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Metro is asking for reinstatement of more than 25 trains

Transit officials have asked the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission to operate up to 35 suspended trains.

A 7000-series Metro train returns to service at the Huntington station in Virginia on June 16. (Justin George/TWP)

A Metro request last week to reinstate more suspended trains calls for a significant bump-up in 7000-series rail cars and a decrease in the interval of required safety screenings.

Transit officials proposed a change to their agreement with the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, seeking to operate as many as 27 more 7000-series trains, in addition to eight already allowed on a single day. Metro is proposing a decrease in the frequency of inspections on reinstated trains, from daily to weekly, safety commission spokesman Max Smith said Wednesday.

The requests are a signal that Metro feels optimistic about its inspection process and the safety of those rail cars, which make up nearly 60 percent of the agency’s fleet. The 7000 series has been suspended since October after a defect was found in some of the wheels.

“Metro is confident that our request to extend the inspectional interval to seven days provides an ample safety margin to detect any wheel movement before it becomes a safety concern,” Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said in a statement.

Metro has operated up to eight 7000-series trains for more than a month under a special allowance from the safety commission that requires daily inspections. Since Metro returned the trains on June 16, no sign of the defect has surfaced, safety commission Chief Operating Officer Sharmila Samarasinghe said Tuesday during a commission meeting.

“There have not been any cars that have been found to be out of compliance,” she said.

Metro asks for permission to run more trains

The proposed number of trains and inspection changes associated with Metro’s request, which was made Friday, were first reported by Greater Greater Washington.

Metro remains under pressure to reduce wait times that have averaged 10 minutes or more over 10 months because of a rail car shortage that stemmed from the suspension of the 748 cars.

Transit officials are also planning to open the Silver Line extension as early as this fall. Metro has estimated that the 11-mile extension will require between six and eight additional trains. The effects would be lessened by the eight-month closure of the Yellow Line starting in September for a bridge and tunnel construction project.

Metro’s request should be seen as a starting point for a discussion with the safety commission, Smith said. Metro sets limits on how many trains it wants to bring back, then the commission approves or denies the agency’s plans based on whether it thinks a process is in place to do so safely, he said.

“They need to have a plan and the data to support that whatever they’re going to do is safe,” Smith said. “It’s about the level of safety provided by the entirety of the plan.”

The same applies to Metro’s request for fewer weekly inspections, he said. When Metro submitted its return-to-service plan for the 7000 series in December, transit officials committed to performing weekly inspections of reinstated cars. That plan was reviewed and approved by the safety commission.

Almost two weeks later, Metro proposed changing the interval of inspections to daily. The change, which also was approved by the safety commission, was driven by a consultant’s recommendation, transit officials have said.

Return of Metro’s missing trains builds optimism among riders

A few days later, the safety commission ordered Metro to stop after the commission said it found the agency was deviating from its inspection process. Transit officials said daily manual inspections on the trains had proven to be a challenge with the measurement tools it had in place, and because of the amount of staffing and time required.

Metro ordered new equipment and revised its inspection process before successfully resubmitting it in May with a limit of 64 cars — enough for eight trains.

Jannetta said the proposal for a longer interval between inspections is based on an analysis of 36,700 data points collected from 7000-series cars that have traveled 540,000 miles, “during which time not a single failure was detected.”

“As we progress through the phases of returning [7000-series] trains to service, we will continue to evaluate the appropriate interval for manual inspections based on the data our teams are collecting,” he said.

Manual inspections are the agency’s way of getting some 7000-series trains into service as Metro engineers work on installing and testing automated wayside inspection systems that could check hundreds of cars in a short period. That process would also have to be approved by the safety commission.