Posts about 7000 Series
The newest member of Metro's fleet recently arrived from Japan, and debuted to reporters this morning at a Metro facility in Landover. The "hard mock-up" is the first of the 7000 series cars to arrive in the Washington area, though this car will likely never carry passengers.
From soft to hard mockups
The new car will allow Metro to make further adjustments to the design of the 7000 series. The agency will be bringing in railcar mechanics, train operators, engineers, and focus groups to help determine whether it needs to change any elements of the design before production begins early next year.
The so-called "hard mock-up" will spend a few weeks here before being moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the rest of the 7000 series cars will be assembled. Kawasaki built the mock-up in Japan, and it recently arrived in the United States by ship.
The mock-up is a complete vehicle, including all the necessary electronic and mechanical systems that will be on the rest of the new cars. Currently, the trucks (wheelsets) are not attached to the car body, but they are complete units.
WMATA had earlier built a half-size "soft-mock" to test out different design concepts, and gave the Riders' Advisory Council and Washington Post a tour. Experiences from the soft-mock influenced the design of this car.
One change, according to spokesman Dan Stessel, came from input from a focus group of disabled riders, who requested that Metro move a pole in the center of the car.
Some more changes may come from to feedback from operators and mechanics. Hopefully, these changes will make the 7000 series cars an even more well-designed addition to WMATA's fleet.
7000s start a new generation
The 7000 series cars will be far different than the current fleet of railcars. Different enough, in fact, that they won't be interoperable with the existing fleet of cars.
The new trains will feature several elements that riders should find to be improvements over current cars.
Seats on the new cars have a different shape, giving passengers more legroom. They're also more ergonomic, according to Metro officials. The new seats have a different surface, that feels like fake leather.
Additionally, by removing the armrests from the seats, Metro has widened the center aisle in the car by 2 inches, which should help riders circulate more easily.
Riders will notice other aesthetic changes to the car as well, especially the lack of carpeting. The 7000 cars will feature a rubber no-slip floor.
According to chief of staff Barbara Richardson, focus groups liked the blue tones featured on the car. They reacted poorly to an updated version of the old cars' brown palette.
A new display system will help riders know where they are along the line. New York has had a system like this for several years, and it has been well-received there. Each car will include 2 of these digital line maps, which show the next several stations and the final destination of the train.
Additionally, 4 LCD screens on each car will be capable of displaying service information and other announcements. At each station, the screens will automatically show information about connecting transit services and other local information.
The LCD screens could show advertising, though Metro has not yet made a decision about that. The screens are silent, though, so there will be no audio component.
The public address system in the 7000s is digital, rather than the analog system in older cars. This means that announcements should be clearer throughout the train and more easily understandable for riders.
Several cameras have been installed in each car. Each passenger compartment has 4 cameras. Additionally, there are cameras in the operator's compartment, watching the operator and the control panel and one forward-facing camera.
These cameras will record, so that in the case of an accident or other event, investigators can capture footage. Additionally, the operator can select different cameras using a touch screen if necessary. Whenever someone pushes the emergency intercom, the nearest camera will automatically focus on that area.
Metro Transit Police will have the ability to monitor video feeds from the trains live when necessary.
Doors will now have a single mechanism operating both door leaves, as opposed to the current setup, which has 2. This new design should make the doors more resilient, and less likely to become stuck open. The new door design has fewer moving parts than the doors on the current fleet of cars, and Metro thinks that the simpler design will result in fewer failures and less wear over time. The newer R142 cars on the New York subway use this same door design.
I spoke with Barbara Richardson about changes to the exterior of the car. Gone is the familiar brown stripe. In its place is a new Metro logo surrounded by a pattern of small squares making up a sort of penumbra. Richardson says this logo evokes the way Metro spreads radially into the region.
I wish the "M" logo were more centered with the windows, but I do like the penumbra design. It's certainly a more modern take on the WMATA logo, which dates back to the early 1970s.
At the unveiling, Metro CEO Richard Sarles thanked Senator Ben Cardin and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Both were on hand at the event. Sarles thanked elected officials for championing funding for the cars, and noted that without 2008's PRIIA Act, Metro would have been unable to purchase these cars.
The 7000 series cars represent the largest investment in Metro's fleet since the rail system started in the mid 70s.
Test track construction is underway
In related news, Metro has started construction of a test track which will allow Metro to prepare the 7000 series cars for service without disrupting the Green Line. This new test track will run alongside the Green Line between the College Park and Greenbelt stations.
