communication that says that you can walk to get to the station escalator exit faster to get on your subway train faster. Be careful to ensure that there is communication going to ensure this can be safely executed.
    • Two of the WMATA escalators are record holders of deepest escalators in the Washington Metro system including Rosslyn (Rosslyn/Arlington, VA on the blue and orange lines) and Wheaton (Wheaton, MD on the red line). Be careful when riding these escalators as you can feel faint or light-headed when going down to such a deep level. Wheaton is the deepest escalator on the eastern seaboard and definitely the deepest escalator in the WMATA system.
    • Try not to lean on the sideboard of the escalator as it moves. Not only can this cause a burn pattern on your leg, but can also lead to other signs of injuries.
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    Choose a platform. You may need to study the signs to make sure you are on the right platform. Some stations have two platforms, one for each direction, whereas others have one from which you can access both directions. There are six lines (red, blue, yellow, orange, green and silver). They each go in two directions named for the last stop on the line. Many commuters tend to wait for the train in the middle of the platform, so they can exit most quickly when the train arrives at their final destination. You can usually get a better seat on the train if you walk to the end of the platform where the crowd is thinner. Either way, clear the space at the bottom of the escalator or passing travelers will likely bump you. Stand behind the bumpy titles along the edge of the platform. Watch for circular flashing lights on the edge of the platform, for this indicates a train is approaching.
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    Board the train. Do not approach the train until it comes to a stop. When the door opens, allow passengers to exit before boarding the train. Move to the center of the car and sit down if you can. It is still good manners to give your seat for people with disabilities, women who are pregnant, children, and the elderly. Listen for the chimes that indicate the doors are closing. Do not block the doors! The doors are not like elevator doors. They do not reopen automatically.
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    Exit the train when it comes to a complete stop at your destination. You may note some riders approaching the door just before the train stops. You may also note some such riders losing their balance and falling into people. The train does not stay in the station long, but you will have enough time to exit even if you wait until the train stops. Exit quickly and move away from the train so that others can board.
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    Exit the station. Follow signs to exit the station. Ride the escalator and insert your ticket in the turnstile just as you did when you entered the station. The turnstile will print a new value on your fare ticket, so you will know how much your trip cost, and how much money is left on your card.
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    Add fare to card. If you miscalculate and don't have enough fare on your card for the trip you just took, the turnstile will not let you pass, step away from the turnstile so others can get through. Turn around and find the exit fare machine. Farecards are reusable. If you have money left over on your farecard you can save it for your next trip, or keep it as a souvenir.


