This article has been updated to reflect new information about the wiring problems.
Metro has stopped accepting new 7000-series railcars, and the agency's entire fleet of the newest cars must be inspected after a "workmanship deficiency" was discovered that could cause components in the cars to fail earlier than expected. Metro received its last new car just over two months ago.
Metro’s last new 7000-series railcar — #7563 — was delivered on May 9. Three issues were discovered by Metro personnel on-site in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing (KMM) factory which led to the delivery stoppage. Kawasaki electricians have been working for several weeks to repair affected wiring in order to resolve the issues.
“Left unaddressed, this workmanship issue could affect reliability of the cars,” said Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly. Ly added that Kawasaki, the company which builds the railcars for Metro, is “aware of the issue” and is “working to correct” it in order to resume deliveries.
There are wiring problems
Metro only describes the issue as a deficiency involving “the quality of soldering of wires,” but information shared with Greater Greater Washington show that there are not one but three separate issues which require inspection and potential remediation.
Issues with crimping, bad soldering, and damaged insulation jacketing that were discovered could potentially lead to wires breaking loose if they're exposed to vibration or cause electrical shorts and generate errors on the train that could cause delays.
Soldering is the process by which a wire is joined with another object by melting a filler metal and adding it at the connection point, such as when a wire is connected to another or to a circuit board that it’s running to or from. Crimping is where two objects — typically wires, or pin and connection points — are pressed together so that they deform and thus a tight connection is created.
Train delays caused by the wiring issues have reportedly already been seen in the rail system, increasing the urgency of getting them resolved.
Greater Greater Washington reached out to Kawasaki for comment; this story will be updated if we receive a reply.
In an email, Metro did not say when deliveries of the railcars might resume. A source told GGWash that hundreds of connections would have be inspected to make sure they were defect-free. Any connections not up to standard would have to be re-soldered or re-crimped and insulation jacketing could have to be replaced. While those processes are typically fairly straightforward by themselves, they can be time-consuming while workers access the parts of the railcar they need in order to fix the issue.
Metro said the delivery disruption does not have to do with the Federal Transit Agency-mandated chain barrier installation, nor the minor derailment of a railcar at Kawasaki’s Lincoln facility where the car appeared to have run off the edge of a storage track. In that incident, “on-site inspectors are thoroughly inspecting the incident vehicle,” Metro stated.
As of May 9, Metro has 564 7000-series railcars on property. A total of 748 such cars have been ordered and are expected to be delivered within the next year or so. Metro says it expects to continue receiving 20 railcars per month when deliveries begin again.
Kawasaki’s Nebraska facility has also manufactured railcars for New York City Transit and the Long Island Rail Road.
New cars are expected to have a safety fix in August
In keeping with what Metro told GGWash in June, the agency still expects to begin retrofitting chains onto the 7000-series cars in August. The chains are intended to close gaps between cars through which three riders have fallen. The Federal Transit Agency (FTA) ordered Metro to fix the issue on all 7000s by the end of this year, although Metro says it won’t likely won’t make that deadline.
The agency began rolling out an automated announcement the week of July 10 so that now all 7000-series cars say “This is a 7000-series railcar” before the doors open at each stop. The announcement is temporary and and is intended “to identify 7000-series trains for blind and visually impaired riders,” Metro said in a statement. “Once permanent modifications are made to standardize the barriers, the announcements will be discontinued.”
"WMATA informed FTA it would begin making announcements onboard the 7000-series cars as one means to educate its passengers regarding this safety issue," wrote an FTA spokesperson in a statement to GGWash. The FTA is reviewing WMATA's "work plan submission" which details how they plan to minimize the risk of the between-car gaps, and the agency "will respond to WMATA once our review is complete."
An unscientific poll of MetroReasons’ Twitter followers indicates most are aware why the announcement is being made, although this knowledge rate would likely be lower across the entire rider base.
Do you know why #WMATA's newest railcars are now playing an announcement, "This is a 7000-series railcar," at each stop?— Metro Reasons (@MetroReasons) July 13, 2018
In addition to the temporary automated announcement, Metro plans to add bright reflective tape to the existing rubber barriers to make them more visible.
Once work begins, Metro says 50 cars per month will be retrofit with the chains, replacing the short black rubber barriers which all cars have now. This could indicate that, if Metro doesn’t meet the FTA’s December deadline to have all in-service cars retrofit with chains, it could have at least 200 7000-series cars to stay in service if all non-compliant cars are required to be pulled.
The FTA noted it could withhold money if Metro doesn’t meet the December 31 deadline to retrofit all in-service 7000-series railcars with the chains, and one way around that requirement is to remove all unfixed 7000s from service. If the 200 retrofitted 7000’s were to remain, Metro could have up to 784 railcars which could be used.
A total of 868 railcars are needed daily for service, which means up to 90% could be available. Some would remain out of service due to prior-scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. The Washington Post reports Metro claims it could reduce service up to 26% if that were to happen.
Metro has used the 7000s to replace all 1000- and 4000-series railcars from the fleet. The former cars had major safety issues, and the latter were the least reliable of all of the agency’s railcars. The new cars, which now make up about half the fleet, are also being used to retire all the 5000s.
Metro Reasons is a regular breaking news, investigative reporting, and analysis column by Stephen Repetski about everything Metro. Please send tips to Metro Reasons.