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Thirty-five years ago this week, Metro started operations on its first rail segment, the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and Farragut North stations.
On Saturday, March 27, 1976, the subway opened to much fanfare, offering free rides to the more than 50,000 people who showed up to see what was considered at the time to be a transit system of the future. (Today’s riders might be unaccustomed to all the Metro goodwill back then.)
It wasn’t until March 29, a Monday, that the system started charging. According to Metro, nearly 20,000 people took a ride that day. Fares were collected through exact change; fare cards were introduced in 1977, and SmarTrip in 1999.
Because that first Red Line segment connected just five stations (the Gallery Place-Chinatown station didn’t open for service until Dec. 15 that year, and New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet University station opened as an in-fill station in 2004), service only ran on weekdays, starting at 6 a.m. and concluding at 8 p.m. (This post originally said the line connected six stations.) When the Red Line opened, subway construction was already underway on other parts of the system that would eventually grow into the nation’s second-busiest. The first segment of the Orange and Blue lines opened the next year, connecting the National Airport and Stadium-Armory stations via downtown Washington.
The rail system now encompasses more than 106 miles of track and 86 stations in the District, Maryland, and Virginia.