The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission issued an order to remove all of the latest 7000 Series railcars from service effective immediately after a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Blue Line train partially slipped off the tracks near Arlington Cemetery. The removed trains represent 60 percent of the WMATA fleet and will cause major delays for Metro riders at least until Oct. 31.
Days after the train slipped on Oct. 12, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation that revealed problems with wheel assemblies that manufacturer, Kawasaki Rail Car, has allegedly known about for years. Renewed inspections last week identified almost 24 more defects in addition to the 18 that the agency originally found this year.
This is indicative of an upward trend in train failures with Metro reporting two in 2017, two in 2018, four in 2019 and five in 2020. Additionally, Metro has discovered multiple other cars with defects and is pushing to reinspect another 200 trains.
“The potential for fatalities and serious injuries was significant,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said. “This could have resulted in a catastrophic event.”
In a recent update, WMATA let riders know that they will be dealing with the reduction of available trains until at least Oct. 31, and that they are doing the best that they can to improve service, even offering riders from the initial incident a $21 credit as an apology.
While the NTSB continues their investigation into the 7000 Series train, WMATA’s remaining 40 trains will be running every 30 minutes. Passengers have reported waiting up to an hour. These delays have caused traffic problems throughout the DMV, especially for those who solely rely on the Metro to commute to school and work.
“Time is required to ensure we are getting that plan right,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld wrote in a note to employees on Tuesday as obtained by DCist/WAMU.
“That means we identify any wheels out of alignment, isolate the cars securely, and have a data-driven plan for more frequent inspections of the fleet, and ultimately, identify the root cause,” he said.
With D.C. slowly recovering from the financial loss it has taken from the pandemic, the city is feeling the pressure to get trains back on the tracks as the pandemic has left ridership at only a third of what it was before COVID-19.
Metro said that they hope to add more 6000 Series and 2000 Series trains to aid in the train shortage if slow service persists. They expect that the trains will be available next week; however, they have been in “cold storage” during the pandemic and need to be rebooted and pass safety inspections before they can be put back into service.
“We know that public transit is essential to the future of this region. Our riders have had their commutes completely re-arranged by this incident. Though it was massively disruptive, we stand by the call to pull those trains out of service, because it prioritized safety,” Metro’s largest labor union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said.
Copy edited by: N’dia Webb