- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Metro's plans to open its Green Line extension in time for Inauguration Day are being threatened by a shortage of new rail cars.

The transit authority has not yet received 26 rail cars that would be used on the Green Line's last five stations between Branch Avenue and Anacostia, where construction on the subway's newest extension is nearly complete.

"It would be great if we had 26 cars," said Lemuel Proctor, acting chief operating officer for rail services. "If everything goes well, we can do it [open the Green Line in January]. We are still evaluating it."

The Metro Board of Directors will consider on Thursday whether to open the Green Line extension on Jan. 13 to allow more people to use the subway for inaugural events or some time in March.

The presidential inauguration is Jan. 20.

Mr. Proctor said Metro officials are trying to determine if they will be able to get the 26 new cars, which are now being built, in time. He said he won't rush the quality control process, in which each car is inspected for flaws and repairs ordered, just to have the Green Line extension open sooner.

Metro has received only a pair of prototypes for the subway cars, and engineers at the Greenbelt rail yard are testing them almost around the clock.

A total of 192 subway cars are being built at a cost of $220 million by CAF of Madrid and will be shipped to AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, Md., where they are assembled.

Metro now has 764 rail cars, some of which are almost 25 years old.

Metro General Manager Richard White said he hopes they will have the new cars delivered in December or have 26 older cars that are now being repaired back in service.

"I'm optimistic. We may have to work some magic, but I think we can have them ready," Mr. White said.

The new subway cars, which are called the "5000 series," have more high-tech options than the older cars, including diagnostic hardware that lets train operators troubleshoot problems.

Metro chief engineer Charles L. Stanford said his crews are being more careful than in the past in accepting the new cars. When they find a problem in the prototypes, they contact CAF to have the manufacturer fix the cars on the assembly line, rather than fixing them in Metro's yard, he said.

In the past, new subway cars were delivered to Metro and the manufacturer would make repairs in the field.

"I want them fixed before they come here. I don't want 100 cars sitting here with the same flaw," Mr. Stanford said.

"We won't be getting any more production cars until they are through with the modifications," he added.

The prototype's major problem is faulty circuitry on its doors, Mr. Stanford said, adding that CAF is working to modify them so they work properly.

He said his shop had denied certification on 40 of the manufacturer's original wheel-and-axle sets. "We're telling them we are not going to accept those wheel sets and to go back and do it over again," Mr. Stanford said, adding that new sets have been certified.

Finding flaws in new subway cars is normal, he said, noting that his job is to catch the problems before Metro accepts the cars.

Terry Consavage, director of engineering and operations support, said Metro officials are holding their consultant engineers accountable more now than in the past.

"I've told them I don't want recommendations I want results," Mr. Consavage said.

He said Metro also is trying to make 76 of its older cars more dependable by rehabilitating their braking and propulsion systems, as well as their heating and air conditioning. He said Metro terminated a contract for the braking system because the system did not work properly and caused some delays.

He said the certification of the new cars' braking systems is ongoing and on schedule.

The opening of the five stations on the Green Line extension will mark the completion of the originally planned, 103-mile subway system which opened its first segment in 1976. The transit authority is exploring expansion of the system to Largo and Washington Dulles International Airport.

Because of increased ridership on the subway, Metro already has a shortage of cars that has caused delays and overcrowding during the morning and evening rush hours. Aging rail cars that frequently break down also contribute to the car shortage.

Service delays and overcrowding have prompted Republican Reps. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia and Constance A. Morella of Maryland to ask the General Accounting Office to look into auditing Metro's management and procurement procedures.

Metro has been plagued this year with operational problems, including several tunnel fires that have caused delays. The Transportation Department and the Federal Transit Administration have scrutinized its procurement practices and its hiring of high-priced consultants.

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