‘WMATA is Treading Carefully’

Written by Bill Wilson, Engineering Editor; and Editor-in-Chief, Railway Track & Structures
WMATA says nothing has been done to the track concerning wheel issues with new rail cars.

WMATA says nothing has been done to the track concerning wheel issues with new rail cars.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Vice President and Assistant Chief Safety Officer Jayme Johnson wants everyone to know that the NTSB investigation involving the 7000-series railcar is still ongoing, and that no definitive conclusions have been made.

On Sept. 21 it was reported that a 2015 report stated improperly installed restraining rails could cause the wheels of the railcars to shift apart. Washington Metro called on Kawasaki Rail Car to make changes to the 7000-series model, but the agency did not do anything about the rail.

Johnson spoke to the Washington Metro Board of Directors on Sept. 22 and said there is a reason nothing has been done, and it’s because the NTSB has not completed its investigation. Johnson said the 2015 report was not new information that the agency was hiding, and that the review and consideration of the report’s content, along with other forensic analysis employed to connect all of the dots, have been the subject of NTSB’s investigation for nearly a year.

“During that time,” Johnson said, “neither the NTSB nor WMSC [Washington Metrorail Safety Commission] have issued a single directive to WMATA to change any aspect of our wheelsets or track configuration. That is because the root cause remains unknown.”

Johnson noted if hazards are identified during the investigation, NTSB can issue urgent or early recommendations. Johnson said no such recommendations have been made to date, and that Washington Metro is ready to make any and all necessary changes that are identified through the process.

“WMATA is treading carefully,” Johnson declared. “Changing track or other engineering solutions based on partial theories that are not wholly supported by data or evidence might not only fail to address the root cause, but unwittingly exacerbate it or cause an operational safety issue.”

The current wheel measurement program, approved by WMSC on Sept. 2, includes continued monitoring of track conditions.

Johnson stressed while restraining rail is a logical factor to consider, it must be emphasized that there is currently no direct link to the restraining rail in the investigation.

“It’s on the table to examine as the NTSB investigation continues to dig in further, considering all possible factors.”

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