- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2021

Metro said Thursday that reduced service will continue at least until Nov. 15 following the grounding of 60% of its railcar fleet in the aftermath of a derailment earlier this month.

Trains will continue operating every 15-20 minutes on the Red Line and every 30 to 40 minutes on all other lines. Silver Line service will continue to operate between Wiehle-Reston East and Federal Center SW only. Currently, Metro has 31 trains running. 

Metro said it will deploy extra trains next week, as the troubled transit agency enters the second phase of its service plan. The agency has been working to bring its older 2000-, 3000- and 6000-series railcars out of storage and onto the tracks as a way to make “targeted improvements” in service and reduce crowding. 

Metro Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader said during Thursday’s board meeting that the agency will add eight six-car trains to the Red Line to maintain consistent peak service, to the Green Line where it is most crowded and to the Silver Line to extend it to Largo.

During limited service, the Red Line toward Glenmont and the Green Line toward Branch Avenue in the 5 p.m. hour have seen the most crowding, Mr. Leader said. As more railcars get back on the tracks, Metro can start to expand trains from six to eight cars. 

The next phase of the service plan includes adding five six-car trains to help improve train frequency and reduce wait times.

Metro has operated on reduced service since Oct. 18, when it removed all of its 7000-series railcars from service after a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation determined that faulty wheel assemblies caused the Oct. 12 derailment of a Blue Line train in a tunnel near the Arlington National Cemetery station.

The train had lifted off the tracks twice earlier that day before the third and final derailment, according to NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. The train’s wheels shifted too far apart on their axles, a recurring problem with the 7000-series railcars, she said. Preliminary inspections have found wheel assembly failures dating back to 2017. 

The train was carrying 187 passengers, one of whom was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Ms. Homendy said.

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said Thursday it is too soon to know who is responsible for the faulty wheel assemblies and the derailment, adding that the NTSB investigation must run its course.

Metro finished inspecting all of its 748 7000-series railcars earlier this week and found a total of 20 axles to be out of alignment, according to Metro spokesperson Ian Jannetta. He described the issue with the axles as an “oversight” and the derailment as a “clearly inexcusable” occurrence.

Mr. Jannetta said the transit agency needs to implement a plan that “adequately detects any anomalies” before they become a safety problem and then test the plan before returning the railcars to service.

Metro Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato said the next steps include sending affected wheelsets to an independent third party for examination, working with railcar manufacturer Kawasaki to analyze existing failures and finalizing a mitigation plan.

The mitigation plan includes testing, an inspection program for the fleet to return to service and procedures for dealing with “non-compliant equipment.”

Metro “is working to enhance our process for securing nonconforming equipment when it is identified in order to ensure removal from service actions take place,” Ms. Impastato said.

Transit officials did not provide a timeline for when the investigation would wrap up and when the 7000-series railcars would be returned to the tracks.

Mr. Wiedefeld said once a wheel inspection plan is improved by the safety commission, then the agency needs at least two weeks to test the plan. Once that happens, Metro will have to devise a restoration plan to return the railcars to service.

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

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