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Metro's 1000-series cars aren't only ones showing their age

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By Robert Thomson
Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Is Metro trying to increase public confidence by renumbering the 1000-series rail cars? I ride the Red Line every workday, and recently I've been aboard two very old, obviously 1000-series cars that had "4000" series numbers on the end doors.

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-- Les Dorr Jr., Frederick

No, we're past the point where renumbering the cars would inspire anyone's confidence.

In response to public concern about the crash-worthiness of the 1000-series cars after the June 22 wreck, Metro did move the rest of them to the middle of the trains, but the impact on safety was unclear.

This recent development was more significant: Washington Post reporters Joe Stephens and Lena H. Sun revealed that Metro had barred monitors with the Tri-State Oversight Committee from walking along live tracks to observe safety procedures. It was the clearest sign yet that Metro and all the nation's transit systems need a stronger level of safety oversight.

Last month, the Metro board and top executives pledged full cooperation with the regional oversight panel. But the fact that the access denial was in effect for months without the Metro board knowing -- and without the oversight panel bringing it to the board's attention -- is troubling.

As Metro's equipment ages, the system needs better monitoring, but it also needs better equipment. Just because a car looks old no longer means it is part of the 1000 series, the original set of 300 cars built by Rohr Industries to launch Metro in the mid-1970s.

The 4000 series of 100 cars, built by Breda, entered service in the early 1990s. The 1000 series is scheduled to be replaced beginning in 2014. But the 4000 series also is reaching an important milestone: A midlife rehabilitation needs to be done over the next few years, at a cost of more than $1.5 million per car.

If I were going to fake a number in the Metro fleet, I would have picked something higher than 4000. Still, riders would see through it: The cars are very obviously showing their age.

Closed-car strategy

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm a daily captive of the Red Line, and I've noticed that a lot of trains have been pulling into the stations with one car darkened and closed to riders. Is this an alternative to WMATA's previous policy that took an entire train out of service just because a single door on a single car malfunctioned? If so, it's a great change.


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