  • Above the Metro Center station's top level, you'll find the corporate office to the Washington Metro. However, you can't discuss purchase or billing issues here.
  • Make sure you are going in the correct direction.
  • You can take your bike any time except for weekdays 7-10am, 4-7pm, and special events like the 4th of July.
  • Some stations inside the DC area have more than one entrance exit. Take for example the Smithsonian entrance. One exits onto the mall, the other exits 2 streets nearby into the government district(and can take you to the Department of Health building and Washington monument.
  • A SmarTrip costs $2.00[2] but saves you $1.00 per trip, so it can pay off quickly.
  • L'Enfant contains the most lines. The only line it doesn't contain is Red.
  • Look at train boards and at smartphone apps to see when the next train will arrive.
  • The maps strictly tell you that no stop(beside the Smithsonian stop) is ever close to most sightseeing places. However, if you are able to walk, it's a good walk to most sightseeing places.
  • Be careful for updates, if there is a special event happening. The Metro will revise their line colors to suit the event. Orange might run to/from different stations, along with Blue. Yellow and green will do the same. These trains may terminate a lot earlier and may run express through some stations. Be on the lookout for changes to the system for that 24 hour period. Take for instance the 4th of July at the "Smithsonian" mall. The mall station is closed, and all others running through that station get revised. Anything that must run that day through that station, will run express through that station.
  • When a train is close to a station, the lights lining the tracks will flash.
  • The signs and signposts you'll be looking for are brown in color with white writing. Look for these when trying to find your station.
  • Most lines do interconnect for several stops, however, most of the terminuses are different.
  • All Metro station track areas have overhangs that at least keep the tracks moderately cool, so the warmth doesn't hang over their guests in the radiating back to them.
  • Ask the Metro attendant at the kiosk if you need assistance.
  • Sometimes very full trains can be followed closely by very empty ones. If a train is scheduled to come a minute or two later, it can be worth waiting.
  • The blue line(Franconia-Springfield to Largo Town Center) is by far, the longest line with the most stopping points, followed in size by the Orange line(Vienna to New Carrolton). Although the amounts of stops don't differ between the yellow(Huntington to Greenbelt) and green line(Branch Ave to Greenbelt), if you look at the map, the green line looks a bit shorter.
  • Most transportation signs can direct you to the nearest station, but you must keep your eyes pealed all over, as once nearby the station, there isn't much to look for in terms of signage until you find the pillar.
  • When there are more than just 2 lines that run through a station, red, most often times runs on the track above the others. However, the one place where this isn't true is when Red isn't available but all others are(Washington Metro users know this as L'Enfant Plaza station-Blue and Orange run on the track below and Yellow and Green run on the track above).
  • With the exception of one of the end of the yellow line, trains connect to arrive at the same terminuses.
  • There is 1 or 2 trains that terminate at National Airport every morning. (That's why the center train is always there and almost never running.)
  • Although hard to explain at first, the Red line does some crazy things. Every-other train terminates at the very end. If the train runs the full length to the final stop, when the train terminates going the other direction, it will stop, most of the way through to another planned terminus spot.
    • The Yellow line trains do this as well on the weekends.
  • At some stations such as the Union Station and (Ronald Reagan) National Airport (DCA) stops, they have a separate lane that is designated for people with baggage only. Use this lane only if you have this type of item with you. Don't use it for handicapped entrance, unless approved before by the stationmaster to the station.
  • Metro schedules, maps, trip planners, and real-time bus and train locations are available online at and 202-637-7000.
  • When approaching the train platform, most stations that have indoor stops require an escalator to be used. Always observe the rule that people who wait for the escalator to stop moving should stop on the right. The "walkers" can use the left-side of the escalator to walk up the escalator quicker(if in a hurry).
  • For stations that have the beautiful facade inside the station, look at it and cherish it's look. You won't find this detail and "artwork" at most other places.
  • Although as of right now (May 2013) there are no trains running to Dulles Airport, there is a planned stop on a brand new Silver line in 2014.
  • For some stations, there are elevators. However, when an elevator is out of service, escalators are your only choice. A portion of the Washington Metro webpage devotes a section of their site to elevator and/or escalator outages for all stations.
  • The original proposed name for the Silver line was Purple(was proposed between 2007 and 2008). But when Silver was chosen by the Metro, silver became it's official color name.
  • If you ever head to Washington DC, stay at a hotel that can give you transport to a nearby Metro station for free. The Metro is definitely invaluable to any traveling person, whether on personal or business.
  • Follow the WMATA official safety guide to ensure your safety and the safety of your fellow riders.


  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke on the train or in the station. Metro Transit Police may issue citations or make arrests for violations!
  • Do NOT go on the tracks of the Metrorail, even if you drop something. All trains run on a third-rail system, like most East coast states' train rails, and all third rail trains are deadly.
  • Do not block the train doors. The doors are not like elevator doors. They do not reopen automatically.
  • While waiting for the appropriate train or walking to get to the escalator/elevators, stay back of the line of lights prior to waiting for the arriving train. Otherwise the pressure buildup can knock you over and into the path of the train(if one is approaching the area where you are walking), and with the third-rail system in use, can knock a deadly jolt of electricity into you.

Things You'll Need

  • Cash or credit card

Sources and Citations

  • [1] - Washington Metro page. Includes maps, schedules and general information.
  • [2] - DCTransitGuide. Includes a DC Metro users guide, and Metro tips and tricks.
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Categories: Public Transport