WASHINGTON -- The nation's capital city is showing off a sleek new design for its subway trains, the biggest visible change to the cars since the system opened in the late 1970s.
Improvements on the new trains will be noticeable to anyone who has traveled the nation's second-busiest subway system.
The full-scale mock-up car unveiled Wednesday has a stainless steel exterior, soothing blue seats and some helpful electronics: panels that display the names of the stops the train is approaching.
Gone are the carpeted floors. Gone are the original orange and brown seats and the updated blue and maroon ones. Gone is the classic brown stripe running down the car's exterior.
"This is Washington Metro entering the 21st century," said Metro general manager Richard Sarles as he stood in front of the model car at a Metro facility in Landover, Md.
The first of the more than 350 new cars are expected to go into service in 2014. They will ultimately replace the oldest cars in the system, which have been running since it opened in 1976.
Metro says the new trains, called the 7000-series, are also safer in a crash. They will replace the original 1000-series cars which have been criticized for safety problems. Those cars were involved in a 2009 crash on the system's red line where nine people died.
Passengers riding in the new train cars, which cost about $2 million each, will see both subtle and obvious changes. The new cars have cameras for security. There are more bars for customers to grab. The new seats have no arm rests, which means wider aisles. And the floors are a black non-slip vinyl with specks of red, white and blue.
The signs are better too. Four screens can display videos, transit information and possibly ads. Two more LED signs show the current and upcoming stations. That means customers no longer must look out the train's windows to try to spot the station name.
The cars are being produced in Lincoln, Neb., and production is expected to begin this winter.
Riders said Wednesday that they would welcome some changes.
Thelma Murray-Fisher, 65, who has been traveling on Metro since it opened, said she'd appreciate more space to hold on during busy rush-hour times. Tim Wood, a George Washington University professor, said the electronic signs would be especially helpful for tourists who are always trying to get to the Smithsonian stop. And Sofia Castillo, 30, a law student at American University, said a replacement for the often-stained carpet made sense to her. Castillo said she couldn't think of any other improvements, but as she neared her stop she looked out the window.
"Is that Metro Center?" she said. "I think so."