Metro: Understanding the Maps and Signs

Update: After the ISWNE Winter board meeting, the decision was made to move away from the Metrocards to buses for our two main trips. We will not be issuing the metrocards. However, you may still find a need for one, either getting from the airport or getting around town on Friday evening, a dinner-on-your-own day. The following blog post is still applicable!

Look at the train map here. The train lines are color-coded, but they are directionally all over the place. Lines do not run north-south, east-west or even Virginia to Maryland and Maryland to D.C. The lines are U’s, and lower case r’s and a couple are sort of C-shaped and, generally, lumpy.

This sign is on the platform for the Red Line (RD) train toward the Glenmont Station.
This sign is on the platform for the Red Line (RD) train running toward the Glenmont Station.

They call it the “Hub and Spoke” system meaning that “spokes” zig-zag in from the ‘burbs to the downtown hub; it’s transportation that is meant to get people from the bedroom community to the hotbed of political power. But it can be a mess for first-time users.

Picking the right platform–and therefore taking the train heading in the right direction–can be a bit confusing. A quick four steps will help you:

  1. Look at the Metro map and find your current station.
  2. Look for your destination station.
  3. Follow the map from your current location, through your destination to the endpoint of that trainline.
  4. Look for the sign that is the right color and lists that final station.
    1. eg: The east-bound end of the Orange Line ends in New Carrollton, Md.; therefore, the sign reads Orange Line/New Carrollton (and if you can understand the PA system in the echo-chamber station, the messag will say, “Orange Line train, New Carrollton.”).
    2. Signs on the outside of the trains indicate the “color” of that particular train (since some trains share a track–don’t get on the blue train when you want orange).

[See an example of this method and directions from the various airports and bus stations after the jump:]

MetroMapImageExample:  UMD (our homebase) is on the Green Line and has its own stop at the “College Park U. of Maryland Metro Station.” A free shuttle will bring you from the Metro station to the campus.

Reagan National Airport is on the Blue Line (a few stops south of Arlington National Cemetery).

To get from the airport to the college, you must take two different trains (two different color lines), so you’d repeat 1-4 for each train. So, the first one:

Airport to L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station (where you can switch from the Blue to the Green line):

  1. Find the Airport Metro Station (your current location) on the map.
  2. Find L’Enfant Metro Station in Downtown DC (where the Green and Blue lines intersect).
  3. Trace the BLUE line from the airport through L’Enfant to the end of the line. The final station in that direction is “Largo Town Center Metro Station.”
  4. Look for the signs that say “Blue Line/Largo Town Center.” That platform will deliver you to the L’Enfant Station (don’t forget to get off there!).

Once you’re safely at L’Enfant, do the map thing again:

  1. Find the L’Enfant Metro Station (your current location) on the map.
  2. Find the “College Park U. of Maryland Metro Station,” also on the Green Line.
  3. Trace the GREEN Line from L’Enfant, through College Park to the end of the line: The final station in that direction is: “Greenbelt Metro Station.”
  4. Look for signs that say “Green Line/Greenbelt” and that platform will get you where you need to go.
A Silver Line train on the Metro.
A Silver Line train on the Metro. Flickr photo: Shashi Bellamkonda

Apply that method to wherever you plan to ride, and you’ll be golden.

Other airports and central locations:

Reagan National Airport is wonderful to fly in to. It’s the real D.C. experience. It’s not much closer than BWI to our location, though, so either will work best.

  • Getting to UMD:
    • Take the Blue Line/Largo Town Center to “L’Enfant Plaza” in downtown D.C.
    • Switch from the Blue to the Green line.
    • Take the Green Line/Greenbelt to “College Park, University of Maryland”

Dulles Airport (the furthest from us–not recommended except for international flights) is almost reached by the Silver Line–a shuttle, cab or Uber will get you from the airport to the Silver Line.

  • Getting to UMD:
    • Take the Silver Line/Largo Town Center to “L’Enfant Plaza”
    • Switch from the Silver to the Green line
    • Take the Green Line/Greenbelt to “College Park, University of Maryland”

Baltimore-Washington International Airport is not on the system proper, but MARC trains (Maryland’s train system) run from BWI and deliver you to the Red Line at Union Station for under $10!

  • Getting to UMD:
    • Take the free shuttle from BWI to the BWI MARC station.
    • Take the Penn Line Train southbound to Union Station in D.C.
    • Take Metro’s Red Line/Shady Grove to “Gallery Place/Chinatown Station.”
    • Switch from the Red to the Green Line
    • Take Green Line/Greenbelt to “College Park/University of Maryland Station.”

Union Station (for people who arrive by rail or bus).

  • Getting to UMD:
    • Take Metro’s Red Line/Shady Grove to Gallery Place/Chinatown Station
    • Switch from the Red to the Green Line
    • Take Green Line/Greenbelt to “College Park/University of Maryland Station.”
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