Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Silver Line: The Continuing Saga of the Metrorail Line without Rail Cars

Almost everyone has been pleased with the launching of the Silver Line last June, and Restonians have been quick to embrace it as another vital means of transportation in a congested corridor.  But the Silver Line is running on old, borrowed railway cars that are less reliable and even less safe than their newer counterparts.  

This is not news to WMATA which has a series of contracts and options in place with Kawasaki to address the increasingly antiquated rail cars throughout the Metrorail system the inadequate number of railway cars on the Silver Line.  In fact, the initial contract for the Series 7000 cars was signed four and one-half years (August 2010).  Overall, the contract calls for the construction of up to 748 of a new Series 7000 Kawasaki cars for Metrorail.  Here are the particulars as presented to the WMATA Customer Service and Operations Committee in an October 2013 update:



As this background section indicates, 64 of the cars were intended for Phase I of the Silver Line and another 64 with the completion of Phase II.  The 64 Series 7000 cars for Phase I were due to be delivered last month.  In fact, the following graphic depicts the delivery schedule as of October 2013--and there have been no updates published since to our knowledge:

 
Last week, the Washington Post wrote a rather discouraging article on progress in meeting these delivery deadlines.  It states in part:
After more than a year of running tests and blowing past expected deadlines, Metro promised Thursday that it was only a few weeks away from announcing the launch date for a new series of advanced railcars.
The stainless steel 7000-series subway cars represent a planned $2 billion modernization of Metrorail’s stock. The transit agency hopes to introduce 748 of the cars over the next three years as part of a plan to run all eight-car trains during rush hour, while also replacing the transit agency’s oldest cars, which date to the 1970s.
Eight of the new cars, the first batch acquired by Metro, have been undergoing tests since early 2014. . . .
Metro officials had earlier predicted that the new cars would start carrying passengers by mid-January. But at a meeting of the transit agency’s board of directors on Thursday, officials said that testing was still ongoing, and some board members expressed frustration with the delays.
Tom Downs, a member of the board’s safety and security committee, and a former Amtrak chief executive, said transit authorities had a “responsibility” to tell the public “when they can expect to see the 7000-series cars on the rails.” . . .
Interim General Manager Jack Requa assured the Metro board on Thursday that the transit agency would announce a release date within a few weeks. “We’re all waiting,” Downs said.
According to Metro’s working timetable, 56 of the new cars are expected to be in service by this summer.
But each batch of four cars, arriving from the Kawasaki Rail Car factory in Nebraska, will have to go through testing on local tracks before the cars can take on passengers.
The Tri-State Oversight Committee, which monitors Metro’s safety, said it had finished its own review of the new railcars, but that Metro still needs to complete the cars’ safety certification — a step that Metro officials say has already happened.
“That is in their mind,” said the committee’s chair, Klara Baryshev. “In our minds, it is not.”
 What???
 . . . the next (WMATA) general manager will come under immediate pressure to secure the extra $1.47 billion that Metro needs for 220 of the new cars.
Metro officials expect to resolve the funding issue by the time the D.C. Council and the Maryland and Virginia legislatures finalize their budgets in spring.
The offer price for the remaining cars will expire in June, and transportation experts fear that the price could spike after that. . . .
And there you have it:  Not a single rail car has been put into service, indeed none have apparently been certified for use, only a few have arrived, and WMATA is looking in other peoples' pockets at a late hour to come up with the $1.5 BILLION to finance the the purchase of 220 more of the new cars.   But delivery of few Series 7000 rail cars is expected to begin "soon," according to WMATA officials.

And the WMATA Board just decided to NOT raise fares this year.  Go figure!

This unfinished story nightmare all just leaves our head shaking at the inability of any of the responsible players in this "initiative" to actually complete their various tasks in a timely, rational way.   In fact, it is hard to be constructively critical because it appears no on has done anything they should have when they should have done it--other than commit WMATA to a multi-billion dollar acquisition using other people's money.  The result is an extensive delay in getting the Silver Line the cars it needs and paying tens, if not hundreds, of millions more for cars arriving for the entire system several years late.

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