Metro will submit plan to restore more service after derailment – The Washington Post

Metro submitted a testing plan to its oversight agency Thursday that is the first formal step toward getting more than half of its trains back into service.
The plan proposes a testing process that would check rail cars every eight days for a wheel defect that has afflicted several of Metro’s 7000-series cars over the past four years. The plan, sent to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, is a requirement en route to ending a train shortage that has severely reduced rail service across the region for nearly three weeks.
Metro is facing its biggest crisis in six years after the safety commission ordered the transit agency to suspend all 748 of its latest-model cars on Oct. 17 following the derailment of a Blue Line train. The series makes up about 60 percent of Metro’s nearly 1,200-car fleet. In response, the transit agency has pulled older rail cars from storage — some dating to 1982 — to cobble together about 40 trains to serve 91 stations and 118 miles of track.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld called the plan’s submission “an important milestone” Thursday as he informed Metro board members of the development.
Metro plans reduced service levels through Nov. 15 as it develops testing plan to restore rail cars
He did not provide a date for when the rail cars could return to the system but has previously said it would come about two weeks after the plan’s submission. The plan was developed in consultation with the safety commission, an independent government agency that monitors and oversees safety on Metrorail.
Safety commission spokesman Max Smith said Thursday that commission members were reviewing Metro’s plan and could have feedback for the agency later in the day. Wiedefeld said the new protocols will be tested on 7000-series cars at Metro’s Greenbelt yard and maintenance complex in Maryland.
The wheelset defect that led to the suspension of the cars, built by Kawasaki Rail Car and delivered to Metro between 2015 and 2020, came to light when a Blue Line train slipped off its track Oct. 12 outside the station at Arlington National Cemetery. It forced the evacuation of 187 passengers, although no one was injured.
Federal Transit Administration orders transit agencies’ inspection records after Metro derailment
The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation and discovered that the defect had been found during Metro inspections more than 20 times since 2017. The problem occurs when wheels fixed to axles shift outward, making them more prone to derailment. Emergency inspections of all 7000-series cars found about 20 additional cases.
Investigators say the defect surfaces only after a period of time and miles. NTSB spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris said the safety board continues to probe the origin of the flaw and is conducting metallurgical examinations — looking at the composition of metals from evidence collected — at the NTSB Materials Laboratory.
In Metro’s letter to the safety commission, Chief Safety Officer Theresa M. Impastato said Metro’s inspection plan uses calculations that estimate the maximum daily movement of defective wheelsets by tracing the mileage on 20 wheelsets found with the malfunction since the derailment. Based upon the calculations, a span of 10 days represented the “reasonable worst-case” a wheel could shift on its axle that would result in a failure to conform to specifications, the letter said.
“Metro added a 20% factor of safety to this rate to arrive at a proposed inspection interval of every eight days per wheelset,” she wrote.
Metro is proposing to run tests on two train sets for at least 12 days under simulated service conditions. If testing matches Metro’s calculations, the agency will turn in a finalized plan that includes proposed testing processes and protocols to make sure defective cars don’t end up in service.
“Until the test plan data is collected and available — in addition to existing data — and analysis is done with available data, the next steps are not certain,” Smith said. “By definition, those next steps are based on what data analysis demonstrates.”
The NTSB said the defect could have led to a catastrophic incident, but Wiedefeld and Metro board members have said they were not aware of the issue. The safety commission also had not been informed of the defect, as required.
The safety commission ordered the suspension of the series after investigators learned that Metro had accidentally allowed rail cars found with the defect to remain in service on Oct. 17.
Metro plans reduced service levels through Nov. 15 as it develops testing plan to restore rail cars
The suspension and service reductions come as the Washington region has seen a drop in coronavirus cases and while children are receiving vaccinations — viewed as a key preventive measure to stop the spread of the virus that allows for many pre-pandemic activities to resume.
As Metro officials work to end the train shortage, the transit agency’s board on Thursday discussed the challenges of luring back riders lost during the pandemic.
Board members reviewed Wiedefeld’s proposed $4.6 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The plan includes offering riders $2 flat fares after 9:30 p.m. and discounts on passes, as well as a $5 bonus for every $25 added to SmarTrip accounts.
Metro proposes fare cuts to lure riders in budget that assumes slow return of passengers
Ridership on Metrobus is about 15 percent below pre-pandemic levels, while rail ridership has been slower to return, at about one-third of earlier numbers. Passenger counts have taken a toll amid health concerns over the pandemic, service interruptions and a shift toward telework.
Federal coronavirus stimulus money is projected to fill a $715.8 million gap in Metro’s $2.3 billion operating budget that fares and other sources had covered before the pandemic. But that money will run low in the next fiscal year, giving the agency until summer 2023 to find riders or another avenue for help. The transit system projects ridership will return gradually, growing to 53 percent of pre-pandemic levels during fiscal 2022 before fully returning by about mid-2024.
Metro’s budget will be approved in the spring and no vote was taken Thursday. The plan will go through public hearings early next year, with the board having several opportunities to shape and revise the proposal.
Metro board member Sarah Kline, who represents the federal government, said riders want discounts now amid Metro’s service issues — not next July, when price breaks would go into effect. She also questioned whether offering $5 bonuses rewarded riders who could afford paying $25 in SmarTrip credit at the expense of lower-income riders.
“That’s going to skew the benefits towards people who can afford to pay upfront, either for a monthly pass or weekly pass or to add that $25 in value all at once,” Kline said. “And I think we should continue to think as a board of how we can ensure that folks who don’t have that $25 to add all at once can still benefit and be induced to take more trips on the system.”
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