- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2001

Metro's 26 new subway cars have remained parked at the Greenbelt maintenance facility over concern that their weight imbalance will make them tip over and derail, Metro workers familiar with the problem said.

"One side of the cars is much heavier than the other. They are worried that if they go around a curve too fast, there is a possibility of them tipping over," said one transit system worker.

Charles L. Stanford, Metro's chief engineer, confirmed that the new cars have a weight-imbalance problem. But he said concerns center more on the cars rocking and the wheels lifting off the track than on derailment.

"It is a matter of traction and adhesion. It's not a matter of safety, it is a matter of traction," Mr. Stanford said.

He said a design problem caused the right side of the 76,000-pound cars to be about 800 pounds heavier than the left. "It is a small percentage of the weight," Mr. Stanford said, adding that workers will weld steel to the underside of the cars to balance them.

Metro has had problems with the subway cars since delivery began last fall, and its Quality Assurance Department is investigating to be sure the transit authority is getting what it ordered, Metro workers said. Quality Assurance investigators also are looking to see if the consultants hired to accept the cars are doing a good job.

Metro General Manager Richard A. White yesterday told the Board of Directors that putting the new rail cars into service will be delayed again.

"We've been having difficulties with really [small problems]", Mr. White said after the meeting. "We keep on inching closer."

"We don't want to put them in service with bugs," said Mr. White, adding that crews are testing the rail cars seven days a week.

He said about 10 of the new cars may be ready by the end of next month and Metro will get 80 additional cars by June.

Metro bought 192 cars at a cost of $220 million from CAF of Madrid, and the cars are being assembled at AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, Md. Company officials did not return calls to their Maryland office yesterday.

A Metro employee said additional weight would affect the cars' braking and acceleration systems. Metro had similar problems with its second-generation cars, which were heavier than specified and caused brakes to wear out quickly and used more power to run.

"If you have a maximum load [of passengers], that added weight may overload the circuitry," the employee said.

Metro had hoped to begin putting the new cars in service in November, which would have relieved the crush of passengers in opening the Green Line to Branch Avenue last month. But the cars are plagued with numerous problems, including the weight imbalance.

"The list goes on and on. Nothing seems to be right," said an employee. "You think we are having problems [handling the high number of passengers] now, wait until the Cherry Blossom Festival."

Mr. Stanford said he hopes Metro does not have the same problems as during last year's festival, when huge loads caused multiple breakdowns.

Metro customers have complained over the last year about crowded and late trains, as well as regular malfunctions and a lack of concern for safety of passengers.

Congress last summer ordered a General Services Administration investigation of Metro after its officials used a passenger-filled train as a probe in an April 20 tunnel fire.

Meanwhile, Metro workers said the new subway cars are not compatible with the transit authority's older equipment, adding that electrical circuits will fail when the older and new trains are coupled.

"The car couplers don't match up. When they hook them up, it blows out all of the circuitry in the new cars," one employee said.

Mr. Stanford said mixing the cars should not be a problem.

A Metro worker said officials are thinking about putting the new cars in service with their flaws by placing a pair of new cars between two older cars, an employee said.

"The secret plan is they are going to tell the public they got the new cars in service, but they are putting them in [the middle of the train]. But they won't have any power. They will be dragged along," the employee said.

Mr. Stanford said he doubts that will be done. "That was someone's bright idea," he said.

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