Metro: New Metro rail cars five months behind schedule

December 15, 2011

New rail cars intended to replace the oldest units in Metro’s fleet will be five months late in being delivered because of problems at factories in Japan where some parts are being made, according to Metro General Manager Richard Sarles.

Metro plans to buy 428 of the new rail cars from Kawasaki as part of a contract worth $886 million. The contract includes the design, manufacturing, parts, training and testing of the new rail cars, the 7000 series.

Some of the new rail cars were expected to be delivered to Metro in the summer of 2013, but now are expected to be delivered in the winter of 2014, Sarles told the board at Thursday’s board meeting.

Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, said “suppliers who make semi-conductors and other specialized electronics used for propulsion and communication systems on the rail cars are having a shortage of raw materials” following the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year.

Metro has ordered 364 of the new rail cars. Of those, 300 are meant to replace Metro’s oldest rail car series — the 1000 series, which date from the opening of the rail system 35 years ago. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended Metro that Metro remove the 1000 series from service because of the damage they sustain in crashes.

Sixty-four of the new 7000 series rail cars will be used on the new 23-mile stretch of rail for the Silver Line, which is eventually planned to run from Falls Church to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County.

The first leg of the Silver Line is under construction to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and is expected to open to passengers in late 2013. The first part of the project could be as much as $150 million over budget. Preliminary engineering is underway for the second phase.

Sarles told the board Thursday that the delay of the 7000 series would not “impact the testing or start-up of the Dulles extension.” He said “existing equipment” would be used to test the Silver Line.

The new rail cars are being assembled in Lincoln, Neb.

Once the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) turns over the first phase of the rail line to Metro to operate and maintain — scheduled for the summer of 2013 — the transit agency is expected to perform about six months of testing before opening the new line to passengers.

Stessel said Kawasaki should be able to make up the delays during the overall production run — even with the initial delay — and deliver the last rail car in early 2017.

The new rail cars are expected to have many new features, including LED lighting; more seating; a new color scheme of blue and gray; wider aisles; and better signage to help customers monitor the trains progress.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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