The Metrorail Safety Commission ordered WMATA to pull 60% of its train fleet on Sunday, leading to long delays Monday morning.
Federal safety investigators said problems with wheels on 7000-series Metro trains could have led to a "catastrophic incident," and said the problems were widespread and longstanding. Metro has known about the issues since 2017, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigators, who found problems with wheelsets on dozens of 7000-series Metro cars.
Late Sunday night, the Metrorail Safety Commission ordered WMATA to remove all 7000-series trains from service as the investigation continues. The trains account for roughly 60% of Metro's fleet, and without them, riders saw significant delays during this morning's commute.
Investigators laid out their initial findings at a press conference this morning, following last week's Blue Line derailment near the Arlington Cemetery station. The train appears to have had multiple minor derailments and re-railments throughout that day, according to the NTSB. Investigators found pieces of brake discs, apparently from the derailed train, near the Largo and Rosslyn stations. The brake pieces apparently became dislodged when the train left the track, officials said.
As for the preliminary cause of the derailment, investigators say the wheels moved outward on the axle, causing problems at the rail switch near the Arlington Cemetery Station. During the derailment, the electrified third rail was damaged, which could have caused a fire. No one was injured during the incident.
According to the NTSB, Metro has reported 31 wheel assembly failures on 7000-series trains since 2017. An additional 21 cars were found to have the issue. Investigators have inspected 514 of the 748 railcars, so additional problems could be found, officials said.
"We are fortunate that no fatalities or serious injuries occurred as a result of any of these derailments," said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. "But the potential for fatalities and serious injuries was significant. This could have resulted in a catastrophic event."
The train that derailed was last inspected for wheel alignment on July 27, 2021, according to safety officials. Metro says trains are inspected every 90 days. The train was due for its next inspection on October 27.
Homendy encouraged other transit agencies that use Kawasaki-made trains to check for the issue. The 7000-series trains were made in Lincoln, Nebraska. Kawasaki has also built trains for VRE and MARC locally and the MBTA in Boston, SEPTA in Philadelphia, MTA in New York City and the LIRR and PATH commuter trains in the NYC region.
Riders across the region reported significant delays during Monday's disrupted commute. Trains were supposed to arrive every 30 minutes on all lines Monday morning, but service levels reached 60-plus minutes on several lines, including the Red Line.
But with only 40 trainsets available to run service, platforms at Takoma, Fort Totten, and L'Enfant Plaza were unusually full of riders.
Metro tweeted an apology this morning, saying the move was made "out of an abundance of caution."
"We understand the impact this decision has on transportation for the DMV area (National Capital Region)," Metro said in the tweet. "We apologize for this reduction in service and the inconvenience this is causing our customers."
They also acknowledged crowded cars and said face masks continue to be required and Metrorail cars recycle the air approximately every three minutes.
It's unclear how long the service impacts will last. It's also unclear if trains could be returned one by one after they are inspected or if they will all be put back in service once the entire issue is resolved. The independent Metrorail Safety Commission is in charge of that decision, but says it won't know more on that until Metro submits its corrective action plan. That timeline is also unknown.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.