Friday, May 25, 2001

Metros new subway cars will not be in service for at least another month because of problems with the cars braking system and with their doors not shutting properly, transit officials said yesterday.
“Its a reliability issue,” said Lem Proctor, Metros chief operating officer for rail. “If we put these cars in service [as they are now], we can have delays.”
Mr. Proctor was referring to four Series 5000 subway cars made by CAF of Madrid that were supposed to have been, along with 22 other cars, on the Green Line Branch Avenue extension in January.
Several mechanical and technical glitches dating back to late last fall have delayed the cars from being put in service along Metros five subway lines. Transit agency officials had expected to have 26 cars in service for the Jan. 13 opening of the five new stations on the Green Line extension.
That extension has suffered severe overcrowding since its opening, with more than 32,000 riders jamming into rail cars in March — a total Metro had projected for 2005.
CAF is contracted to have 80 rail cars in service along the Green, Orange, Blue and Yellow lines by June 30. Mr. Proctor said he expects only 30 to be ready, adding that CAF is being fined $330 each day it fails to deliver. A total of 192 cars are supposed to be delivered by next summer.
Mr. Proctor said the latest problems do not have to do with the safety of the rail cars. Instead, engineers — five of whom came from CAF two weeks ago — are trying to fix a problem in which the brakes stop the train of cars but not smoothly.
“The braking dynamics are kind of irrational,” Mr. Proctor said, explaining that the “fail-safe” brake stops the train as it should, but the brakes computer and electrical systems are not working exactly in tandem.
The goal, he said, is for the braking system to have just the right amount of friction so the trains stop slowly and smoothly. So far, those kinks havent been worked out and they will have to be before the trains go into service, Mr. Proctor said.
Metro officials, including Mr. Proctor, say they dont want to take any risks with a subway car falling down on the job when weekday ridership is now averaging more than 625,000 riders a day — nearly 400,000 riders from their 2025 goal of 1 million a day.
Mr. Proctor said he also is concerned about the brakes producing enough friction to stop the car, but not so much as to wear out the brake pads faster than necessary. Typically, the pads can last for up to 200,000 miles, but current operations have reduced pads life expectancy to 50,000 miles, he said.
Engineers and testers working at Metros Greenbelt station, where the first four cars are being tested, have found a significant problem in the operation of the cars doors, Mr. Proctor said. Right now, the doors are not synchronized with the familiar automatic chime and “Doors closing — Please stand clear of the doors” message.
That could be a problem, he said, because “the doors opening and closing is timed” to the train moving and the message has to be timed with the movement of the doors. If the doors arent closed properly, the train doesnt go anywhere, he said.
Charles Stanford, Metros chief engineer, said another minor concern his crew is working on has to do with the wood used for the subway cars flooring. Encased in metal, the wood is a higher-quality European plywood, he said.
But the laminate used by CAF is new to Metro, and Mr. Stanford said he doesnt know how it will hold up. “We are concerned about the longevity of the coating,” he said. “We are worried about its life.”
Mr. Stanford pointed out that there is a lifetime warranty on the flooring and should there be any problems, CAF will pay for them.
Mr. Proctor and Mr. Stanford said they want to avoid the remote possibility they would have to take cars out of service, even if that means delaying badly needed cars from being put into service.
“The last thing I want to do is put something out thats not reliable,” Mr. Proctor said, adding that once these last series of quality-control checks are done, the remaining cars will trickle out, with two coming in service each week.
General Manager Richard A. White said Metro would be far worse off if they put the cars out with minor glitches, only to have to recall them later.
“We could have just put them in and worry about it later,” Mr. White said.
Mr. Proctor, who has been with Metro for two decades, said just putting the cars out with problems could be more disruptive to passengers. “We cant afford to have a piece of equipment that is going to break down,” he said, adding that Metro is regaining its passengers trust. “If they run well, I hope we will be forgiven.”

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