Oct 18, 2021 - News

Metro railcar issues go beyond recent derailment

Illustration of a Metro train with a front window shaped like a danger sign.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The 7000 series Metrorail fleet abruptly pulled from service had at least 31 wheel-based failures over the past four years, the National Transportation Safety Board disclosed Monday morning.

The revelation came in the wake of last Tuesday's Blue Line derailment, which NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said could have been a “catastrophic event.”

Why it matters: This is the worst news for Metro as it tries to win back riders, and it throws cold water on the promise that the Washington region is ready to fully reopen.

  • Metro ran only 40 trains on Monday, crushing commutes for thousands of people. The 7000 series is 60% of its fleet.

Delayed train service will continue through at least Sunday as the derailment investigation continues, Metro announced Monday evening.

  • Red Line trains will run on 15-minute intervals, and all other lines will continue on 30-minute intervals.
  • All trains will be six cars only. 

Driving the news: The NTSB is investigating the extent of the wheel assembly issue on the 7000 series trains.

  • “We were made aware that WMATA was aware of this situation with the wheel assemblies going back to 2017,” Homendy said.
  • According to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, investigators found that the fourth axle of the train involved in the incident was “out of compliance with the 7000 series specifications for the wheel and axle assembly.”
  • The safety commission gave the order on Sunday to remove the 7000 series railcars and for Metro to develop a plan for their return.

What's next: NTSB investigators plan to find out whether the railcar issue is a manufacturing defect and a full picture on how many failures occurred in recent years.

  • Homendy said an “urgent recommendation” may be issued for other transit systems to inspect trains made by Kawasaki.

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