New Silver Line rail cars to arrive months after line opening

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Liz Essley,Metro

The new rail cars ordered for Metro's Silver Line face even more delays and won't arrive until months after the new line's scheduled opening date, according to the authority building the project.

The first pilot 7000-series rail cars being built by Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. will arrive in February 2014, Dulles Rail Executive Director Pat Nowakowski said Wednesday. The rest of the cars on order will arrive between August 2014 and June 2015 due to problems stemming from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Metro then will have to test all the rail cars before putting them into service.

However, the new Metrorail line is scheduled to open in December. That means Metro will need to use its existing fleet of less than 1,200 rail cars for both its current operations and the new line. Metro says it will cover the extra needs by reducing its "spare ratio" of extra cars used for breakdowns or rail problems, putting more of its rail cars into daily service.

Metro seeks to put down cash for rail fleet expansion
Metro wants to fund the first expansion of its rail fleet in years -- though it will be years more before riders could ride any of them.
The transit agency's new budget proposal calls for placing a down payment on 90 additional rail cars in the 2016 fiscal year. Metro hasn't determined how it will pay the full price tag of the new cars, but it's an important step in relieving overcrowding during rush periods. Metro could use the cars to run more eight-car trains or more frequent service.
"The 90 additional cars would be for fleet expansion, as opposed to replacement of existing car types," said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.
Metro already has more than 400 rail cars on order from Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., but all of those 7000-series models have specific purposes. About 300 cars are slated to replace the 1000-series rail cars, which safety officials have been urging Metro to get rid of for years because they collapse upon themselves during crashes. Another 128 of them would cover the expanded service of the 23-mile Silver Line now under construction.
The transit agency is proposing paying the down payment on 90 more cars as a way to lock in the contract price that was negotiated as an option on the original 7000-series contract in 2010. Metro agreed to pay $1.98 billion for as many as 748 rail cars, which equals about $2.65 million per car.
However, it's not clear when the 90 additional rail cars would arrive. "The timeline would be dependent on the balance of funding, which has not yet been identified," Stessel said.
Metro currently has a little more than 1,100 rail cars in its fleet. - Kytja Weir

"As we improve our maintenance program and wind down our maintenance campaigns, we have more rail cars available for service," said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

He said the extra coverage will not require Metro to shorten any of its eight-car trains.

But the issue raised concerns among the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors about what types of rail cars the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority would be running on the line, given that it will have only eight new rail cars in the first few months.

"I think the concern here is that we get stuck with the clunkers," said MWAA board member Tom Davis.

"Let's remember, starting in January, it'sWMATA's, not ours," responded MWAA CEO Jack Potter. "So they're their clunkers."

But the key question remains whether the line will be able to open in December. The rail yard where trains will be stored and maintained is not slated to be finished until Dec. 20. Metro can operate without the full yard if it wants to, Nowakowski said, though there could be additional costs associated with any delay.

"Any of these components of the project not being completed in time for the Silver Line opening creates its own set of operational challenges," Stessel said. "It may be possible to take extraordinary steps for a short period to offset the shop not being ready."

The airports authority would be on the hook for any costs associated with the yard not being ready, though, Stessel added.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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