The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday issued a safety warning to subway and commuter rail systems about a wheel problem that led to a derailment in the nation’s capital, saying the fault is difficult to detect and potentially devastating.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday issued a safety warning for subway and commuter rail systems above a The problem of wheels that led to a derailment in the nation’s capital, saying the defect is difficult to detect and potentially devastating.
The investigative agency released a preliminary report on its ongoing investigation into the October 12 incident involving the Washington subway system, ruling out other factors such as speed.
The NTSB said defects in a railroad car’s wheel assembly and axle “cannot be easily identified” through routine visual inspection, and urged transit agencies to comply with recent FTA guidance to conduct checks for skewed wheels – something NTSB chief Jennifer Homendy urged early on. Investigation. The NTSB extended its alert to passenger rail, which was not fully covered under the FTA order.
Several transport and rail agencies said they had carried out checks and the problem did not appear to apply to them, but the NTSB stressed the need for vigilance.
And according to the safety warning, “lane deviation due to wheel movement could be catastrophic.”
The bulk of the Washington metro fleet has been grounded since mid-October after a train car skidded off the rails on the Blue Line near Arlington National Cemetery. According to the NTSB report, the car derailed and then reconnected to the rails on its own on two occasions during that trip, before derailing for the third time. Some passengers were trapped in a tunnel inside a darkened train car and had to be evacuated on foot.
After this accident, the NTSB found chronic problems where the wheels on the Metro 7000 Series, the newest railroad wagon, spread too wide on the axles, allowing the wagon to slip off the rails. The problem has been apparent to the Washington metropolitan area transportation authority since 2017, but neither the NTSB nor the WMATA board has been reported. At the derailment scene, the NTSB said the maximum speed limit was 59 mph. Preliminary data from the event recorder on the train showed that the train’s speed was even lower at about 33 miles per hour.
“The NTSB is concerned that the 7200 has been operating with a sub-spec wheels for an indefinite period as the vehicle derailed three times on the day of the accident…without any noticeable sign of the problem to alert the train operator,” she said. “It is possible that the deviation from the trajectory occurred due to the movement of the wheel on its axis, which should never have happened.”
WTOP has contacted the NTSB for comment on the report.
The National Transportation Safety Board has stressed the importance of alerts to help “prevent similar accidents” in the future. “Although we don’t know at this time if this is a widespread problem among train cars in other transportation agencies, the NTSB believes that action must be taken,” she said last month.
Safety concerns come as public transit agencies work to recover passengers and build expanded transit routes under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law after an overwhelming year of passenger exhaustion due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Washington, total passenger numbers are still at about 30% of pre-pandemic levels, but are expected to increase as offices reopen and tourism renews.
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