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Metro's old rail cars used for disaster training, scrap

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Local,Liz Essley,Metro and Traffic

One hundred miles south of Atlanta, a Metrorail car sits in pieces, blown apart by explosives.

The car is one of eight discarded Metro rail cars used at Guardian Centers, an 830-acre emergency training facility with a minicity designed to mimic the devastation following a hurricane, earthquake, terrorist attack or other disaster.

It's a unique use for Metro's rail cars past their time. They're normally decommissioned, stripped of special equipment and sold for scrap metal, said Metro spokesman Philip Stewart.

"Typically these cars are just scrapped or just dumped off in the ocean to serve as artificial reefs," said Geoff Burkart, founder and CEO of the training facility. But not these rail cars: "From simple power outages to a full-blown terrorist attack, we can replicate the conditions."

The 1000-series cars already have helped groups like Georgia's search-and-rescue team and the U.S. Marine Corps to prepare for disasters. The privately owned Guardian Centers has eight of the rail cars on a 1,600-foot track in a tunnel with a platform to serve as a station, Atlanta Magazine first reported.

Experts helped the center plant explosives in one of the Metrorail cars to mimic the 2004 Madrid train bombing.

Burkart said he spent less than $80,000 to buy the rail cars from Metro but paid more than double that to ship them to his facility in Perry, Ga. He had high praise for the Metro officials who helped him do that, since he didn't get the same cooperation from other cities.

"It's easy for bureaucrats to say the way we've done it for 40 years is just send them to the yard, gut them, mince them up, and sell them for scrap metal for three or four thousand bucks," Burkart said. "I really appreciate D.C. Metro stepping up and saying, 'OK, we'll take the time and effort to figure out how we can do this.' "

Metro will be getting rid of more rail cars in coming years, when its new 7000 series replaces all its remaining 1000-series cars, singled out by safety experts as dangerous since they buckle in on themselves in crashes. The agency also is planning to replace its breakdown-prone 4000 series in the next decade.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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