WASHINGTON, D.C. (WDVM) — The Washington Metro Rail Safety Commission chose to remove all 7,000-series rail cars from operation — roughly 60% of the Metro’s fleet — after a Blue Line derailment that occurred on Oct. 12.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a press briefing to share new details that have emerged from their preliminary investigation.
Jennifer Homendy, chair of NTSB, said there were three known instances of train 407 derailing last week.
The train first derailed and then re-railed itself while en route to the Largo Town Center station around 3:23 p.m. on Oct. 18. Then, less than an hour later, the train derailed again when it was departing the Largo station towards Franconia. Finally, the train eventually derailed in the tunnel for a third time, with 187 passengers on board.
“We identified car break disk parts that were dislodged from the car during the derailment,” said Joe Gordon, NTSB railroad accident investigator “On the derailed car, we found that the wheels had moved outward on the axle, causing the train to derail when traveling through switches.”
Officials say a wheel assembly issue in the 7,000-series rail cars contributed to the incident. NTSB says the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) was aware of the issues dating back to 2017, finding reports of multiple failures in previous years.
Homendy noted the findings in failures of train cars over the past few years:
- Two failures in 2017
- Two failures in 2018
- Four failures in 2019
- Five failures in 2020
- 18 failures in 2021
These reports were a part of an additional 21 failures uncovered as a result of their inspections, totalling 39 incidents in 2021. Homendy says the numbers are preliminary and are subject to change as the investigation continues.
NTSB says the potential for more failures may exist, as only 514 of the 748 cars in the series have been inspected.
Now, Homendy is warning other transit authorities across the country to perform routine checks on their Kawasaki-made 7000-series train cars.
“We are fortunate that no fatalities or serious injuries occurred,” said Homendy. “This could have resulted in a catastrophic event.”