Drastically reduced metro service until at least Sunday as the derailment investigation continues

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that the Blue Line train, which derailed in a subway tunnel in DC last week, briefly got off the tracks two other times earlier that day.

Metro said drastically reduced rail service will continue for the rest of the week as the investigation into last week’s derailment of the Blue Line continues.

From Tuesday and lasting at least until Sunday, October 24, Metro said almost all lines continue to run only every 30 minutes. The exception is the red line, where trains run every 15 minutes.

On the Silver Line, trains run only between Wiehle-Reston East and Federal Center SW stations.

All trains run like trains with six cars.

The trains were crowded during the afternoon rush hour Monday on the red line, and passenger Erin Craig described people as frustrated, while passenger Hector described his commute as “like a nightmare.”

Several passengers told WTOP reporter Mike Murillo, who reported from Van Ness Subway Station, that they were concerned about overcrowded trains during the COVID-19 era.

The metro’s announcement came the same day that officials with the National Transportation Safety Board detailed their initial results in the derailment, saying it appeared the train had left the track at least three times on Oct. 12, including in a tunnel near Rosslyn station. because the wheels of the train had shifted too far apart on their axles.

NTSB President Jennifer Homendy said a preliminary investigation found similar wheel problems back in 2017 and that they appeared to have become more widespread recently, raising concerns that the problem could affect other transit agencies across the United States.

“We are fortunate that there have been no deaths or serious injuries as a result of any of these derailments, but the potential for deaths and serious injuries was significant,” Homendy said. “This could have resulted in a catastrophic incident.”

A passenger told Murillo she was not happy to hear that issues similar to the one leading to the train derailment had been reported. she feels Metro could have done more.

Late Sunday, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, which enforces safety practices on the DC subway system, ordered Metro to take all railcars in the 7000 series out of service due to the defects uncovered in the wheel and axle assembly of the railway cars, leading to naked metro services on Monday morning, crowded trains and massive delays for riders.

Metro said all 748 of its 7000-series railcars – which are the transit system’s newest railcars and account for 60% of Metro’s total fleet – remain on the sidelines and do not return to service until they are considered safe to do so, which will affect service. significantly.

Metro riders are encouraged to take the Metrobus or consider other alternatives.

“Safety remains Metro’s first priority,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement Monday night.

He added: “I want to assure our customers that their safety drives all decisions that are made. We apologize for the reduced service and ask for our customers’ continued patience and support as we work to get Metro back to normal operation. I would like to thank Metro employees who work around the clock. Your commitment is appreciated. ”

The NTSB press conference earlier Monday provided more details on what turned into a series of derailments on October 12, all by the same railroad car running on Metro’s Blue Line.

The final derailment, at. 16:51 that day, nearly 200 passengers stranded in a tunnel between Rosslyn and Arlington National Cemetery, sending someone to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

In addition to this derailment, however, NTSB investigators determined that train 407 also derailed twice earlier that day.

Kl. 15:23 derailed train 407 briefly at Arlington National Cemetery before straightening onto the track, and again at. 16:13 at Largo Town Center.

Investigator Joe Gordon, who heads the NTSB probe, said broken parts of the brake parts at the two sites indicated that the train was derailed, although it is possible that the train also derailed elsewhere.

Repeated wheel failures since 2017

The presumed cause of the derailment is a defect in the wheel joints of the railway wagons in the 7000 series.

As part of the derailment investigation, federal authorities were informed by Metro of similar problems with wheel assemblies dating back to 2017 and were told they appear to have become more widespread in recent years.

In 2017, regular Metro inspection showed two wheel faults, meaning the wheels shifted too far apart on the axles, Homendy said. Two errors were also reported in 2018.

In 2019 and 2020, there were four and five reported errors, respectively.

This year, however, the reported errors jumped to 18 – and that was before last week’s derailment.

In a round of emergency inspections that began Friday, Metro 21 showed more errors, Homendy said.

“These go up,” Homendy said of the wheel axle failure.

And the numbers may still change: As of Monday morning, Metro had inspected 514 of its 748,7000-series railroad cars, manufactured by Kawasaki, the Japanese-based manufacturer.

Asked whether WMATA has taken appropriate steps to respond to the wheel problems back in 2017, Homendy said: “That is exactly one of the questions we have in this study and something we will look at because we will look at decisions. – on the part of WMATA, what actions were taken and what led them to those actions – and whether they were sufficient. “

On its website, Metro said it had been working with Kawasaki since 2017 to solve the wheel problem.

Homendy said the NTSB first learned about the wheel problems as a result of the current investigation.

The NTSB is concerned that there may be similar problems with Kawasaki-made railroad cars at transit systems across the United States, Homendy said.

“If you are a transit agency operating in the United States and you are listening, be sure to check your cars. “This is something we need to look at during this study – to determine if there are more systemic problems across the United States and across transit systems operating in the United States,” she said.

How long will cars in the 7000 series be put on the sidelines?

It is unclear how long cars in the 7000 series will be put on the sidelines. The order of the Safety Commission requires Metro to develop a plan to assess the cause of the wheel problems and find a way to detect and prevent the problem before the cars are used again.

On its website, Metro said it would work with the Security Commission to determine the “next best steps to bring the 7000 series back into operation.”

Although the NTSB does not have the authority to order the 7000 Series cars out of service, Homendy said the board supports the Metro Safety Commission, which is taking steps to do so.

“From a security standpoint, we’re glad they prioritized security because it could have been catastrophic again,” Homendy said. “So their focus here was public safety.”

The Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, a key supporter of the bill establishing the Safety Commission, called the decision to tow the railroad cars “difficult but necessary” and demanded a plan from Metro to restore service and equestrian confidence.

“According to the NTSB, WMATA did not take the necessary steps to remedy a potentially fatal mechanical failure in the 7000 Series cars and allow the problem to disappear and worsen within four years,” Connolly said in a statement. “This is unacceptable and could have resulted in a catastrophic tragedy. I demand an action plan from WMATA for how these issues will be resolved and rider confidence in system security restored. ”

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