Thursday, April 12, 2007

Metro officials yesterday said a weekend rail car fire broke out when a system failure caused an electrical surge and software designed to monitor performance did not detect the overheating.

No one was hurt in the fire, which occurred about 10 a.m. Sunday and forced the evacuation of the Green Line train and the Waterfront-SEU station.

Steven A. Feil, Metro’s chief operating officer for rail, told the Metro board of directors during a meeting yesterday that the train’s brake resistor grid, which checks various subsystems and voltage, overheated and caught fire after the monitoring software malfunctioned.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said Alstom Transportation Inc., the rail cars’ manufacturer, will pay for the damage to the car and to repair the software.

“They have been extraordinarily responsive,” Mr. Catoe told the board yesterday. “They sent staff down that same day.”

Metro operates 190 cars with the monitoring software package that malfunctioned aboard the 6000-series rail car. Officials have replaced the software with an older version in about 150 cars, Mr. Feil said. The previous version of software will be reinstalled in about 40 additional rail cars during nonpeak hours tonight and Saturday morning.

Reverting to the old software takes about 20 minutes for each rail car and should not affect service, Mr. Feil said.

Metro began running six of the 6000-series rail cars in October on the Green Line. Currently, 52 of the cars are in service, with that number to increase to 184 by next year.

The new cars, which are manufactured in Barcelona and assembled in New York by France-based company Alstom, cost Metro $378 million.

Alstom was also commissioned to revamp many of the agency’s older rail cars and had installed the new software in those cars.

The fire occurred after the train left the L’Enfant Plaza station, which is underground near the Mall. A Metro employee reported the first of two loud booms as the six-car train traveled through a tunnel toward the Waterfront station where the second boom was heard.

Fire and smoke were discovered underneath the last car. Flames did not penetrate the floor of the car, but smoke was seen rising from the carpet.

The train operator decided to evacuate the cars after the first boom.

No injuries were reported, and the station reopened about 21/2 hours later, agency officials said.

“What happened this past Sunday was an extremely rare occurrence,” said Gerald C. Francis, the agency’s deputy general manager. “We have been working diligently to correct the problem, and we want to assure our Metrorail customers that the series-6000 rail car fleet is safe and we will continue to operate these cars.”

Both Mr. Catoe and Mr. Feil recommended that the new fleet stay in service.

Elsewhere in the transit agency, former Metro Chief Financial Officer Peter Benjamin and former head of the Prince George’s Planning Board Elizabeth M. Hewlett were sworn in yesterday as board members.

Ms. Hewlett, who will represent Prince George’s County, was also elected chairman of the 12-member board.

The two were picked by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to fill the seats vacated by Charles Deegan and Ray Briscuso.

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