Problems for Metro’s new rail cars; new steps to fix old ones

WASHINGTON — Metro’s new 7000 Series cars are having more problems than they should, which is contributing to rider frustrations as a number of other trains each day go out of service or do not run at all.

While more of the new cars are arriving each month and fewer of the new trains are going out of service in the middle of the line, Metro data show other issues with the cars — such as air conditioning problems — are happening far more often than the contract with the company building the cars says they should.

A measure that Metro says “reflects the totality of malfunctions occurring on a car” is less than half of what it should be.

The cars average 5,000 to 10,000 miles between failures today, even though the Kawasaki cars are supposed to be going at least 20,800 miles between failures at this point.

Metro has commissioned 28 trains worth of the new cars for service. The contract calls for 85 percent of those cars to be available at any given time, but Metro says that is only true “most of the time.”

Kawasaki is now delivering 20 new cars per month to make up for earlier delays, but Metro is concerned about whether that is sustainable.

In order to keep up, Metro staff say Kawasaki and Metro need to cut the commissioning process in the D.C. area from 21 days to 16, resolve production quality issues at the plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the cars are put together, and add Kawasaki staff and Metro inspectors to the project.

Other railcars in for a tuneup

Metro estimates 60 percent of all the time Metro riders spend in delays is caused by rail car breakdowns, which contribute to about 12 scheduled trains each day getting pulled off the line or not running at all.

Without 24/7 service cuts, Metro is supposed to have 966 cars available that can be arranged into a minimum of 92 six-car trains and at least 48 eight-car trains each day. With service cuts since June, Metro has needed fewer trains and cars than that most days, yet still does not always have enough available.

Still, since January, Metro is averaging eight scheduled trains per day that simply do not leave the end of the line in the first place, and four trains per day that break down on the tracks, forcing riders to offload.

On Nov. 1, five months after major round-the-clock track work began, Metro began new inspections of the issues that cause most of the delays, including air conditioning, doors, brakes and propulsion systems, on all cars except the oldest and newest series.

“Within nine months, all 740 cars will have undergone annual inspection and necessary repairs for the specific sub-systems targeted,” Metro board documents said.

The end target is around the end of the currently scheduled 24/7 track work surges, which have allowed more cars to be scheduled to remain in yards.

The new inspection project does not address the 4000 Series cars, which cause more delays than any other type. Those are no longer being used as the lead cars of trains since Metro noted that it has never done required speed control tests on the cars. They could be retired by the end of next year.

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