Metro rail-car maker con­sid­ers leav­ing in­dus­try

Af­ter safety prob­lems, Kawasaki re­ports huge quar­terly losses

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY LORI ARATANI lori.aratani@wash­post.com

Faulty wiring. Bad weld­ing. Poor paint jobs. Metro has had more than its share of prob­lems with its new­est fleet of rail cars, the 7000 se­ries.

Now it ap­pears those is­sues are catch­ing up with the com­pany that man­u­fac­tures the cars.

Cit­ing dis­ap­point­ing quar­terly fi­nan­cial re­sults, a top ex­ec­u­tive at Kawasaki Heavy In­dus­tries said this week that it is con­tem­plat­ing get­ting out of the rail car build­ing busi­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to Jiji Press, Kawasaki chief ex­ec­u­tive Yoshi­nori Kane­hana said the com­pany may con­sider form­ing a busi­ness al­liance or clos­ing down its rail ve­hi­cle busi­ness if it can’t turn things around.

The Lin­coln Jour­nal Star re­ported that Kawasaki, in an­nounc­ing its quar­terly earn­ings, said its rolling stock di­vi­sion, which has an assem­bly plant in Lin­coln, Neb., lost more than $78 mil­lion for the first two quar­ters of its fis­cal year, which ended Sept. 30. Some of those losses were tied to con­tracts with Metro and the Long Island Rail­road, which have proved less prof­itable than the com­pany an­tic­i­pated.

Kawasaki did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment from The Wash­ing­ton Post on the losses or the po­ten­tial shut­ter­ing of its rail-car di­vi­sion.

How­ever, even if Kawasaki were to aban­don its rail-car busi­ness, it’s un­likely to have an im­pact on its con­tract with Metro. The com­pany has a $2 bil­lion deal with the tran­sit agency to build 748 cars, re­place­ments for the most prob­lem­atic in the agency’s fleet.

“Metro has a bind­ing con­tract with Kawasaki, and to date, they have de­liv­ered 600 of 748 rail cars,” Metro spokes­woman Sherri Ly said in an email. “We ex­pect to have all 748 on the sys­tem late next year, ahead of sched­ule.”

She added that Metro did not an­tic­i­pate prob­lems with find­ing re­place­ment parts for the trains in the fu­ture be­cause the parts are man­u­fac­tured by U.S.-based sup­pli­ers un­der fed­eral Buy Amer­ica re­quire­ments.

The new trains have had their own prob­lems. Of­fi­cials iden­ti­fied de­sign flaws as far back as 2015. There were de­lays in man­u­fac­tur­ing, due in part to the earth­quake and tsunami that hit Ja­pan in 2011. But in recent months, there have been re­ports of other prob­lems.

In June, fed­eral reg­u­la­tors or­dered Metro of­fi­cials to retrofit the 7000-se­ries cars al­ready in ser­vice with new safety de­vices to pre­vent pas­sen­gers from fall­ing be­tween train cars. The or­der came af­ter a blind pas­sen­ger fell into a gap be­tween two cars and onto the tracks in May.

Then in Au­gust, Metro of­fi­cials an­nounced that wiring in all of the trains would have to be re­placed af­ter in­ter­nal in­spec­tions iden­ti­fied flaws, which could af­fect the rail cars’ long-term re­li­a­bil­ity.

Ly said work on the wiring is on­go­ing but be­cause it did not re­quire im­me­di­ate ac­tion, it will be done as part of the rou­tine main­te­nance process.

“Metro is the process of de­vel­op­ing a long-term sched­ule for the rail car man­u­fac­turer, Kawasaki, to per­form the work un­der its con­tract obli­ga­tions,” Ly said in an email.

As of July, Metro had re­ceived 564 of the 748 rail cars it had or­dered. Roughly 548 of those cars were in ser­vice but would have to be pulled out for rewiring.

It’s un­clear how the com­pany aban­don­ing the busi­ness might af­fect fu­ture prob­lems Metro might have with the rail cars.

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