DC Metro extends reduced service amid derailment investigation

DC Metro extends reduced service amid derailment investigation
© Greg Nash

The Washington, D.C., Metro has said that the current reduced rail service will continue until the weekend as they continue to investigate the safety of the service following a derailment last week.

Metro has taken all 748 of its 7000-series railcars out of service pending further inspections and said they will not be brought back unless all safety concerns are quashed. 

The reduced Metrorail service is expected to continue until at least Sunday, Oct. 24.

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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is currently investigating the cause of the Blue Line derailment at Arlington Cemetery with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.

There were also multiple derailments on Oct.12, all of the same rail car on the Blue Line, the NTSB confirmed on Monday.

The cars were taken out of service after a final derailment left nearly 200 passengers stranded in a tunnel between Rosslyn and Arlington National Cemetery. One passenger was injured in the incident with non-life threatening injuries.

NTSB investigators also confirmed that another train derailed twice earlier that day.

"This could have resulted in a catastrophic event," Jennifer Homendy, chair of the NTSB, said at a news conference on Monday.

An initial investigation found defects in the rail cars' wheel and axle assemblies. WMATA also confirmed that it had been working with Kawasaki, maker of the 7000-series cars, to resolve the issue since 2017.

The NTSB also added that 2017 and 2018 saw two wheel failures, while 2019 and 2020 saw four and five reported failures, respectively.

However, the reported failures jumped to 18 in 2021, and investigators found 21 more failures since inspections began this Friday.

“We are fortunate that no fatalities or serious injuries occurred as a result of any of these derailments, but the potential for fatalities and serious injuries was significant,” Homendy said. 

The investigation will also look into WMATA's actions and probe whether they were sufficient. 

WMATA did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment. 

"The 7000-series trains make up approximately 60 percent of Metro's railcar fleet. Without these railcars, Metro is able operate significantly fewer trains than normal. All trains will operate as six-car trains," Metro said in a statement.

Currently, trains will operate every 15 minutes on the Red Line and will continue to operate every 30 minutes on other lines. The Silver Line trains will operate between Wiehle-Reston East and Federal Center SW only.

“Safety remains Metro’s number one priority,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement. “While we continue working hand-in-hand with the NTSB, [Federal Transit Administration] FTA, and WMSC on the investigation, I want to assure our customers that their safety is driving every decision being made. We apologize for the reduced service, and ask for our customers’ continued patience and support as we work to get Metro back to normal operations. I want to thank Metro employees who are working around the clock. Your dedication is appreciated.”

The frequency of the problem has raised concerns that a similar issue could affect other transit agencies across the U.S.

“If you’re a transit agency operating in the United States, and you’re listening, make sure that you’re checking your cars. … This is something we’re going to be looking at in the course of this investigation — to determine if there are more systemic issues throughout the U.S. and throughout transit systems operating in the U.S.,” Homendy added.