Metro fi­nally re­tires old­est cars in fleet

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY MAR­TINE POW­ERS mar­tine.pow­ers@wash­

Eleven years af­ter the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board first ad­vised Metro to get rid of the sys­tem’s orig­i­nal rail cars, the last of the 1000-se­ries fleet has fi­nally been re­tired.

The strag­glers were sent to the rail yard to be scrapped June 25, with lit­tle fan­fare and no nos­tal­gia-im­bued send-off from Metro of­fi­cials. Al­though the nearly 300 cars are a ma­jor part of Metro’s his­tory — they be­gan run­ning when the sys­tem opened in 1976 — they had come un­der in­tense crit­i­cism in re­cent years af­ter NTSB de­ter­mined they were not safe in the event of a crash.

The 1Ks were faulted in the deadly 2009 Red Line crash near the Fort Tot­ten Metro sta­tion, which killed nine peo­ple.

Dur­ing the crash, one of the cars col­lapsed in on it­self — a phe­nom­e­non known as “tele­scop­ing,” like an old-fash­ioned mar­itime tele­scope that folds into it­self. From the out­side, it looked like the alu­minum ex­te­rior of the car had peeled back like a can of sar­dines. All of the fa­tal­i­ties oc­curred in the first car of the 1000-se­ries train. The other train in­volved in the crash was com­posed of the newer 3000-se­ries cars.

Act­ing NTSB chair­man Robert Sumwalt, who was one of the NTSB board mem­bers who over­saw the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Red Line crash, said it was clear to him, and to oth­ers, that fewer peo­ple might have died if the cars had been more struc­turally sound.

“The fail­ure to re­place or retro­fit the 1000-se­ries cer­tainly con­trib­uted to the sever­ity of the crash,” Sumwalt said.

Now that the cars are gone, trans­porta­tion safety of­fi­cials say they’re breath­ing a lit­tle eas­ier. Of Metro’s myr­iad prob­lems and on­go­ing ef­forts to im­prove safety, the re­tire­ment of the 1000-se­ries cars means there’s one less thing to worry about.

“Ev­ery day that the 1000s have been there, we’ve had an un­ac­cept­able risk to the trav­el­ing public,” Sumwalt said. “We will all be well served to have those cars go­ing to the junk­yard.”

Prob­lems with the trains had been raised even ear­lier, in 2004, when a run­away train rolling down an in­cline at more than 30 mph at Wood­ley Park crashed into an­other train, in­jur­ing more than 20 peo­ple.

Two years later, the NTSB con­cluded that the 1000s in Metro’s fleet were dan­ger­ous in the event of the col­li­sion.

Pa­trick Re­gan, a lawyer who rep­re­sented many of the vic­tims and fam­ily mem­bers in the af­ter­math of the Red Line crash, said it took Metro an un­ac­cept­able length of time to re­place the trains af­ter the two crashes. Trains out­fit­ted with safety stan­dards from the 1970s sim­ply have no place on mod­ern tran­sit sys­tems, he said.

“It’s a great thing they’re gone,” Re­gan said, re­fer­ring to the 1000s. “Is it soon enough? No. It should have hap­pened years ago, but it didn’t.”

Re­gan said there were many peo­ple in the Wash­ing­ton re­gion who, like him and many of the sur­vivors, re­fused to set foot on a 1000-se­ries car, fol­low­ing the crash.

The con­clu­sion that the 1000se­ries cars were un­fit for the rails af­fected Sumwalt’s com­mut­ing habits, too.

“The truth is, I ac­tu­ally pay at­ten­tion to the num­bers, and I would pre­fer to get on one that’s not a 1000-se­ries car,” Sumwalt said. His col­leagues do the same thing. “Many of us at NTSB, when we’re go­ing some­where to a meet­ing, we do con­sciously see a 1000 and say, ‘Let’s slide back an­other car or two.’ ”

Af­ter the NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the two crashes, Sumwalt said he had hoped Metro would swap in new, stronger rail cars within three years. In­stead, it was eight years be­fore the 1000se­ries cars van­ished, re­placed with a fleet of stain­less steel 7000-se­ries cars that fea­ture an in­ter­nal hon­ey­comb de­sign meant to ab­sorb the shock of im­pact and pro­tect the sur­viv­able space in­side the train.

De­spite the de­lay, Metro Gen­eral Man­ager Paul J. Wiede­feld said the re­tire­ment of the last of the cars is “a huge mile­stone.” At this point, he said, Metro has re­ceived 45 per­cent of its or­der of the new 7000-se­ries fleet, and the cars that have been de­liv­ered so far con­sti­tute 43 eight-car trains.

