Riders packed in as Metro runs short on available railcars

WASHINGTON — Metro says it only had enough railcars available for regular service on 10 total weekdays in July, August and September, and the problems are continuing to contribute to crowding and delays.

Metro Deputy General Manager Rob Troup says 62 railcars are parked as of Nov. 5 and are not available for use. Many cars are awaiting parts needed for repairs, and some cars are out of service for maintenance or other reasons.

Troup says he has no timeline for when Metro will be able to get the parts needed to meet its stated minimum requirements of 954 cars daily for full weekday service.

Procurement Chief John Shackleford says things could speed up if he were allowed to go directly to original manufacturers for some orders rather than competitively bidding each contract.

“It’s no secret that that was a restriction that frankly should not have been in place,” Shackleford says. “I’m caught between a rock and a hard place in compliance with rules and law associated with competition.”

Board Chairman Mort Downey says he looks forward to discussing the issue, but acknowledges that the rules were put in place for a reason when there were issues with previous contracts.

Metro has been struggling to meet the minimum number of cars needed for full weekday service ever since the Silver Line opened last year. The addition of the Silver Line meant Metro needed more cars in service every day, but the delivery of the new 7000 Series railcars has been slower than expected, which means the fleet has not grown as quickly.

The delays have also slowed Metro’s plans to replace the oldest cars in the fleet, the 1000 Series. Overall, Metro has about 1,100 cars in its active fleet right now that could be available when not out for service.

Troup says there is no way to speed up delivery of the 7000 Series.

“We’ve had some quality-control issues coming off the assembly line,” he says.

“We don’t want to accept the car and get it to our facility and have to work those quality-control issues at our facility, which we have done some of that,” Troup adds.

Metro has received the base order of 64 7000 series cars, and 52 cars have been conditionally accepted. Metro is in talks with Kawasaki, the company making the cars, about improving the situation, but in a period ending Nov. 1 — when Metro had expected to accept 48 cars — Metro instead only accepted four.

Troup says the quality-control issues are not related to safety or structural issues, and in the meantime has authorized overtime to increase maintenance work on cars that are in the system.

He says 60 percent of all in-line delays are a result of car offloads, many of which are tied to door, brake or propulsion problems. Each train that passengers are forced to get off leads to a gap in service.

On Mondays and Fridays for several months earlier this year, Metro announced it was sending fewer railcars onto the tracks so that others could get more maintenance.

Overall, Metro failed to meet on-time performance targets for a second consecutive quarter.

Rail performance fell below 80 percent, the lowest level since the quarterly report card began in 2010. Delays and service cuts on the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines following a September transformer fire near Stadium-Armory also contributed to overcrowding at rush hours.

Board member Michael Goldman said that if he were a doctor, he might “conclude that the system suffered a coronary during the summer.”

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