Newer Metro Rail Cars to Flank Oldest in Fleet

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Metro is planning to sandwich its oldest rail cars -- like the ones involved in last week's crash -- between newer series of cars, officials said yesterday. The oldest cars, which are more than 30 years old, have been criticized by federal safety officials for their tendency to fold into themselves, like a telescope, during a crash.

The lead car of the striking train in last Monday's crash incurred the worst damage and was compressed by two-thirds. After the accident, the union that represents train operators urged Metro to reconfigure the trains.

Transit agency officials are working out the logistics to relocate the cars to the center of six- and eight-car trains.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said there are no plans to sideline those cars, known as the 1000 series. Purchased from Rohr Industries between 1974 and 1978, the 290 oldest cars make up more than 25 percent of Metro's 1,128-car fleet.

"As I communicated last week, we have no evidence that these 1000 series cars contributed to the cause of the accident," Catoe said. He said Metro officials discussed the possibility of taking the cars out of service, "but it is not a feasible action, nor is it necessary," he said. "The cars are safe."

If Metro were to sideline its 1000-series cars, the system would only have enough cars to operate four- and six-car trains, instead of the six- and eight-car trains that operate now, officials said, meaning 40 additional riders in each car.

Last week's crash killed nine people, including train operator Jeanice McMillan, and injured 80. The six-car train McMillan was operating slammed into a six-car train stopped ahead on the rails north of the Fort Totten Station in Northeast Washington. National Transportation Safety Board investigators tested a train protection system last week that should have prevented the crash. The results suggest that McMillan's train might not have received information that another was stopped ahead. Federal investigators said track evidence shows that McMillan activated the emergency brakes 300 to 400 feet before the crash.

Metro has six series of rail cars stored at nine rail yards. Most of the 1000 series cars, for example, are stored and serviced at the Shady Grove and Brentwood rail yards and operate mostly on the Red Line, Metro's busiest. The newest cars, the 6000 series, are stored at Greenbelt, which is on the Green Line. Over the past several months, officials have been trying to keep trains made up of the same series of cars for smoother operation.

Reconfiguring the trains will probably take a few weeks because the 1000 series cars will need to be sent to different rail yards on other lines. "It's not like you can take the Red Line to Gallery Place and hang a right" to get to the Green Line, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. "It's not like moving a couple of cars out of an auto dealership."

As investigators continue working to determine the cause of last week's crash, Metro will be closing the Takoma Station at 10 p.m. today and tomorrow. The station will reopen by 5 a.m., in time for the morning rush hour.

While the Takoma station is closed from 10 p.m. to midnight, the Red Line will be divided into two segments, with trains running from Glenmont to Silver Spring and between the Fort Totten and Shady Grove stations. Shuttle buses will take riders around the accident investigation work, stopping to pick up and drop off riders at the Fort Totten, Takoma and Silver Spring stations.

Red Line trains will remain restricted to a maximum speed of 35 mph through Wednesday, so riders should add an additional 30 minutes to their travel time. Trains will move even slower through the area between the Fort Totten and Takoma Metrorail stations.

Because of the slower speeds, officials are warning that Red Line trains will be very crowded. If trains get backed up, riders might have to get off trains during the morning rush hours so those trains can be turned around. This maneuver will allow Metro to get some trains to Glenmont, which in turn can provide more service for people traveling from Glenmont or Silver Spring into downtown Washington.

All train operators have been instructed to pull to the end of the platform, regardless of whether they are operating six- or eight-car trains, so officials are urging riders to check passenger display signs on the platforms and mezzanines to figure out where to stand. Eight-car trains will fill the entire platform. When six-car trains pull into a station, there will be about 150 feet of empty platform space behind the train. Riders will need to adjust accordingly.

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