Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) 7000-series rapid transit cars will start returning to service this month under a “metered release” plan, the agency reported on Dec. 14.
The move follows the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission’s (WMSC) announcement that it has “no technical objections to the final plan [WMATA] submitted to gradually return nearly half of the  7000-series railcars to passenger service.”
WMATA on Oct. 18 sidelined all of its 7000-series cars—built by Kawasaki Rail and comprising about 60% of the agency’s railcar fleet—to inspect wheel assemblies in connection with the Blue Line train derailment investigation. On Oct. 12, one wheelset on car 7200, the fourth of eight on train 407, derailed (see map below).
This month, WMATA will start a metered release of no more than 336 cars, allowing time for the agency to prepare the cars that have been in storage and to train rail maintenance workers on new inspection procedures. The cars will now be inspected every seven days; previously the 7000-series fleet underwent inspections every 90 days, WMATA said.
Once those cars are running, the agency will pause for 90 days without further release “until all aspects of the new inspection cycles are fully established and any needed adjustments are made under WMSC oversight,” WMATA said.
WMATA developed its return-to-service plan, including inspection intervals, “following extensive testing and data analysis, using two 7000-series trains weighted to simulate passenger service.”
“From now until after the first of the year, customers may see some 7000-series railcars transition safely back to service,” GM/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “This is part of the process that will enable Metro to announce a more definitive service plan after the first of the year. Until that time, the transition of the 7000-series railcars through the end of the year will allow us to improve reliability.”
The derailment prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to issue a safety alert late last month that called on rail transit agencies and commuter railroads to check their fleets for “wheelsets that do not meet gage specifications.”