Monday, January 8, 2007

The type of Metro car that derailed Sunday and injured 20 persons has a history of problems, including door malfunctions, brake problems and faulty propulsion systems.

“All of that is now being very seriously reviewed, as it has before,” said Jim Graham, the Ward 1 representative on the D.C. Council and a member of the Metro Board of Directors since 1999. “Once again, we’re looking at this series to see what the problem might be.”

The derailment occurred on the Green Line at about 3:45 p.m., when the fifth car of a six-car train traveling northbound crossed a rail switch and left the tracks before entering the Mount Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center station.

About 120 passengers were on the train. One passenger had a head injury, but all had been released from hospitals by last night.

The cars involved were among 192 new cars provided under a $378 million contract by AAI/CAF — an arrangement between the AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, Md., and Construcciones Y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles of Madrid.

Metro began receiving the cars — known as the 5000 series — in 2001.

“I’m scared of them,” said one Metro employee, adding the cars brake slower than other models. “None of the operators like them.”

In January 2002, a faulty circuit caused a woman to be trapped in the doors of a car and dragged along a platform at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station, officials said.

That month alone, there were 41 incidents in which 30 of 32 cars in the series failed and had to be taken out of service.

Also in 2002, the cars’ dynamic braking systems, which are part of the electric motors that help slow the train, were failing mainly because of overheated computer circuits, officials said. They also reported problems with the trains’ propulsion systems and with misaligned doors.

From April 2003 to October 2004, four derailments occurred involving the 5000 series cars. Three of them occurred in or near Metro rail yards, and no passengers were on board during the incidents.

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the previous derailments were partially the result of the trains operating on unlubricated or dry tracks while negotiating tight curves.

She said switches and rails on the system’s mainline tracks are lubricated.

“They were moving the trains,” Miss Farbstein said of the previous derailments. “And when trains are in the rail yard, they’re on a different track than a mainline track.”

Metro officials received the last of the cars from CAF in 2004, Miss Farbstein said. The agency has contracted with a Barcelona-based company for a newer series of cars.

Metro was running trains along one track between the Mount Vernon and L’Enfant Plaza stations when the accident occurred Sunday. D.C. firefighters had to assist passengers in the rear cars, which were in the dark tunnel before the station platform. Fire department officials said Sunday that they received the emergency call about 10 minutes after Metro said the accident occurred.

Officials were not sure whether the single tracking, rail switch or train crossing the switch caused the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board continued its investigation yesterday.

Agency spokesman Keith Holloway said investigators have retrieved two event recorders from the train’s first four cars and will be reviewing the information, which within the next couple of days could reveal details about speed and brake application.

Agency officials also plan to request inspection records, dispatch logs and maintenance records from Metro, and hope to interview the operator of the train today.

The operator has worked for Metro since 2000, officials said, and she was interviewed and given a drug and alcohol test as part of the agency’s standard procedure after an accident.

Crews also were expected to remove the derailed car from the track last night after the station’s closure, which will allow investigators to get a closer look at the track and car directly involved in the crash.

“There’s still a lot of stuff we are trying to gather,” Mr. Holloway said. “It’s going to be some time before we determine a cause, but we’re looking at a lot of things.”

The station reopened yesterday at 5 a.m. for the rush hour. Metro officials said they did not see an unusual drop in ridership.

Most commuters at the station said in the afternoon that they weren’t really bothered by the incident.

“I’m from New York,” said Francis Calton, an engineer. “Nothing fazes me.”

• Alicia Borgess contributed to this report

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