7000-series train headed to Shady Grove. Image by Adam Fagen licensed under Creative Commons.

A Metro passenger fell onto the tracks at the Shady Grove station early Saturday morning on March 3, shortly before the rail system closed. The passenger escaped major injury with just some minor cuts and bruises, but the incident resurfaces concerns about 7000-series railcar safety raised since 2016.

The incident at Shady Grove Metro station happened just before 1 am Saturday morning before the rail system closed for the night. The female passenger apparently got too close to the edge of the platform and fell in between the fourth and fifth cars of the 7000-series train, which had just pulled into the station a few minutes before. Another passenger jumped down and helped her to the refuge area under the platform so she was safe from the train, according to a rail supervisor on scene.

Image showing the rubber barriers between two sets of married-pair 7000-series cars. Image by the author.

This is not the first time such an incident has occurred. In 2016, former WAMU transit reporter Martin Di Caro reported that a mostly-blind rider fell between two cars of a 7000-series train.

The barriers between cars on 7000-series trains alternate between chains and rubber barriers. The chains latch onto each car, but the rubber barriers protrude from each car and leave a gap in the middle big enough for someone to fall between them.At the time of Di Caro’s reporting, a statement from Metro said the agency “has decided to standardize the 7000-series fleet to use the same chain barriers that are found on the legacy fleet.” However, all of the rubber barriers remain.

A status report and recommendation to WMATA staff by the Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) from July 2017.

The chain barriers contribute to the accessibility of the Metrorail system by ensuring that it’s safe and usable for all riders, especially those who are visually impaired. Disabled riders have advocated for other changes to make the system more accessible for all, such as providing whiteboards to communicate with station managers, according to GGWash editorial board member Sean Maiwald. WMATA has not endorsed that particular solution; the AAC has also recommended that it be implemented.

Image of the chains between each married pair of 7000-series cars. Image by the author.

A second report from Martine Powers at the Washington Post in June 2017 noted that Metro was “working on a final design for a fix and has pushed back the timeline for retrofitting cars to early-to-mid-2018.”

A statement from Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly says that the agency will begin retrofitting the 7000-series railcars and replacing the rubber barriers with chains in June 2018. Ly also notes that new railcars delivered from Kawasaki at that point will also have the change. The change is expected to be complete for all railcars “by the end of summer as committed.”

Metro on Monday marked the delivery of its 500th 7000-series railcar; 748 total cars are expected to be delivered within the next few years.