WASHINGTON (AP) – Washington area commuters will have to wait longer for subway trains until the end of the month at least and likely longer, as more than half of the railcar fleet will remain out of service for reasons of security.
Metro chief executive Paul Wiedefeld told reporters on Friday that there was no schedule for the return of the transport company’s 7000 series wagons, which were abruptly taken out of service this week after qu A derailment revealed a chronic problem with the wheels and axles. The 748 cars are the most recent and represent more than 60% of the fleet.
The derailment is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, and Wiedefeld said he could not comment on it while the investigation was ongoing.
Meanwhile, Wiedefeld said engineers at Metro were working to put old, retired cars back into service. But he said older cars were undergoing rigorous inspections and did not expect them to be returned to service until early November. Until then, passengers can expect longer delays between trains across the system, whose six lines crisscross the city and extend deep into the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.
The transport company currently has 268 railcars in service. There are 180 cars from the old 6000 series trains that can be brought back if they pass the inspections. Currently only 22 of them are available for service.
The suspension of most of the Washington Metro fleet was triggered when a car slipped tracks on the Metro Blue Line near Arlington National Cemetery on October 12. The car had apparently derailed once, then reconnected to the rails on its own, before derailing a second time. Some passengers were trapped in a tunnel in a dark wagon and had to be evacuated on foot.
After the derailment, the NTSB revealed that the Kawasaki-made 7000 series trains suffered a growing series of incidents due to a design flaw that caused the wheels to spread out too much on the axles, allowing the trolley to slip out of the tracks. The problem was apparent to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which oversees DC’s regional transportation system, since 2017, but neither the NTSB nor the WMATA board of directors had been notified, the NTSB chairperson said, Jennifer Homendy.
The system had 18 separate incidents with the wheels in 2021 alone, Homendy said, and inspections revealed similar issues with 21 additional cars.
Wiedefeld said his agency was now working to “inspect every wheel” on 7000 series cars, in consultation with Kawasaki and the NTSB. He acknowledged that WMATA could be blamed for not fixing the issue or notifying the NTSB or its own board of the issue.
“I understand this is eroding some confidence,” Wiedefeld said. “We are not hiding anything. We want to be as transparent as possible.
Paul Smedberg, chairman of Metro’s board, told reporters the board “would reserve its judgment” on whether Wiedefeld should have brought the matter to their attention sooner.
“We are behind the whole team looking to restore service safely,” he said. “We have to make sure we get it right. ”
In a seemingly unrelated incident, train service was suspended Friday afternoon on the downtown green and yellow lines and passengers were evacuated from a broken down train due to a suspected braking problem. No injuries were reported.
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