Metro urged in ‘06 to retire rail cars that crashed

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The safety board issued a recommendation that the transit agency speed up the retirement of the rail cars or retrofit them with better collision protection. Then in 2007, officials said that Metro did not plan to overhaul the cars but instead replace them with a 7000-series car and that the older cars were expected to remain in service until late 2014 because the agency was constrained by leases.

“In view of WMATA’s response to the Board’s recommendation, it appears that further dialogue on this issue would prove futile,” NTSB records state.

The 1000-series cars were purchased between 1974 and 1978 and make up roughly 300 of Metro’s fleet of more than 1,100 cars. In a February 2008 online chat, Mr. Catoe also said the 1000-series cars had brake problems.

Ms. Hersman on Tuesday said the board recommended in 2006 that such cars be retrofitted or phased out, but Metro failed to do that.

“The case was closed in an unacceptable status,” Ms. Hersman said.

Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said that officials have been planning to replace the cars as part of their next capital improvement program and that they already have started the procurement process for a new series of rail cars.

An agency spending document shows that the total cost for replacing the cars would be more than $841 million, or $2.8 million per car.

“Obviously, the 1000-series cars have been still in service, and we’ve been phasing them out as we can,” Ms. Gates said. “But rail cars are very expensive, and it’s been a slow process.”

D.C. Council member and Metro board Chairman Jim Graham said that officials are “aggressively seeking” to replace the 1000-series cars, and that officials have received bids in response to a request for proposal that included cars needed for the Dulles rail extension and several hundred additional cars.

Mr. Graham said the system still has “very substantial” capital needs. He called on Congress to keep its funding commitment to the agency and said Mr. Catoe has been in contact with the federal government regarding economic stimulus funds to help accelerate replacement of the dated rail cars.

“We have already taken action before this terrible tragedy in order to achieve that objective,” Mr. Graham said.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said that the agency had not been funded to replace the rail cars, but that Mr. Catoe told her that replacing the 1000-series cars was a priority, using $600 million of $1.5 billion allotted to Metro over 10 years.

The congresswoman also said the rail car model was found to be “un-crashworthy” by NTSB after a 1996 crash at the Shady Grove Metro station, when a four-car train struck a standing, unoccupied train, fatally injuring the operator of the moving cars.

In a report after the accident, the safety board said both trains consisted of 3000-series rail cars, but still recommended that Metro should evaluate the crashworthiness of all its models.

“The Safety Board believes that WMATA should undertake … a comprehensive evaluation of the design and design specifications of all series of Metrorail cars with respect to resisting carbody telescoping and providing better passenger protection, and that it should make the necessary modifications, such as incorporating underframe bracing or similar features, to improve the crashworthiness of cars in the current and/or future Metrorail fleet,” the 1996 report states.

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