Metro sidelines 16 cars after Tuesday’s malfunction

Officials say the incident was caused when a friction ring fell off a Blue Line train and hit the electrified third rail. (Photo Courtesy of WMATA)

Adam Tuss,

WASHINGTON – Metro has taken 16 rail cars out of service after Tuesday’s malfunction on the Blue and Orange lines that resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of passengers.

Officials say the incident was caused when a friction ring fell off a Blue Line train and hit the electrified third rail, creating smoke until power was cut shortly after the incident.

The friction ring failure is related to a potential hub failure, “a part of the brake assembly that holds the friction ring in place,” Metro says in a news release.

“Metro has identified 34 hubs from the same batch on 16 5,000-series rail cars,” Metro says. “Those 16 cars have been removed from service while inspections continue.”

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles praised the first responders during the episode.

“Our review this morning concluded that the methodical and deliberate plan that was developed with the highest safety precautions possible, combined with the exemplary work of fire, transit police and safety officials resulted in a safe and orderly evacuation in a reasonable time frame,” he writes in a statement.

Metro says it is focusing on ways to improve communication during these kinds of events.

One area of concern is with internal radio communication that sometimes cuts in and out in certain underground stations. Metro says it is testing signal boosting technology to improve radio performance.

About 300 riders, who say they received little instruction from operators, were stranded on two Orange Line trains traveling behind the affected Blue Line train.

The Orange Line trains were stopped mid-tunnel and had now power. Emergency personnel arrived about 20 minutes after the trains lost power to escort commuters off the cars and into Smithsonian station.

No one was hurt.

Some riders say the experience was terrifying, however, because of the lack of information. They could hear explosions, causing some to panic on board. They say the incident made them question whether the subway could be a terror target.

The incident has prompted Sarles, who rides the rails every day and plans to continue doing so, to call for precautionary inspections of Metro’s 5,000-series rail cars.

Sarles ordered precautionary tests on all of the 190 cars from that series.

The 5,000-series cars are among the newer cars in Metro’s fleet, having been delivered between 1998 and 2003.

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