Metro of­fi­cials say the years it took to re­place the 1000-se­ries fleet was a prod­uct of the com­plex and highly reg­u­lated na­ture of procur­ing new rail cars. The ve­hi­cles must be cus­tom-made for each sys­tem, and fi­nanced, ap­proved, de­signed, tested, de­liv­ered and as­sem­bled. By the time the Red Line crash took place in 2009, the process to de­sign and pay for the new trains had al­ready been in mo­tion.

“Th­ese cars are very cus­tom­ized cars, and this is very typ­i­cal for most tran­sit prop­er­ties,” said Metro board mem­ber Robert Lauby, the chief safety of­fi­cer at the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion. “They’re not off-theshelf at all.”

And when the NTSB rec­om­mended that Metro retro­fit the old cars with re­in­forced steel in­te­ri­ors that would fare bet­ter in a col­li­sion, Metro of­fi­cials said it would be cost-pro­hib­i­tive — es­pe­cially when their goal was to dump the old cars as quickly as pos­si­ble any­way.

Mean­while, as they awaited the ar­rival of the 7000s, Metro of­fi­cials came up with a stop­gap so­lu­tion: They would “belly” the old train cars, plac­ing the 1000se­ries cars in po­si­tions so they would not be the first or last car in a set. The ra­tio­nale: If the train was in­volved in a col­li­sion, then the more re­silient, newer cars on ei­ther end would ab­sorb most of the im­pact, pro­tect­ing the weaker cars on the in­side of the train. Even so, Metro did not per­form ad­e­quate en­gi­neer­ing anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine whether there was any sci­en­tific ba­sis to con­clude that a 1000-se­ries train sur­rounded by newer train cars would prove sig­nif­i­cantly safer for pas­sen­gers.

And that’s not quite how it works, Sumwalt said. There’s a sig­nif­i­cant risk that in the event of a crash, the shock of im­pact would pass through the out­side, stur­dier cars and trans­fer to the in­te­rior, alu­minum-skinned cars, caus­ing a pan­cake ef­fect in which the older cars would ex­pe­ri­ence in­tense dam­age in their sand­wiched po­si­tions.

“That’s not re­ally solv­ing the im­me­di­ate prob­lem,” Sumwalt said. “That en­ergy has to go some­where.”

Lauby said it’s not just an is­sue of re­li­a­bil­ity. Brake de­fects, door mal­func­tions and de­funct air-con­di­tion­ing units had long been a prob­lem for the vin­tage cars.

“It’s not only about crash­wor­thi­ness. The cars were un­re­li­able,” he said.

In Metro’s most re­cent vi­tal signs re­port, which mea­sured per­for­mance from Jan­uary to March 2017, the 1000-se­ries trains logged an av­er­age of 74,354 miles be­tween de­fects that caused a sig­nif­i­cant de­lay — the worst per­for­mance of any mem­ber of the fleet, fol­lowed closely by the 4000-se­ries cars, which also were of­fi­cially re­tired from the sys­tem in June.

Still, Sumwalt said he was pleased that Metro of­fi­cials ac­cel­er­ated their time­line to re­tire the old­est cars from the sys­tem, bump­ing up the dead­line from the end of this year to the end of June.

“Those cars have out­lived their life, and it’s a good thing [Metro] made the de­ci­sion to phase them out ahead of time,” he said.

De­spite the cars’ wor­ri­some rep­u­ta­tion, there are a few rid­ers who are sorry to see them go — such as Peter Dar­mody, who works for Metro as a con­struc­tion project man­ager. For years, he has man­aged a Facebook page called “Friends of the 1000 Se­ries,” where like-minded train geeks post pic­tures of 1000se­ries cars they en­counter on the sys­tem.

Dar­mody said he’s sad to see the old trains go — es­pe­cially be­cause he re­mem­bers when he first en­coun­tered them, when he went to the of­fi­cial open­ing cer­e­mony of the Metro sys­tem 41 years ago.

“The orange 1970s scheme in­side the cars — it’s kind of funky. It looks more like a liv­ing room,” Dar­mody said. “I just can’t get ex­cited about the new trains. They feel ster­ile.”

He’s never been fear­ful of the old cars (“The most risky thing peo­ple do is drive a car,” he pointed out), and he‘ll miss some­thing spe­cial about Metro’s orig­i­nal model of trains: the ex­pan­sive win­dows on both ends. If you sit at the back of a 1000-se­ries train at an above­ground sta­tion, you get an ex­pan­sive view that’s par­tic­u­larly stun­ning while go­ing over the Po­tomac.

“I know the trains have a bad his­tory,” Dar­mody said. “But there’s still some nos­tal­gia there.”


The fleet of 1000-se­ries Metro cars, the grand­daddy of the sub­way sys­tem, has fi­nally been phased out en­tirely. Al­though beloved by some for their 1970s liv­ing-room feel, the cars did not meet safety re­quire­ments and were in ser­vice longer than they should have been.


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