- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority said on Wednesday that it will keep outside consultants to advise its board of directors on safety matters following last week’s Blue Line train derailment.

“These independent advisers will provide the Board with expert opinions, analysis, and recommendations on a full range of issues concerning the safety, operations and organizational accountability of Metro,” Paul C. Smedberg, chair of the WMATA board of directors, said in a statement.

He added areas of focus will include safety reporting, communications, inspections, roles and responsibilities, regulatory requirements, hazard identification, employee training, safety performance indicators/targets and procurement.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday blamed the Oct. 12 derailment of the Metro Blue Line train on its faulty wheel assembly, a recurring problem federal investigators have noted for years.

The Blue Line train had lifted off the tracks twice the same day before the third and final derailment, according to NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy. The train’s wheels moved too far apart on their axles, an issue found in other 7000 Series railcars, she said.

There were no fatalities or serious injuries during any of these derailments, but the “potential for fatalities and serious injuries was significant,” Ms. Homendy said. 

The Blue Line train was carrying about 190 passengers when it derailed Oct. 12 in a tunnel between Rosslyn and Arlington National Cemetery. One passenger was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, said Ms. Homendy, noting the train had eight of the 7000-series railcars.

On Monday, Metro grounded all of its 7000-series railcars, almost 60% of its rail fleet, and ran only about 40 trains as investigators inspected the trains.

Reduced Metrorail service is expected to last until at least Sunday as officials continue to investigate the Oct. 12 derailment. Trains are expected to run every 15 minutes on the Red Line and every 30 minutes for all other lines, Metro officials said. Silver Line trains are scheduled to only run between Wiehle-Reston East and Federal Center SW.

Other trains inspected by Metro had similar problems with the wheel assembly dating back to 2017. Preliminary inspections found there were two-wheel assembly failures in 2017, two in 2018, four in 2019, five in 2020 and 39 this year — a total of 52 failures so far. The reported failures increased from 18 to 39 after emergency inspections following last week’s Blue Line derailment.

The numbers are preliminary and could go up, Ms. Homendy said. Only 514 railcars of the 748 railcars that are part of the 7000-series were inspected as of Monday.

Metro officials said they will not return their 7000-series railcars to service until they are inspected further and deemed safe. 

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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