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Are Metro’s new trains causing Petworth vibrations? Mostly not, consultants say.

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Consultants hired by Metro to conduct tests on mysterious vibrations plaguing Petworth residents have concluded that the tremors aren’t inflicting structural damage to nearby homes, according to a letter sent by Metro to D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd.

According to the consultants’ report, when “elevated” vibrations were detected by sensors placed inside residents’ homes, they were most likely to occur when an older Metro train was passing through the underground tunnels near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station. Only one-third of the time, the consultants said, the vibration was associated with one of Metro’s newer stainless steel 7000-series trains — the trains that many Petworth residents have suspected to be the cause of the recent rise in the rumblings they have felt inside their homes.

Read Metro’s letter to Councilmember Todd on the Petworth vibrations

In a letter to Todd sent Friday, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said he will release the final report issued by the acoustical consultant firm Wilson Ihrig in early 2018. But according to preliminary results, Wiedefeld said, most Metro trains — new or old — pass through the area undetected.

“Vibration levels above WMATA’s criteria were detected from approximately 10-15 percent of the trains that passed by the testing locations — and not limited to the new train sets,” Wiedefeld wrote, adding that the vibration levels picked up by the sensors are well within the Federal Transit Administration’s standards.

Still, Wiedefeld’s report may fall short of assuaging the concerns of Petworth residents, who say they remain fearful that Metro’s newest fleet of trains is rattling the foundations of their homes. Some have also expressed suspicions that Metro is trying to downplay the impact of the rumbling.

Dec. 2016: What’s that mysterious rumble? Petworth residents eye Metro’s new trains as cause of disruption

On Monday, Todd’s spokesman Joshua Fleitman said the issue is not yet settled. “Councilmember Todd is considering next steps and will remain engaged in advocating for Ward 4 residents and their very legitimate concerns,” Fleitman said.

Todd first contacted Metro about the vibration issue at this time last year, relaying the complaints he’d heard from constituents at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting that had been convened to discuss the rumblings.

In a letter to Metro officials, Todd said he felt the vibrations were having a dramatic effect on residents’ lives.

Listen to a blind man’s Metro nightmare: ‘I literally fell between two train cars.’

“In addition to being a nuisance — waking residents up at 5:00 AM and keeping them awake until midnight or later — this issue endangers residents by threatening the structural integrity of their homes,” Todd said. “I take this issue extremely seriously, and look forward to working with you and WMATA officials to understand the cause of the vibrations and lay out a timeline to address them as quickly as possible.”

Additionally, Todd pointed out the timing of the vibrations. “Residents uniformly say that the vibrations abruptly started this past summer,” Todd wrote, which is several months after Metro’s new fleet of heavier, stainless steel trains began appearing on the system. Since then, Metro has steadily increased the number of 7000-series trains every month. Residents, he wrote “are in agreement that over the past months, the shaking has become increasingly severe.”

In an interview in late December, David Solimini, who lives in Petworth, described the tremors that he has felt and heard on the first floor of his house. “I can sit at the kitchen table and feel every time a train goes through,” Solimini said at the time. “It’s obvious. It’s pronounced. It rattles the glass in the cabinet and the pots and pans under the kitchen island.”

“I’m not convinced that my house is going to fall into a sinkhole any day,” Solimini said, acknowledging that he found the vibrations distracting, but not disruptive to his daily life. “But I think people here want an acknowledgment from Metro that, yes, something has definitely changed, and an honest evaluation on the question of whether that change is likely to cause problems for people’s homes.”

At the time, Solimini also conducted an informal test, spending two hours sitting at his kitchen table and noting every time he noticed a passing rumble. At the same time, a Washington Post reporter sat at Petworth station, tabulating the arrival time of every 7000-series train during that period.

On a recent Thursday morning, a Washington Post reporter spent two hours in the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station, noting each time that a 7000-series train entered the station. At the same time, Solimini wrote down every time that he heard the loud rumble on the first floor of his house, five blocks away.
The numbers matched perfectly: Every time he noted a significant rumble, a 7000-series train had passed through the station moments before or after.
The test neither definitively proves nor disproves residents’ belief about the new trains. But inside Solimini’s home, this reporter found that the feel of the rumble, rather than the sound, was most pronounced — kind of low thunder in the chest cavity.
Solimini said he used to hear the older trains passing, but only if he was standing on the concrete floor in his basement, and it was more of a buzzing sound. Now, he said, the sound is much more resonant, and he can hear it throughout his house.

Last week, after a Metro board meeting, Wiedefeld was asked by reporters about a concern among Petworth residents that Metro might have been intentionally running 7000-series trains more slowly during the course of the consultants’ tests in June and August to limit the intensity of the vibrations.

Wiedefeld said he does not believe there is any basis for these rumors. “I know we ran the system as we ran it,” Wiedefeld said. “They were just running trains.”