Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metro Rail system (WMATA) is currently in limbo after it announced Monday that 60% of its rail cars will be removed from revenue service because of a railcar derailment resulting due to defective wheel assemblies within the 7000 rail car series.
Jennifer Homendy (National Transportation Safety Board) Chair stated today that WMATA was aware of this defect back in 2017 and had experienced a steady increase in derailments ever since.
Homendy stated that these derailments have increased from two incidents in 2017 to 18, and not including last week’s incident. Blue Line’s October derailment was actually caused by two minor incidents the day prior, just before the train finally reached Arlington Cemetery.
Inspections following Blue Line’s incident found 21 more defective wheel assemblies. Homendy claimed that these numbers are only preliminary and could be as high as 200 of the 748 7000 series cars.
Blue Line’s accident last week caused only one minor injury. However, the third rail’s electrified track was also damaged in the Blue Line accident. This could have led to a potentially dangerous fire.
NTSB claims that the third rail suffered damage in the accident. This could have been a disastrous incident if there had been a fire.
— Jordan Pascale????️ #WeMakeWAMU (@JWPascale) October 18, 2021
Homendy stated that it was very fortunate that no of the previous incidents resulted in major disasters.
At today’s press conference, she stated: “We are grateful that there were no serious injuries or deaths as a consequence of any of the derailments.” The potential for serious injury or death was very real. The result could have been a devastating event.
WMATA taking half its rail cars out of service on Monday caused serious headaches for D.C. commuters, the delay between rush train and peak trains reaching 30 minutes.
Since 2015 when the first vehicles arrived from Kawaski, a Japanese firm, in Nebraska, the 7000 series has been in use. DCist. Buy America provisions of federal transit procurement laws—which require equipment purchased by federally subsidized transit agencies to contain 60 percent American-made parts—resulted in WMATA paying $400 million above the global average for these cars.
Homendy suggested that the possibility exists that the 7000 series vehicles may have more serious manufacturing issues and that transportation agencies could conduct inspections.
It was decided to retire the 7000 series vehicles from service. orderedWashington Metrorail Safety Commission is WMATA’s independent safety monitor. It’s unknown when they will return to service. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is an independent Federal board which investigates transportation-related accidents. It also makes safety recommendations for relevant agencies.
DCist According to the railroad, train cars must be inspected at least once per 90 days. The extent of inspections on the 7000 series cars is unknown. In the past, WMATA safety inspectors falsified safety reports and failed to perform inspections as required.
The timing of this announcement is perfect for WMATA. They recently got positive press about making safety investments that will reduce the number of track fires, and return to regular service levels.
WMATA’s 6000 series cars—which make up about 15 percent of its rail vehicles—have also been out of service since November following several train separations resulting from improperly restored joining apparatuses, reports the Washington Post
The agency is left with 2000 and 3000 series cars, which were built in the 1980s. Metro rail ridership also remains at 1980s levels. A snapshot of August ridership showed that average weekday boardings were 157,000 DCist According to reports, they have increased to around 200,000 since then. This is about one-third the pre-pandemic level. It’s the lowest ridership recorded by the system since 1978, when WMATA was only 27 stations with three lines. This compares to the 91 stations today and the six rail lines.
If WMATA fails to get the rail cars in service quickly, it could cause a decline in ridership.