Metro’s chief safety officer reported to the Federal Transit Administration that the railcar barriers between the new 7000 series railcar will be installed on all 7000-series trains by May 2019.
In 2016, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority made its own determination on how to address the between-car-barrier safety issue. WMATA chose as its remedy to install on the 7000-series cars the chain-barrier system that it uses on its older railcars. Now FTA is requiring that WMATA follow through on its own plan and commitment to install the chain barriers.
In May this year, a woman with vision impairment used her cane to search for the doorway on a train that was a 7000 series, but mistook the space between the railcars for the doorway and fell onto the tracks.
Instead of chains between the railcars, which FTA and Metro call between-car barriers, the 7000 series railcars have rubber panels attached to the ends railcars alternating with the chains. Henrika Buchanan, FTA’s acting associate administrator for the Office of Transit Safety and Oversight, wrote in June the woman’s fall indicated the alternate between-car-barriers are unsafe for riders with vision impairments and ordered their replacement with the chain-like barriers.
It was after Buchanan’s letter to WMATA – which included other requirements, such as demonstrating how WMATA is informing the public about the hazard – that Metro added its “this is a 7000-series train” announcements to advise blind passengers, WMATA wrote.
Buchanan ordered Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in June to ensure all between-car barriers of the 7000-series trains are the same as those of the previous series by Dec. 31. If he does not comply with a list of requirements including replacing the between-car barriers, FTA may withhold Metro funding until Wiedefeld has the between-car barriers replaced.
“If WMATA fails to comply with the required actions stated herein, FTA has the authority under Federal public transportation safety law to, among other possible responses withhold up to 25 percent of WMATA’s Section 5307 Urbanized Area Formula funds until the requirements have been met,” Buchanan wrote.
Metro in its updated plan to fix the problem requested for an extension to the FTA’s deadline.
Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin had said removing the 7000-series railcars from service would require Metro to have more minutes between trains during rush hour.
Buchanan replied that she had not requested the trains to be removed from service.
“My June 22, 2018 letter did not, contrary to your misstatement in your June 29, 2018 letter, contain an ultimatum to ground WMATA’s 7000-series railcars,” Buchanan wrote in a letter dated July 23. “Rather, my letter directed WMATA to prepare and submit a work plan addressing four specific actions and noted FTA’s authority to withhold funds if WMATA failed to comply with those required actions.”
Metro Board member Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said he does not believe the FTA will require Metro to floor the 7000-series portion of the fleet.
“I’m still confident [FTA] is not going to take any action requiring taking the 7000-series trains out of the fleet because the 7000-series cars are essential to WMATA’s operations,” Goldman said Wednesday.
Goldman said other transit systems in the U.S., like WMATA, have more than one type of between-car barriers, yet WMATA is the only public transit system or commuter rail system which FTA has given an immediate action for replacement.
Last month, riders began to hear announcements in all stations advising riders with vision impairments to “find the floor,” make sure there is floor in front of them before they step off the platform.
Buchanan wrote that the alternate form of barriers between the railcars was nine inches farther away from riders standing on the platform and therefore harder for blind and low vision riders to find it.