- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Metro’s safety watchdog has approved a revised plan to return enough 7000-series rail cars to service to open the Silver Line extension to Washington Dulles International Airport by Thanksgiving.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission said it had no objections to the plan Metro submitted on Tuesday.

Metro officials said in a joint statement that the green light to gradually restore all 7000-series cars “will support opening the Silver Line extension before Thanksgiving and reduce crowding on the Red Line.”

“With this approval and close collaboration on the Silver Line extension safety report, Metro will be able to set an opening date in the near future,” Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said.

The revised plan approved Tuesday will introduce cars with “solely high press tonnage axles on the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines, and the introduction of a limited number of cars with low press tonnage axles each day on the Red, Yellow and Green Lines, while continuing inspections after every four consecutive service days,” the safety commission said in a statement.

“There are cars that the data shows are lower risk for this wheel migration. Metro has been running those cars, a pretty high rate over the last several months,” said commission spokesman Max Smith.

The Silver Line ultimately will extend from the East Falls Church station to Ashburn, Virginia.

Metro has operated with limited capacity since an October 2021 derailment prompted officials to remove all 748 of the new 7000-series cars, which make up 60% of the subway’s fleet.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded in an initial derailment report that the wheels on the 7000-series cars had migrated too far apart on their axles. That investigation is ongoing.

More than 300 of the 7000-series cars have returned to service under enhanced wheel-set inspection procedures, with more than half remaining sidelined.

Since Metro began the inspection process in June, 694 rail cars have been inspected more than 72,000 times and have operated safely for more than 3 million miles, officials said Tuesday.

The regional transit agency has struggled with sharp declines in ridership as many people keep working from home in the pandemic era.

The District’s weekly office occupancy rate rose from 27.4% on Jan. 26 to 44.6% on Oct. 19, according to a weekly analysis of security data by office swipe-card provider Kastle Systems. That remains down from nearly 100% occupancy on March 4, 2020, just before the pandemic, Kastle said.

Metro has a $2.3 billion operational budget, including $672.8 million of federal pandemic relief funding allocated to replace lost fares this year. The transit system still has seen a dramatic decline in rail ridership.

Metrorail averaged 626,000 daily riders in 2019. That number fell to 177,000 in 2020 and 136,000 last year. It has risen to 213,000, as of Aug. 31.

With Metro reducing service to cope with the loss of the 7000-series railcars, passengers have endured long delays and overcrowding over the past year. According to officials, 77 eight-car trains were running daily last week, including 61 older model cars and 16 of the 7000-series.

The safety commission cited a “lack of data” in rejecting the first plan Metro had submitted on Sept. 28 and resubmitted this month to restore the newer cars.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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