Car Rehab Work Halted for New Inspections

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006

Metro suspended a major refurbishment of nearly 20 percent of its fleet of rail cars because of continuing quality control problems with the company performing the work, Metro officials said yesterday.

Earlier in the week, Metro workers discovered a safety hazard during a routine maintenance inspection. Mechanics found that the doors on a recently rehabilitated rail car were open even though a signal light in the train operator's cab showed them to be closed. The rail car was not in service at the time.

Metro managers ordered all 194 cars that had been retooled by Alstom Transportation Inc. to undergo a safety inspection and discovered that 16 additional cars were at risk of the same door problem. Repairs have since been made on those cars, officials said.

The problems did not affect any passengers, according to Steve Feil, Metro's chief operating officer for rail.

"We believe the trains are safe," Metro's interim general manager, Dan Tangherlini, said in a statement. "However, as a precaution, Metro and Alstom officials will conduct a complete reinspection of the 194 rehabilitated rail cars already received. . . . We're taking this step together to ensure the improved quality of the existing rail cars and all future rail car deliveries."

Metro said the new inspections will not cause service delays.

There have been ongoing quality control problems with Alstom. Of Metro's fleet of 952 rail cars, 364 were slated to be rehabilitated by Alstom under a $382.6 million contract awarded in 2000. Alstom has retooled 194 of them, but as they were being returned to the transit agency, Metro officials found flaws in the cars' primary suspension system. Metro and Alstom have been in discussions to resolve that.

Alstom is also building 184 new rail cars for the agency, but production was halted for four to five weeks this spring because Metro personnel found cracks in a critical part of the cars. All but two of the 184 cars must be retrofitted for a newly designed part. A dozen of those new cars are being tested without passengers, and no major safety problems have been found, officials said.

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