Residents of the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area are aware of the many issues associated with the Metro rail system. Even before the pandemic, delays were common for the rail system due to various reasons. These delays have been inconvenient, but perhaps we should be thankful. Given the number of serious problems with the Metro trains, it is incredible there was only one horrific accident, as opposed to an accident every day.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation discovered that more than half of the 7000 series trains contained a manufacturing defect that could have led to a catastrophic accident with the Metro rails. There were multiple axles that were discovered to be out of compliance with the manufacturer regulations.
The issue was discovered by investigators following a previous derailment on a train travelling on the Blue Line toward the Arlington Cemetery station. It was later revealed that the train experienced multiple derailments throughout the day. Investigators discovered pieces of brake discs from the derailed train that were found near the Largo and Rosslyn stations. The brake pieces were dislodged when the train left the track.
What was the cause of the derailment?
Investigators concluded that the wheels moved outward on the axle, something that is never supposed to happen. The movement of the wheels caused issues at the rail switch near the Arlington Cemetery station. The third rail was damaged, and because the rails are electrified, a fire could have started. Thankfully, no passengers were injured on the train.
Since 2017, Metro has dealt with 31 wheel assembly failures concerning the 7000 series trains. According to Metro safety officials, the last inspection date for wheel alignment concerning the train headed towards Arlington Cemetery station was July 27, 2021. In addition to the train headed towards Arlington Cemetery station, there were an additional 21 trains that had the same defective wheel issue.
According to Metro, trains that had wheelset issues in the past were removed from service, and the wheelsets were replaced before the train can be used for passenger service again. Investigators are still trying to determine whether the issue is a manufacturing issue or if the issue occurred from regular, everyday wear and tear.
Does the Metro plan on returning 7000 series trains to the tracks?
The Independent Metrorail Safety Commission is in charge of determining whether trains can be returned back to service one by one or if all trains can return back to service once the safety issue is resolved. A spokesperson for the commission stated that the organization is waiting for Metro to submit a corrective action plan before making their decision. Just like a timeline on when the issue will be resolved, a timeline for the corrective action plan is still unknown.
How does Metro plan on transporting passengers for the time being?
In the meantime, Metro plans on using its 2000 and 3000 series trains to transport passengers. To date, the organization has about 350 trains available. While this may sound impressive, the 7000 series made up about 60 percent of the Metro’s 1200 car system, with 748 rail cars available. Even with the substitution of the 2000 and 3000 series trains, there is a good portion of rail cars that still needs to be replaced in the interim to transport the necessary amount of passengers.
The train system also has a 6000 series train that was sidelined since November of last year, after it was discovered that the apparatus that connects the trains was restored with the wrong parts or tools. Metro safety officials were only able to return 184 of the 6000 series trains back to service after the recent sideline of the 7000 series.
How do the delays impact the commute for Metro riders?
As a result of the recent sideline of the 7000 series trains, there are currently 40 trains operating on the Metro rails. The train operation schedule has been pushed back to 30 minutes on all lines, with the exception of the Red line, where trains run every 15 minutes. All trains running will have only six cars available to carry passengers, and no additional Metro buses will be added.
Although Metro has publicly apologized on their social media platforms about the delays, the organization is unclear about how long it will take to resolve the issue of wheel alignment. A spokesman for the safety commission stated that Metro is in the process of creating a plan that will detect and assess the problem during an inspection.
What happens if you are hurt in a train derailment?
Train accidents are different from, say, car or truck accidents in myriad ways. Not only are there more likely to be multiple victims, which can complicate matters, but establishing liability can be a real challenge. Was it a defective part, like in the recent Metro case? Was there a failure in the rails themselves? Did a car, person, or other object cross the tracks? What if that other object was a live animal, like a deer?
These questions are incredibly important because Metro trains are run by the city, and claims against the government are some of the most complex there are. But if a defective part is to blame – if there is a design flaw or manufacturing defect endemic to the 7000 Series, for example – then the manufacturing company may be liable, instead.