DC Train System to Remain at Reduced Capacity as Investigation Continues Into Safety Issue

Washington D.C.'s regional train system will remain at reduced capacity through at least the end of the year due to safety concerns and the global supply chain crisis, the Associated Press reported.

Paul J. Wiedefeld, the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), announced Monday that there were no set timelines for the return of many of the trains to service.

The Metro authority's safety commission abruptly ordered the withdrawal of the entire 7000-series line of trains in mid-October after a derailing revealed chronic problems with wheels and axles. The trains are the newest in service and make up about 60 percent of the fleet.

"We are intentionally not setting deadlines so that safety and good data drive our decisions, but we are mindful that customers want the best service we can provide as soon as we can deliver it, and we are committed to building back up in phases," Wiedefeld said in a statement.

WMATA planned to bring older 6000-series trains out of retirement to help fill in the service gaps from losing the 7000-series trains, but that has been delayed by the global supply chain crisis.

"While we know service is not as frequent as customers would prefer, we will add each train as it becomes available to help incrementally improve service reliability and frequency," Wiedefeld said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Train station
Washington D.C.’s regional train system will remain at reduced capacity through at least the end of the year due to safety concerns and the global supply chain crisis. Above, a woman waits to board a train as it arrives at Metro Center station on April 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The suspension of the bulk of Washington's Metro fleet was prompted when a train car slipped off the tracks on the Metro's Blue Line near Arlington National Cemetery on October 12. The car had apparently derailed once and then re-connected with the rails by itself, before derailing a second time. Some passengers were trapped in a tunnel in a dark train car and had to be evacuated on foot.

After the derailing, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that the Kawasaki-made 7000-series trains had been suffering an escalating series of incidents due to a design flaw that caused the wheels to spread too wide on the axles, allowing the carriage to slip off the tracks. The issue had been apparent to WMATA since 2017, but neither NTSB nor the WMATA board had been informed, said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy.

The incident remains under investigation by the NTSB. The incident has been an embarrassment for WMATA, which suffered a string of dangerous derailments and track fires several years ago but claimed to have addressed its issues.

Overall rider numbers remain at about 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels but are expected to increase steadily as offices reopen and tourists return to Washington.