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Metro's Problem-Plagued Cars

Metro and the National Transportation Safety Board have not determined the cause of Sunday's derailment at Mount Vernon Square, but it's interesting to note that it involved the troublesome 5000 Series of railcars.

The transit authority bought 192 of these cars, which were the first to have the red, white and blue color scheme (although by now, many other cars also have that color scheme). They began to enter service in 2001 and last of them started running in 2004. The cars were built by CAF Inc., a Spanish manufacturer that was hoping to enter the U.S. transit market.

The cars has troubles all through the construction process, plus there were many mechanical and electronic problems once they entered service. They were involved in four derailments in less than 18 months. There was a debate within Metro over whether the design of the cars was a contributing factor, but they remained in service.

Those derailments followed a pattern: They occurred in places where the track was worn, while the train was operating at low speed and rounding a sharp bend. These were not tracks used in regular passenger service.

The Sunday derailment occurred while the train was making a low-speed crossover from one track to another, Metro said. Potentially interesting parallels there.

You can read more about Metro's problems with the CAF cars and the earlier derailments in a Post series called Off the Rails by Lyndsey Layton and Jo Becker, which you'll find on this special report page.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 8, 2007; 8:22 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Was this one of the "Many Metro Disruptions This Winter" Metro was expecting?

Us Orange line riders hope that all those who were on that train are in better spirits today and is there any word on pregnant lady who was taken to the hospital?

Posted by: Metro Timing | January 8, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

It's time that an eight-figure class action lawsuit was filed against this irresponsible, corrupt and incompetant organization which is accountable to no one.
How many deaths will take place before some firm takes up the case?
I'm still all for requiring all members of congress and their staffers to take the Metro to Capitol South and then walk 2-7 blocks north to get to their jobs. Then something will be done a little faster.

Posted by: Deaniac | January 8, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I still wonder why all metro cars are built with their own propulsion capabilities. Does every car need to be an 'engine' or does the lead car do the pulling? I've often thought that every other car having the drive system (i.e. one engine and one 'car') would be a cheaper option.

Posted by: Andrew | January 8, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

so dean(iac) who is gonna pay the damages for your ten figure lawsuit. Us. The residents-taxpayers. Unless we cross-claimed against CAF so we wouldn't have to pay out to ourselves.

This is an instance though of low-bidding kinds of contracting not being a good thing. Better to have a stable relationship acquiring subway cars from a company with a long term relationship based on the success of their work.

Posted by: Richard Layman | January 8, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Would NYC or Chicago put up with obviously flawed cars? No. Why does WMATA? I hope this at least means that no other American transit agencies (or any for that matter)will go near a deal with CAF.

Posted by: Double 0 Zero | January 8, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

CAF has a deal with NYC as noted in another article, and NYC isn't happy with them either.

To Andrew: have you ever taken the Amtrak through New Haven, CT where you have to wait 30-90 minutes for them to change engines from electric to diesel? Now imagine that wait on Metro.

It's a lot more efficient and in the long run, more profitable to have a married pair of cars or every car as a possible lead rather than one lead and 7 dummies. Imagine the turn around time it'd take to take the "engine" off, turn it around (which you can't do at the end of the lines) and then reattach it.

I think NYC and Chicago have every car as being able to go "both ways" but it's been a while since I've ridden their subways.

Posted by: CAF | January 9, 2007 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Has there ever been a satisfied customer (in the last 30 years anyway)? Rohr left the business because of the bad economics (WMATA performance penalties being a big part of it, it was reported then). Breda? Complaints. CAF? Complaints. Alstom? Complaints.
I don't mean to say one can't have an opinion of which is the lesser evil.
WMATA has sort of done it both ways, competitive on the rolling stock, long term relationship on the fare collection (Cubic). Again, one can have opinions of which one hurts worse than the other.
I'm not hugely knowledgeable of subway cars of the world, but BART was built for A-units at the ends of the train and B-units in between and I guess still has that system. I thought I read that this was fairly unique among rail transit systems of recent decades.
BTW, I recall an article in one of the Bay Area papers in the 70s reviewing Metro and comparing it favorably to BART. The writer said the main differences were that Metro had better architecture and trains that actually worked.

Posted by: WW | January 9, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if there's a U.S. transit system out there with happy customers? Maybe the Post can do a series on other transit systems and their problems to make everyone here feel better about Metro.

Posted by: Is anyone happy? | January 9, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't support 1 engine and 7 cars, but 1 & 1 would seem to make sense. I've seen some metro cars that look like they have been joined together since they got in service, and I believe current policy for a disable train is to pull the whole train with the next train due to the station, so I don't think 1&1 would be that much of a problem.

I wonder how much it would save.

Posted by: Andrew | January 9, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Why don't we just turn Metro over to MARC rail, they use one engine that pushes and pulls, breaks down about as much, and costs more. This current systems allows an 8-car train to be taken down to a 6-car train if a front or back set of cars needs to be taken out of service. And yes, the cars are paired together, ever notice the number of cars is ALWAYS even.

Posted by: Metro or MARC | January 10, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

A modest proposal: DECLARE WAR ON SPAIN. It seems to work so well for all our other problems!

Posted by: ML | January 11, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

ML - Great suggestion!
Andrew - having multiple propulsion units on each car allows them to accelerate fast and keep tight headways (time between trains). It sucks up a lot of juice, I think a few years ago they dialed back the acceleration on weekends.

Posted by: D_in_Columbia | January 13, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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