The Official Whitington Guide to Riding the MetroRail
First of all, we should point out that this is not rocket science. It was a little intimidating when we first stepped below the street level, though, blissfully ignorant but surrounded by several million people moving at light speed and knowing *exactly* what to do. These are just the basics for getting around down there.
The coin of the realm is a piece of paper called a "fare card" - one is shown above. You purchase these from a bank of machines at any Metro entrance. You can put as much $$ as you want on a card, and it is encoded on the magnetic strip. as you pass through each destination gate, it is debited for your fare, and the remaining balance is stamped on the face of the card.
An exception to this is the all-day pass, which is available from one or two specific machines mixed in with the other fare card machines. They cost five dollars, and will let you ride around as much as you want for a single day (after 9:30 on weekdays, and all day on the weekends).
The Metro is divided into several routes, each color coded. There is a red route, yellow route, and so on. Each route has an endpoint: for example, the orange route is bounded by Vienna station on one end and New Carrollton station on the other. This is important for catching the proper train - if you're traveling in the direction of the Vienna station, for example you would be looking for a train marked "Orange" on front and "Vienna" on the side.
Not far from the fare card machines will be a huge map of the Metro system. Look for the "you are here" point, and then find out where you want to go. For the average tourist, this is easy: Smithsonian stop, Pentagon City stop, etc. Below the map is an anywhere-to-anywhere matrix that gives you the exact fare from any one place to any other. You now know how much it will cost to get you there.
Go to the fare card machine and buy a fare card to cover that cost. You will get something that looks similiar to the one above. Go straight to the turnstiles, and insert your fare card - it will be spit back out to you. It isn't debited yet, though. The system is just electronically stamping your starting point to calculate the fare later.
Follow the signs to the proper track. Using the example above, you'd look for a sign pointing to a platform that said "Orange" and "Vienna". As you're descending and ascending on the elevators, stay to the right if you're standing still - the left side is for those who are in a hurry!
When your train arrives, climb aboard and watch for your stop. Not only will it be called out by the conductor, but it will be visible through the train indows on the walls of every stop. If your start and destination are on different color routes, it may be necessary to get off at a transfer station. All you have to do is repeat a few parts of the above steps - it's really a simple process.
Once you've reached your destination, if you don't have enough credit on your fare card DON'T WORRY! When you insert it in the exit turnstile, you will be told how more you need, and a nearby machine will re-charge the card for you just like the vending machine where you first purchased it.
Finally, never worry about anything. At every station there are several Metro personnel who can assist you with everything from reading the map and calculating fares to deciding which platform to wait on. The MetroRail system couldn't be safer, cleaner, or easier. It's the only way to travel around Washington!