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Metro's new rail cars will have cameras, vinyl floors, 'sensitive' doors

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro unveiled its next generation of rail cars Wednesday, offering a first look at how one-third of its fleet will one day look.

The life-size 7000-series model was shipped from Japan, where it was made by Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. Some 428 cars just like it will be manufactured in Nebraska starting this winter.

(See a photo gallery of the new rail cars)

The new cars feature lots of new technology, including video screens and electronic signs showing where the train is along the line. The stainless-steel body is filled with blue hues and new graphics.

Metro's 7000-series rail cars
Why: Metro must replace its oldest rail cars, which federal safety officials said would collapse in an accident. All nine people killed in the 2009 Fort Totten crash were in one of those cars. Metro also needs more cars to accommodate the Silver Line expansion.
Cost: About $2 million each. Metro has an $886 million contract with Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. to build about 428 rail cars.
Where: A hundred and twenty-eight of the cars will be used on the Silver Line. An additional 300 will replace the old 1000-series cars. But the cars, made in sets of four, will operate only as eight-car trains, meaning the Silver Line will use older cars for shorter trains.
When: The cars will be put into service between 2014 and 2017.

"It really looks like Metro moving forward," Metro board Chairwoman Cathy Hudgins told The Washington Examiner after touring the model. "It looks like what customers are asking us for every day."

Riders won't see the new cars until 2014. Only a few focus groups and advisory committees will get a look at the model before it's trucked to Nebraska for production. The cars will be put into service between 2014 and 2017, Metro said.

One obvious change riders will see in the new cars is that there's no carpeting, something a focus group recommended. Metro also dropped earlier plans to install cloth seats.

The new floors will be a dark, nonslip vinyl colored with blue, red and white specks that focus groups favored for its patriotic feeling. The seats will be a molded steel covered in textured vinyl instead of square cushions, with a line delineating each seat but with no physical divider or armrest between them.

"They wanted the clean, clean look," said Metro's chief of staff, Barbara Richardson.

Rider focus groups also favored the blue hues, a very different look for Metro. "They'd had enough brown," Richardson said.

The new cars will have 64 to 68 seats. That's slightly more than the current 6000-series cars, but fewer than the system's oldest cars.

The area beneath the seats will remain open so riders can store briefcases or luggage and police can more easily scan for bags left behind.

The new doors will have a "sensitive edge" that can determine when a rider is trapped as the doors close. The doors will spring open slightly but not all the way, said Metro's chief vehicle engineer, Joseph Reynolds. The operator will be able to open just one set of doors to fix any problems. Metro hopes the new design will help reduce door problems that now cause so many delays.

One change riders might not notice will be the four cameras trained on them at all times. Most of Metro's buses already have cameras, but these will be a first for Metro's rail cars. When a rider presses the intercom, a camera will automatically zoom in to show who is calling for help. The agency is not yet able to view those video feeds from outside the train, Reynolds said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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