Metro's 4000 Series rail cars cause frequent delays

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir
It happens time and time again. A Metro train breaks down during rush hour, forcing commuters onto already packed platforms, delaying scores of riders and other trains.

One common element may be to blame: Metro's Breda 4000 Series rail car.

The rail car has the agency's worst record for breakdowns that cause delays of more than three minutes. It's three times worse than the system's best rail cars and doesn't even reach half the agency's own service goal.

Metro railcars' mean miles traveled between delays *
6000 Series: 89,258 miles
2000/3000 Series: 43,633 miles
1000 Series: 42,175 miles
5000 Series: 40,847 miles
4000 Series: 29,496 miles
Metro average: 43,493 miles
Agency Goal: 60,000 miles
* Measured as breakdowns causing delays of more than three minutes between April 2010 - March 2011.
What car are you riding in?
To determine which type of Metro car you are riding, look for the car number:
» Cars have four-digit numbers on the inside door at the end of the car and on the outsides.
» Numbers beginning with a 1 are 1000 Series models. Each subsequent series, e.g. 4000 or 6000, represents a newer model.

Last week Metro board member Tom Downs called for the agency to make a serious fix to the rail cars or scrap them altogether.

"We have a fleet full of dogs here in the 4000 Series cars and it's killing us in our on-time performance," he said at a board committee meeting.

But, unfortunately, Metro will be stuck with the rail cars six to eight years more -- if not longer -- according to Metro's Deputy General Manager Dave Kubicek.

Metro's oldest rail cars have hogged more of the attention. The Rohr 1000 Series has been targeted for replacement because of their dangerous safety record of telescoping in on themselves during crashes. New rail cars have been ordered.

Metro could tack on a request for more cars to replace the 4000 Series, too, but only after the 1000 Series is replaced and cars for the Dulles Rail extension get built, Kubicek said. The agency also needs to find the money to pay for them.

Until then, Metro and its riders must deal with the 4000 Series and its operational problems. The cars, some 18 years in use, have an outdated propulsion system that Kubicek called a "dinosaur." The system's other rail cars have been converted to newer systems, or equipped with them from the start, he said.

The model also has problems with its brakes and its auxiliary power systems, which run the lights and air conditioning, he said.

Last summer, the agency had to temporarily pull all the 4000 Series cars out of service because of a safety concern involving the motors inside the doors. The problem could have caused the doors to open when the trains were moving, the agency had said.

Metro doesn't have many of the cars. Only about 100 of the agency's some 1,140 rail cars are 4000 Series cars. The agency has said it uses between 60 and 70 of them on an average weekday.

But their problems ripple throughout the system. Part of the issues is that they are mixed in throughout the fleet to accommodate putting the 1000 Series cars in the center of each train, which causes problems on two levels.

The 4000 Series auxiliary systems don't match up well when linked with other rail cars, Kubicek said. Then, when a 4000 Series car has a problem, it pulls the whole train out of service until the rail cars can be separated, even if the other cars don't have problems.

The agency is now working on repairing and upgrading them until they can be replaced altogether, Kubicek said,

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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