Metro fix to protect blind riders now due in spring

WASHINGTON — The Federal Transit Administration has approved a Metro plan to add new safety barriers between new 7000 Series train cars by the end of May instead of the original federal deadline at the end of this year.

A letter dated earlier this week but only made available Friday notes Metro’s other steps taken since the FTA raised concerns about another visually impaired rider stepping off a platform through what she thought was an open door into what was actually the empty space between rail cars. She was pulled back up to the platform with only minor physical injuries since riders were able to prevent the train from pulling out of the Van Ness Station.

Metro blamed her for not tapping the floor where she was about to step, and questioned another rider’s account of a similar situation where he was able to pull himself to safety. Metro also challenged the FTA’s initial deadline for repairs.

Still, Metro has added announcements on trains that “This is a 7000 Series train,” added reflective tape to previously black barriers between pairs of train cars, sent out emails to some riders about the concerns, and has agreed with rail car manufacturer Kawasaki to put in the agency’s standard chains between all cars by May 2019 rather than the initial estimate of November 2019.

Metro has also now promised not to begin using any new 7000 Series cars not already in service until they have the chains added.

The FTA letter said that is enough for the moment, especially given what Metro had described as difficulty getting the chains and other parts needed to upgrade the rail cars.

“Although WMATA’s May 2019 commitment is later than the deadline stated in FTA’s June 2018 letter, given the additions to WMATA’s ongoing mitigation efforts, the nature of the supply and manufacturing constraints, and WMATA’s commitment that no new 7000-series cars will enter revenue service without the new chain [between car barriers] installed, FTA accepts this updated work plan,” the FTA letter signed by Acting Associate Administrator Henrika Buchanan said.

The letter also outlines the expectation that Metro will continue the 7000 Series train announcements among other mitigation efforts until barriers are in place on all active 7000 Series cars.

Metro is now required to provide monthly updates to the FTA on the status of the installation of the between-car chains, which have been promised for several years only to see the expected installation repeatedly pushed back.

If Metro does not complete the installation on active cars by May 31, 2019, the FTA could withhold federal funding.

The 7000 Series cars also each need their wiring replaced due to a separate manufacturing problem.

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