Transit Briefs: WMATA, Tren Urbano

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority 7000-Series Cars: Courtesy Wikipedia

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority 7000-Series Cars: Courtesy Wikipedia

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA/Metro) has been given the green light to return more 7000-series rapid transit cars to service. Also, the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (PRHTA) has selected Cubic to modernize its fare collection infrastructure on the Tren Urbano rail system.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission on Oct. 25 reported via Twitter that it has reviewed Metro’s 7000-series Return to Service Plan revision (download below) and “has no technical objections” to it.

The plan identifies specific timeframes and well-defined steps that Metro must take to return all 7000-series cars to service, according to Metro.

Last year, Metro sidelined all 748 7000-series rapid transit cars—built by Kawasaki Rail and representing nearly 60% of its fleet—after an Oct. 12, 2021 derailment. The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation is ongoing; it reported on Dec. 1, 2021 that work would “focus on failure analysis of the wheelsets, evaluation of the response from rail traffic controllers, internal and external oversight of the WMATA system, and identification of similar wheelset issues on passenger railcars.”

Eight 7000-series trains resumed service in June, following Washington Metrorail Safety Commission approval of new inspection procedures and other measures; and Metro in September said it was approved to “safely operate up to 20 of its 7000-series cars per day, up from the current limit of eight trains.”

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission explained via Twitter that the “first phase of this [Return to Service] plan specifies that any cars with all high press tonnage axles may be used each day if compliant with inspection requirements, and that up to 80 cars with one or more low press tonnage axles may be used each day.”

According to an Oct. 25 Washington Post report, Metro will have “unlimited use only of its newest cars delivered over the past five years, which consist of about 340 of the 748 cars. Metro is limited to using up to 80 cars a day from its older set of 7,000-series cars. …

“Safety officials are being more stringent with older cars in the series because their wheels were pressed to axles at a lower level of force. In 2017, about three years into Metro’s contract with builder Kawasaki Rail, transit officials asked for wheels to be pressed at a higher level of force because issues with how car wheels were interacting with the track.

“The older set of cars have been linked to more wheel movements than those with wheel sets pressed at a higher level of force, the Commission said. For Metro to regain full access of all cars, the Commission is requiring the review of data over four inspection cycles on cars that have operated 4,500 miles, as well as weekly vehicle and track interaction data.”

The increased availability of 7000-series cars “will support opening the Silver Line extension before Thanksgiving and reduce crowding on the Red Line,” Metro reported on Oct. 25.

Constructed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), the Silver Line extension’s six new stations, 11.4 miles of new track, and new rail yard were turned over to Metro when the ORD (Operational Readiness Date) was declared on June 23. (The first phase of the Silver Line opened in July 2014, adding five new stations; Silver Line service currently operates from Largo Town Center Station, through Washington, D.C., and terminates at Wiehle-Reston East Station.)

Metro reported on Oct. 19 that it was finalizing its safety certification report to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission. The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission “has worked alongside Metro for months and has stated that it expects to add their concurrence to Metro’s within hours or days after receiving the report from Metro’s Chief Safety Officer,” Metro said. “Metro does not view the final Silver Line safety certification report as a barrier to preparing for the opening of passenger service before Thanksgiving holiday travel.”

“With this approval and close collaboration on the Silver Line extension safety report, Metro will be able to set an opening date in the near future,” General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said on Oct. 25. “I want to thank the Safety Commission for their collaboration on reaching this important safety milestone, so we have a clear path forward.”

PRHTA will use Cubic’s Umo mobility platform to modernize its fare collection infrastructure on the Tren Urbano rail system and the Metropolitan Bus Authority transit services including intermodal bus fleets, which serve more than nine municipalities with a combined annual ridership exceeding 10 million.

Cubic, which installed PRHTA’s original fare collection system more than 20 years ago, describes Umo as a cloud-based platform that “centralizes and streamlines transit fare payment.” It is slated to “simplify the customer experience by migrating to contactless payments using the Umo mobile app or agency-issued smartcard. This upgrade also provides bus and rail users the convenience of easy fare payment with their Apple or Android devices and easy reloading of their electronic wallets for contactless travel. Additionally, the Umo platform ensures that riders who prefer to pay with cash can continue using their preferred payment method.”

“We are excited to expand the relationship with Cubic, spanning over two decades, and collaborate on this essential initiative for Puerto Rico,” said Eileen M. Velez-Vega, Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Public Works of Puerto Rico. “Modernizing the fare collection system at all Tren Urbano rail stations and the entire bus fleet will benefit our transit riders by providing them with the latest fare payment technology.”

“The extensive legacy system expertise and highly knowledgeable Umo team members will ensure a smooth migration to a state-of-the-art fare collection system,” said Bonnie Crawford, Cubic’s Umo Vice President and General Manager.

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