- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

Passengers on Metros subway system will not get relief from overcrowded conditions this summer as promised by the transit agency, because the first batch of new rail cars will not be ready for service, a top Metro official said yesterday.
Deputy General Manager of Operations Jim Gallagher said Metro has ordered the subway cars manufacturer, Madrid-based CAF, to stop assembling the Series 5000 cars at the AAI Corp. plant in Hunt Valley, Md., where they are shipped for assembly, until problems can be resolved with the first 28 cars. 26 of them were to have been in service in January when the five-station Green Line extension opened.
"Well turn ourselves inside out to continue to provide the level of service, the car capacity that we are providing now," Mr. Gallagher said, but "we promised to deliver increased capacity this summer in terms to adding cars to four-car trains, and we wont be able to do that, and thats upsetting to us."
There are 764 rail cars in the Metro fleet and those rail cars run in pairs and at peak service, both six- and four-car trains run on the system. To handle increased capacity, which now averages more than 650,000 weekday riders, Metro was to have added cars to create more six-car trains and have them in place by the end of July, according to a "deployment plan" issued last month by Jim Hughes, Metros planning director.
In some cases, Metro has been also using six-car "tripper" trains that are used during peak times to handle the heavy passenger loads.
But before any more cars were added to other trains, the first 20 cars were to have gone to the extremely overcrowded Green Line extension, which is now averaging 38,500 riders a day — about the number planners expected for 2005. Mr. Hughes had even planned to have the first four of those in service by the end of May.
According to Mr. Hughes plan, Metro expected to have 80 CAF cars in service by July 30 and have them put on the Green, Blue, Yellow, and Orange lines, adding about 10 a month throughout the fall, but Mr. Hughes and others questioned whether CAF could deliver on its promise.
There are now four rail cars in the "testing and acceptance" stage and 24 being "retrofitted" at Metros Greenbelt station and 18 rail cars being assembled in Hunt Valley. There are also about a 14 cars in transit from Madrid.
"Unfortunately, we will not be able to deliver on the promise to add cars, as we promised," Mr. Gallagher said, with a tinge of frustration in his voice. "Its not a good situation to have."
CAF has already been paid about $115 million for its contract to deliver 192 rail cars by the summer of 2002. Mr. Gallagher said Metro has held back its next $22 million payment because the cars have not been delivered on time. Metros contract with CAF is for a total of $220 million and beginning June 30, CAF will also incur a fine of $330 a day per rail car that has not been granted conditional acceptance. So far, only those four cars being tested have been granted acceptance, with CAF possibly being responsible for fines on 76 cars not delivered.
"We expected these cars by December" of last year, Mr. Gallagher said. "We desperately wanted and needed these cars."
Metro is seeing its ridership skyrocket and its cars are getting packed with riders who once could find a seat but now have to stand. Mr. Gallagher said that is all the more reason to have such an "aggressive schedule" for getting rail cars in service and do it on time.
The delay in the delivery of rail cars continues to be caused by computer glitches and software that runs the rail cars, Mr. Gallagher said, noting that major systems, such as braking, propulsion, and heating/air conditioning are working properly.
"It's not like the car wont stop … or [is] unsafe in those respects," he said.
But the problems in getting the first batch of cars, including the first four used models for the remaining rail cars, are severe enough that Metro officials want all attention focused on getting those cars in service before assembling any more. Mr. Gallagher would not offer a time line as to when the cars would be ready for service, only saying they are "close" to getting the first four out.
The flaws with the rail cars, he said, are not so much mechanical as they are computer glitches. In essence, engineers and workers hammering away at the problem are finding that the computer systems are not working in tandem as they should, he said.
One example is of how the doors dont close properly. Because of the software and computer problems, the doors begin to close quickly, then stutter till they shut, as opposed to one smooth flowing motion. And sometimes the doors will stay open, he said, leaving a bit of a gap.
"It forgets where it is and the door hangs open," he said.
Also, Metro and CAF workers are trying to fix a problem that involves certain systems not starting up properly after they hit a gap in third-rail power. The third rail is the 750-volt electrical current that keeps the train in motion along the tracks.
Mr. Gallagher said CAF has been told to order all production on the cars at Hunt Valley stopped and for them to devise a quality-assurance plan so once the first group of cars are fixed, there will be better procedures for getting the remaining rail cars in service.
A hurdle Metro will face this fall is having enough rail cars in service as it begins to rehabilitate and overhaul 364 current 2000 and 3000 Series Breda rail cars that will be out of service. Metro hoped that it could replace the older Breda cars with the new CAF rail cars, substituting about 10 new cars a month to replace about a dozen Breda cars "floated" out to be repaired.
Mr. Gallagher acknowledged that the delays in getting the new rail cars could cause problems later in the fall, but he hopes to have the CAF cars available.
"I think we will have cars by that time," he said. "It might be close."

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