Riders aboard a 7000-series train by Rich Renomeron licensed under Creative Commons.

All 564 7000-series railcars on Metro property have wiring defects and need to be inspected and repaired, according to a Metro report recently published online. The agency will have to cycle every car out temporarily while crews perform the work, though Metro says that won’t impact rail service.

‘Workmanship defects’ led to fleet-wide wiring issues

Sub-par construction and inadequate inspections led to wiring defects on all railcars that went unnoticed until earlier this year, according to the report produced by Metro’s Quality Assurance, Internal Compliance and Oversight (QICO) department. Production of the railcars began in December 2012 to build the base order of 64 7000-series railcars which were bought to run the Silver Line’s first phase.

The cars suffer from several defects including wiring problems, which I first wrote about for GGWash in July.

Delivery of the agency’s new railcars was halted in May, and the last new car - #7563 - was delivered on May 9. The QICO report notes that Metro’s Resident Inspectors discovered issues with wire crimping in the cars which “went undetected by Kawasaki,” the railcar manufacturer.

Fixing the bad wire crimps “require[s] rework on all 548 on-site [railcars] at WMATA.” QICO says that process would take “over one year” to accomplish. The wiring issues have thus far added 60 days of delay to the 7000-series delivery program.

Defect reports reviewed by QICO also indicate that there are welding issues on the cars which have separately delayed deliveries by 30 days, and there are some painting defects as well.

Metro says the defects its inspectors found aren’t a safety concern, but simply “could affect the long-term reliability of the railcars” if left unaddressed. The agency is working with Kawasaki, which has technicians on-site at Metro’s Greenbelt Rail Yard, to correct the issues.

In addition, the agency expects that the inspections and repair work all the cars require “will have no impact on service.” The agency has enough spares and is planning to cycle the cars out for repair work a handful at a time.

Kawasaki is using the entirety of a rail yard facility that can hold eight cars to perform on-site engineering fixes and changes Metro requires, on top of fixing the wiring defects. QICO says railcars shipped from Kawasaki with an average of 22 defects in May 2016; that number has fallen to an average of six items per car by May 2018. Fifty percent of the unresolved issue items QICO reviewed had been open for more than a year. Fixing all open items is expected to take over two years.

GGWash reached out for comment to both Kawasaki and LTK, the firm contracted by Metro to act as the 7000-series vehicle engineer. We have yet to hear back from either.

Lack of inspections hid issues for years

Metro’s quality assurance department faulted the inspections that its own on-site inspectors performed, as well as Kawasaki’s inspection efforts. Metro’s inspectors spend most of their time performing “hold point inspections” which occur between periods of construction work, the report says. By not performing “surveillance inspections” where inspectors watch as the work is being performed, QICO says the issues went unnoticed because the wires were hidden from view due to the normal railcar installation process.

Kawasaki “failed to implement an effective system for conducting in-process inspections,” according to Metro. All inspection records which QICO reviewed were the from the same type of inspection that led Metro’s inspectors to miss the defects for six years.

Metro did not respond to a question regarding the number of technicians working to resolve these issues.

Because of the inspection issues uncovered, QICO is requiring Metro’s railcar procurement teams to review and update inspection language in future railcar acquisition contracts. Future contracts need to ensure that “appropriate quality checks and engineering design support” is performed by the manufacturer, the report says.

Future contracts also need to detail consequences of what would happen if the manufacturer fails to provide “expected quality in regards to workmanship and configuration control,” says the QICO report.

Costly errors for Kawasaki

In response to an inquiry, Metro says that the defects cited in the QICO report are covered by the warranty, so the transit agency isn’t on the hook to pay for the time and resources spent fixing them.

Inspecting and fixing the railcars will be an extended process, likely taking hours or days per railcar. In order to get at the wiring to inspect and repair it where needed, technicians will basically have to disassemble various parts of the railcar in order to expose them.

Once exposed, all wiring connections, solder points, crimps, and welds will need to be examined to ensure they’re within specification and will last for as long as they’re expected to. Once that finishes, technicians then need to seal the car back up and restore it to operating order.

Metro expects to begin resuming 7000-series deliveries “later this month with a full delivery schedule expected in September.”

Metro Reasons is a regular breaking news, investigative reporting, and analysis column by Stephen Repetski about everything Metro. Please send tips to Metro Reasons.

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Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.