No timeline, no plan for getting Metro cars back on the tracks

The independent agency that oversees Metrorail safety revealed Tuesday it still had not received a plan from Metro on how it intends to get its suspended 7000-series railcars back on the tracks.

Those railcars were pulled from service in October, when an investigation of a derailment uncovered a potentially dangerous defect that causes wheels on the cars to shift outward. Removing the cars cut Metro’s train fleet by more than half and severely reduced service across the subway system.

“It is up to Metrorail to determine the time needed to gather the information and tools that it needs to develop and implement a safe return-to-service plan,” said David Mayer, chief executive of the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.

According to Mayer, the commission had not received any details as to when that plan may be submitted.

“Metrorail has not provided a specific timeline,” he said, adding that Metro was not facing any deadlines. “We appreciate Metrorail taking the time that it needs to ensure that it prepares a sufficient plan that it can effectively implement.”

Metro leaders said they wouldn’t start putting 7000-series railcars back on the tracks until April at the earliest. Before that can happen, Metro must develop a way to effectively measure and monitor the width between the car wheels, according to the safety watchdog.

“Metrorail’s standard for the distance between the insides of the wheels is that it be between 53 1/4 inches and 53 3/8 inches,” said Sharmila Samarasinghe, the commission’s chief operating officer. “This distance needs to be within very specific parameters so that the wheels match the tracks, and the train does not derail.”

Metro had started the process of gradually returning 7000-series railcars to service last month, but that process was halted and the commission ordered Metro to once again pull all the cars from the tracks, saying Metro had failed to properly follow a plan for daily inspections.

Among other things, the commission said Metro had made unapproved changes to its “wheel measurement procedures.”

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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