Metro approves contract for 428 new rail cars

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Hundreds of new rail cars are on their way onto Metro's tracks, including replacements for Metro's oldest cars, which federal investigators have scorned for years as uncrashworthy.

Metro's board of directors approved an $886 million contract Thursday to buy 428 rail cars from Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. The deal represents more than one-third of the existing fleet and could be expanded with options for buying 320 more in the future.

Board member Christopher Zimmerman hailed the vote as "one of the most important steps the authority has taken in years and is going to take."

Metro staffers in the board room clapped when it was approved, in an unusual step from the usually staid crowd.

The new rail cars, known as 7000 series cars, include stronger steel bodies that better withstand crashes, brighter lighting, closed-circuit cameras and flexible seating configurations. They have 64 seats and can fit about five more people per car than the existing fleet.

But they come in units of four, so trains can run only as four-car or eight-car trains, instead of the current two-car couples that can run as six-car trains. They won't be able to link with older-model rail cars, according to the agency, except in case of emergency.

Riders will have to wait to ride them. Metro doesn't expect the first cars to arrive until 2013, and they aren't all expected to begin service until 2016.

Riders will have to wait to ride them. Metro doesn't expect the first cars to arrive until 2013, and they aren't all expected to begin service until 2016.

The rail cars take time to be built, then Metro must test them on its tracks. Metro is trying to build a test track so it can bring them into service faster, but the capital funding for the $60 million facility has not been approved.

The deal will buy 128 rail cars for the more than $5 billion Dulles Rail expansion project being built to extend 23 miles to Washington Dulles International Airport and beyond. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is handling the construction and costs for the project.

The remaining 300 cars will replace the transit system's Rohr 1000 series cars, which have crumpled in crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended for years that Metro replace the cars, but the transit agency had said it didn't have money to do so. Federal officials have been pressuring the agency to start replacing those models in the wake of the deadly June train crash that killed nine people.

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner