Date for opening now rests with Safety Commission concurrence on both Silver Line certification and new 7K Return to Service Plan
Per WMATA: After successfully completing two weeks of simulated service, Metro leaders said today that they will be able to open the extension to Dulles Airport Station in time for the start of busy Thanksgiving travel, subject to approvals this week from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) of two submissions — a data-driven Return to Service Plan for 7000-series railcars, and a safety certification report of the Silver Line extension. “We committed for the Silver Line extension to being operationally ready for the Silver Line extension in October, and we have met our deadline,” said General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke. “Since control of the extension was turned over to Metro, we and our partners at the Airports Authority, Fairfax, and Loudoun have worked diligently to complete all of the steps needed for Metro to offer safe and reliable service for rail travel to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County, and we are just awaiting concurrence from our Safety Commission partners.”
Metro took custody and control of the extension from the Airports Authority on June 23 and is finalizing its safety certification report to WMSC this week. WMSC has worked alongside Metro for months and has stated that it expects to add their concurrence to Metro’s within hours or days after receiving the report from Metro’s Chief Safety Officer. Metro does not view the final Silver Line safety certification report as a barrier to preparing for the opening of passenger service before Thanksgiving holiday travel.
More Trains Needed to Open
Last month, Metro’s senior safety and operations officials expressed safety concerns about moving cars from other crowded lines for new service, and that more trains were needed to support the extension. Unfortunately, WMSC notified Metro Monday afternoon that it objects to Metro’s new (phase three) Return to Service Plan for the 7000-series rail cars, following Metro’s submission of additional data analysis Friday. (The plan was first submitted on September 28 and was not approved citing “lack of data” to support changing multiple variables at once).
The latest rejection letter continues confusing direction provided to Metro:
- WMSC permits Metro to run trains inspected every seven days on any line, with employees operating and onboard. However, trains inspected every four days are only permitted to run with customers on the Red, Green and Yellow lines;
- The letter indicates that there are differences in the track interface with trains on Blue/Orange/Silver lines that require monitoring, then indicates permission to run on those lines temporarily, but offers no metrics for successful completion;
- The letter implies that Metro could swap axles to increase the fleet; however, that is operationally infeasible and would impact Metro’s ability to safely and efficiently manage its fleet, as well as changes many variables at once;
- WMSC approved in December 2021 the use of the 7K fleet on all rail lines, and is now using the same data analysis to justify fleet restrictions, with no definitive root cause identified in the NTSB investigation.
“Metro recognizes the important role safety oversight plays and we are absolutely committed to compliance,” said EVP and Chief Operating Officer Brian Dwyer. “Respectfully, after a year-long investigation, we would welcome a directive based on a root cause finding. Meanwhile, we have developed an industry-leading inspection process in which we have high confidence. At the end of the day, all we’re asking is for our customers to be able to ride on the same trains as our employees.”
Metro needs the WMSC’s concurrence this week to safely transfer trains into the various yards to support the restoration of service for stations south of National Airport, and to mobilize trains for the start of passenger service at Dulles Rail Yard. Additionally, Metro needs to align real-time communications systems and finalize other details to support passenger service. Local bus service providers have also requested a minimum of three weeks’ notice to provide connecting service to new rail stations. The phase three return to service plan is needed for both increased service frequency for customers systemwide and the Silver Line extension.
The plan seeks to reconcile two current processes – one for test trains carrying Metro employees, the other for customer trains — and to implement a single standard for trains carrying employees and customers on all lines with 7-day inspections. It should be noted that for months, Metro has operated 7K trains for testing and training purposes under the exact terms included in its phase three proposal, which demonstrates the safety of its approach. “We have provided all of the available data and analysis we have after safely running 2.7 million miles, however WMSC has provided confusing direction,” said EVP and Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato. “We simply ask for clear guidance on what is required to satisfy them as to the integrity of our process.”
[For more information, reference 7K blog authored by Metro Chief Operating Officer and Chief Safety Officer]
While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation has not yet identified a root cause for the derailment, Metro is seeking WMSC’s concurrence to adjust its fleet management while continuing the most robust program of wheel measurements in the transit industry by deploying:
- All 748 7000-series railcars for passenger service (first time since October 2021)
- 7000-series trains in service on all rail lines
- Protocols to measure wheels every seven days
“As I said publicly at our September Board meeting with only half of our 7Ks available, we cannot meet all of the region’s needs for Metrorail,” Clarke said. “It’s simple math. As we seek crowding solutions, support increasing ridership, and work to extend service, the equation of doing more with less no longer works, and we must ramp up the 7K trains which have operated safely without us putting a train in service that didn’t meet our industry-leading safety requirements.”