Metro's removal of 100 rail cars for door issue could affect service

By Ann Scott Tyson and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 5, 2010

Metro officials averted a potential nightmare before July Fourth crowds arrived in Washington when they discovered that the doors on dozens of rail cars could -- under the right circumstances -- open while in movement, according to the agency's operations chief.

Simulations determined that an electrical short on the 4000 series cars could cause the door motor to energize and run "until it opens the door all the way" and then force the train to brake, operations chief Dave Kubicek said.

The agency announced just before midnight Saturday that it was removing all 100 of the 4000 series rail cars from service as a safety precaution to check and repair the doors.

Kubicek said 60 or 70 of the cars have been deployed each day, so Metro will have to run fewer eight-car trains and more six-car trains while attempting to maintain its current rail schedule.

"We could be short some cars," he said. "On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we might not see all the equipment we should see."

Reports of door malfunctions led Metro to start testing all types of cars last week, but the problem was pinpointed in equipment that exists only in the 4000 series cars, which were put into operation between 1984 and 1988 and have not had midlife overhauls. Kubicek said the decision was made immediately after Metro engineers and operations workers confirmed from rail yard tests that the doors could malfunction.

"We knew we couldn't let this equipment be out there running," he said.

With trains "operating at 60 or 70 miles an hour, you hit something and something could open up the door at that speed," he said. "With the crowds we are carrying, you can't let that happen."

Metro will alleviate the shortfall by accelerating maintenance on other cars. It expects to repair four to eight of the 4000 series cars each day and immediately return them to service, he said. Doors on four of the cars have been repaired.

"This is a precautionary and proactive action to ensure the highest level of safety for our riders," Interim General Manager Richard Sarles said in a statement.

Metro said that the removal of the cars was not a response to a particular incident but a result of an investigation of several reported door malfunctions. "We looked at our information, we looked at the materials we had and we said, 'What could cause this door to fail in an abnormal . . . environment?' " Kubicek said. Metro engineers were able to simulate the problem. "I could make it happen every time," he said.

The cars have a total of 1,200 such motors, and engineers and mechanics will work round-the-clock to test and repair all of them, including by cleaning the interior and assembly of each motor.

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