Two Hundred Thirty Feet in Wheaton


In honor of Metrorail’s 42nd birthday last year, the Greater Greater Washington blog posted an animated slideshow showing the progression over time, from a little baby Metro system in 1976 with only five stations, to the planned Phase II of the Silver Line Dulles extension being built today. Map update #16 in 1990 illustrates the addition of two new stations, including Wheaton.

The Wheaton Metro station is near a mall, a movie theater, and various other stores and restaurants (some older, some new). But it’s the station itself that I find most interesting: its 230-foot (70 meter) escalator is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. (It is commonly referred to as the second longest in the world, but I gave up trying to verify this factoid after the Internet offered up longer examples in both Hong Kong and St. Petersburg.)

Wheaton’s escalator has a vertical depth of 115 feet and takes nearly three minutes to ride (while standing as far to the right as possible, of course). Ascending is faster if walking on the left.

The Wheaton Metro station's very long escalator

The Wheaton Metro station’s very long escalator

Our WMATA stations may not be museums like the San Giovanni metro stop in Rome, and they probably don’t meet most people’s idea of a visitor destination, but WMATA does have the occasional oddity or claim to fame like the Wheaton escalators. Other architectural and structural quirks in the Metro system include:

Union Station is not just a Metro station but also the hub for various transportation lines, including the starting point of both the MARC Train and the VRE (commuter rail lines in Maryland and Virginia, respectively). Like the National Postal Museum next door, the building (which houses a food court and shops) is an example of the Beaux Arts style. Points of interest include the statues of men running the length of the walls just under the ceiling (look behind the shields) and the bust honoring A. Philip Randolph and his contributions to the civil rights and labor movements.

At the southern end of the Yellow Line, the Huntington station offers a unique amenity to riders in the form of a self-cleaning bathroom.

Wheaton’s neighboring station Forest Glen has a similar design, with separate tunnels for each track. Unlike Wheaton, Forest Glen does not have record-breaking escalators, or any escalators at all. Instead, it’s so deep underground that it has only a bank of elevators and an emergency staircase, with an ominous warning sign indicating that it’s 20 floors from bottom to top. Both of these deep-underground stations lack the central soaring vaulting ceiling that one sees in many other underground stations in the system.

Wheaton is on the Red Line.

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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