Motor Problems Disrupt Rush-Hour Service

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007

Loose hardware on train motors left Metro with the equivalent of four fewer rush-hour trains on several recent days at a time when ridership is soaring, officials said.

The loss of 60 rail cars, coupled with other cars being out of service for routine repairs and overhauls, meant that Metro did not have enough cars to handle rush-hour crowds the past 10 weekdays. On four days, the agency was short of at least 24 cars, the equivalent of four six-car trains.

"That's why we are suffering some service delivery over the last week and little bit," said Dave Kubicek, recently hired to oversee engineering and rail car maintenance for Metro.

Jack Corbett, of, put it more bluntly: "July was awfully crowded," he said. On several occasions, trains were so jammed that riders at the Grosvenor station on the Red Line could not squeeze on to the next train to Shady Grove, he said.

At Shady Grove, the platform was so crowded that passengers stood near the edge even as trains were about to arrive, posing safety concerns, he said.

Corbett and other riders said Metro should have warned passengers about the service disruptions.

"If you've got to get to work by 9 a.m. and they're not going to have a full set of trains, they should publish any kind of information that can help riders plan more intelligently," he said.

Metro has been struggling with rail car shortages for most of the spring and summer. Structural and mechanical issues and problems with electrical and propulsion systems led to months-long delays in getting new cars on the tracks. A lack of spare parts also has affected the availability of trains.

The system had enough cars to run its full rush-hour service at the end of June and early July.

Mechanics discovered the loose hardware last month on an older-model car during a routine inspection and later found that the problem affected all models being built or overhauled by Alstom Transport, Kubicek said.

"This is a piece of the motor, a piece of hardware, that helps secure other equipment on to the traction motor," he said.

Metro Deputy General Manager Gerald C. Francis said the rail cars were taken out of service gradually as problems were found. "We believed we could meet the rush-hour demand when we started working round-the-clock to fix them," he said, referring to a four-day blitz that ended Tuesday. About half the cars are back in service, and officials hope the remainder will be on the tracks by early next week.

The overtime hours will be charged to Alstom, he said.

More people took train trips in July than in any month in Metro history, according to agency statistics. Ridership for the month was nearly 19.3 million trips, and weekday ridership averaged 768,831 trips.

Officials also have pledged to improve their communication, after riders held up on the Blue, Orange and Red lines last week said they could not understand the announcements.

"We also are reviewing how we communicate with customers, especially during emergencies, and we will make improvements," Francis said. "We're making every effort we can. We do apologize to the customers."

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