The Metro, or M, is Alexandria's subway system. With 4 lines and 30 stations, and a light rail line with 23 stations, it's unusually comprehensive for such a small city, particularly in the United States. Today it serves more than 150,000 riders each day.
Each line is named after the color as it appears on the map, except for the Brookline Shuttle, which is orange, and the Capital Connect, which is lavender. Every line is subway and elevated rail, apart from the Black Line, which is light rail. Black Line stops are marked with dashes, but stop at the regular stations as well. Sanders used to be called Pullman Street, State House used to be called Central Station, and Capitol Commons used to be called State House (I know, it's confusing). The Madison Black Line Stop is actually nearly directly in front of Sanders Station, but for realism purposes and aesthetic reasons it made more sense for the Blue Line to continue straight west.
History of the M
Starting in the late 19th century, Alexandria had a network of rail lines running across town. From the west, lines ran from southern Yorktown and the Industrial District, in what is now Kensington. These converged roughly where Sanders Station is today and rose up onto a viaduct. This continued east, stopping at a Chapman Avenue station, and crossed the Seneca River. The Yorktown line then headed northeast before curving east to College Park, while the Industrial District line turned south, descending to ground level. It had two branches: one to Industrial Park, where Acton Park is now, and one to Brownsville, via Hartford and Burlington. The tracks were extended beyond College Park on the first line to Brownsville in 1908, closely following the present alignment of the Blue and Purple Lines. The Halifax line, some of which is still in operation, ran from Halifax to Central Station, near the State House. It passed under Chapman Avenue and ran along the same route as the Capital Connect does today. This line is still in operation. Additionally, two streetcars ran through Alexandria: the downtown Chapman Streetcar, opened in 1908, and the East Side's Brown Streetcar, opened in 1912. All of these were privately owned and operated.
By the late 1940s, ridership on the train lines was declining, in part due to the rise of the automobile as the dominant form of transportation. When I-85 was completed in 1956, the lines' fate was effectively sealed, and they closed in 1959.
However, with Alexandria growing and congestion increasing, it became clear that Alexandrians needed another way to get around. Studies commenced in 1963, and in 1964 recommended the construction of a rapid transit system. The plan was finalized in 1966, calling for purchasing the old rail right of way and rebuilding viaducts on the East Side with a tunnel under I-85 as well as elevated rail in Seneca and subways downtown. The Blue and Purple Lines would take the same route and stations as the old rail lines on the East Side, but would dive underground to cross the Seneca River. They would stop at Mattapan Square, then diverge. The Purple Line would stop at Camsden Square, the State House, and Central Station. The Blue Line would stop at the planned Robert B. Reich Convention Center, Pullman Street, Ellis Street, and Wellesley Hill. The Red Line, starting at the State House, would head north, stopping at the Convention Center station, continuing north into Seneca with an eastward curve through Kensington. The Chapman and Brown Streetcars would be converted into modern light rail, with their own rights of way and a tube under the Seneca River connecting the two. Construction began on January 25, 1967.
Halifax wanted its own line, and the Green Line was added to the plan in 1968. The lines opened in phases, with the Blue Line from Brownsville to College Hill first, then the Red Line from Fisher Street to Kensington, then the Green Line from West Halifax to Yorktown, and then the Purple Line from Burlington to MacArthur. The Black Line opened next, followed by the underground section from Brownsville to Burlington, and finally the downtown subway.
The system opened with the full Green Line, the Purple Line from Brownsville to Central Station (which has since been renamed State House), the Blue Line from Brownsville to Wellesley Hill, the Red Line from Fisher Street to State House (which has since been renamed Capitol Commons), and the Black Line from Hartford to Madison.
The system has expanded several times since then. The Red Line was extended from Capitol Commons to Hartford as part of the Acton Park redevelopment in 1992; The Black Line was extended to Warren Street in 1998; the Purple Line between State House and Sanders and the Brookline Shuttle was built as part of the Capital Connect in 2015; and the Black Line branch to Newton was built in 2016.
Today, 157,000 riders take the M each day, or 38% of all trips made within the city. Alexandria has the fourth-highest transit ridership of any U.S. city. However, problems still remain: the system's proved too popular and the network is over capacity, particularly on the Red Line. The Alexandria Transit Authority is considering options to address this, but no plans have gained traction.
A Blue Line train leaving College Hill. The original brown-brick viaducts were restored in 1968.
A Black Line train on Brown Street.
A Green Line train. Yorktown residents refused a concrete viaduct, so the tracks were placed on an embankment.