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Suspended Metro cars are being stored improperly, safety panel says

Inspectors found cars with defective wheels that could cause a derailment are being wrongly labeled at the West Falls Church yard

Metro technicians demonstrate how the wheelset on the 7000-series cars is measured. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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Metro is not doing enough to keep defective rail cars that pose a safety hazard separated from the rest of its fleet, the transit system’s safety regulator said Tuesday.

The cars are among suspended 7000-series rail cars that were taken out of service in October because of a defect found in their wheelsets that causes wheels to migrate outward, creating a derailment risk. The violation was announced during a meeting of the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, an independent agency created by Congress to oversee safety on the rail system.

“Our team also observed that some 7000-series rail cars which have failed wheelsets were being stored at West Falls Church yard improperly,” Safety Commission Chief Operating Officer Sharmila Samarasinghe said. “There were labels and signage missing in contrast to the governing procedure … which dictates specific labeling and signage to be placed on these cars that have failed wheelsets.”

The safety commission notified Metrorail officials about correcting the issues, Samarasinghe said.

Metro is in the first phase of returning the series to service under a plan that requires daily wheel and car inspections. The commission has allowed Metro to operate 64 cars, or a total of eight trains, under the plan.

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Samarasinghe said Metro has only operated eight trains on two days since it began incorporating the series into its fleet on June 16. Metro said various issues, including communication problems at a rail yard, have prevented the transit system from consistently putting all eight into service.

No cars have failed inspections because of the wheel defect, Samarasinghe said.

Two Metro cars with known defects continued operating until safety inspectors alerted the agency, officials say

In October, days after a train derailment triggered a federal investigation that led to the discovery of the defect, Metro mistakenly put two cars into service that had been flagged for wheel problems. The safety commission discovered the mistake and ordered the entire series out of service.

Metro pledged to make sure a similar mix-up would not occur again, saying defective cars would have signs posted and a tag inside the operator compartment noting that a supervisor must authorize any car movement. It was not clear Tuesday what Metro had done incorrectly in separating the suspended cars from the fleet.

Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said the transit agency has fixed the issues. He said that the suspended cars remained in storage and that none were being prepared for service.

Separately, Jannetta said Metro recently completed recertifying all rail traffic controllers after the transit agency had found discrepancies in its accreditation and training processes.

Last month, the safety commission said it believed rail traffic controllers were current in their certifications. A review of Metro certifications occurred in May after Metro discovered nearly half of its train operators were missing recertifications because the transit agency was not tracking exemptions issued during the pandemic.

Rail Operations Control Center Director Edward Donaldson launched his own review, safety commission officials said, and found discrepancies that prompted him to put all controllers through training and tests required for recertification. Metro has about 50 rail traffic controllers.