Since the test track will lie sandwiched between the CSX and Green Line tracks, Metro has to build crossings over the Green Line to allow construction access. One of these grade crossings, in Berwyn Heights, is mostly complete; Metro built it during the Green Line closure a few weeks ago. A second crossing just south of Greenbelt station is still under construction.
Reader Andrew wonders what will become of Metro's 1000-series railcars, the oldest in the system, once they are replaced with new 7000-series:
What's going to happen to the 1000 series Metro cars when the 7000 series finally arrives? I can't imagine Metro plans to store all of them in a railyard. I suppose it's most likely that they will sell them for scrap, but it might be cool if you could do a post about potential uses for the cars. Ideas such as:The new 7000-series railcars will start coming in 2013. The first 64 of them will allow Metro to expand its fleet to run the first phase of the Silver Line, to Wiehle Avenue (though the cars themselves won't necessarily all run on the Silver Line). The rest of the current 364-car order will replace the 300 1000-series, which are very old and not as safe as the newer cars (though still safer than driving).
- A cool low income housing project
- Art projects
- Turn a train into some unique restaurant or something
Dan Stessel, WMATA spokesperson, said the 364th 7000-series car, which will replace the last 1000-series, is scheduled for 2016. That assumes nothing changes; he notes, "While we have not adjusted the delivery schedule due to this year's events in Japan, we are closely monitoring supply chains and will be in a better position late this year to know what, if any, impact there may be to the production timeline."
So what will happen with the 1000s? Kurt Raschke has some thoughts:
They'll almost certainly be scrapped, like PATH is doing now with the PA1-4 cars now that all of the PA-5s have been delivered. It would be excellent if at least one married pair were to be preserved (preferably 1000/1001 at minimum), but today's WMATA is not a terribly nostalgic agency.But what if some organizations could buy entire cars? What ideas do you have for interesting ways to use them?
Then there's the issue of what to do with the preserved cars; you could send them to the National Capital Trolley Museum, but I don't know if they have appropriate facilities for them (considering that they are a trolley museum), and I doubt WMATA would just leave them on the property indefinitely.
As far as using the scrapped cars for various projects, that may or may not happen. As an example, London Underground is in the process of scrapping the 1967 Tube Stock fleet, and the company doing the scrapping has been instructed by Transport for London to not permit any "sizable pieces" off the property (to include whole train cars). It's not clear why this is, but it may have to do with liability, or accounting or tax issues.
WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles met with bloggers for a roundtable discussion yesterday. The unfortunately brief conversation covered bag searches, escalators, funding and several other topics of interest to riders.
Sarles reiterated what he's been saying since coming on as interim General Manager: that safety is Metro's top priority. Metro has made several changes that Sarles believes will help grow the safety culture at the agency. They have increased the staff serving under Chief Safety Officer Jim Dougherty and increased safety staff's interaction with field operations.
Safety staff are now "embedded out in the field," Sarles says at bus and rail shops. These staff are now interacting regularly with superintendents, mechanics and other employees, and are participating on the local safety committee. This is encouraging, though it highlights how awry Metro's safety procedures had gone, if its safety officers were not previously working at the local facilities on a regular basis.
In accordance with an NTSB recommendation, WMATA has also put in a safety measurement system to collect data which can analyzed to uncover trends and anomalies. These data can be better used to identify hazards over time.
Sarles also emphasized that WMATA's new focus on State of Good Repair investment will help promote the safety culture with employees at all levels. "The employees see [our state of good repair investments] and that helps them realize that we, as an organization, are making heavy investments in safety. That encourages people to think more about it."
"We had to really rebuild the capital program management capability of this organization, because it had been lost. Because of the feeling that construction was done, so we just have little to do. Well, we have a lot to do, $5 billion in 6 years."
On escalators and elevators
Sarles brought up the work WMATA is undertaking to implement the recommendations of a consultant for improving escalator and elevator reliability.
We've criticized that report, however, for not presenting any causal analysis of actual downtime, but rather a list of a couple dozen standards that WMATA falls short of.
When asked whether he knows the actual causes of escalator and elevator downtime, Sarles agreed that the report did not provide such causes. Such analysis is being done by the new head of the Elevator and Escalator Department (ELES) using data that is now being entered into the maintenance management system.
With this analysis, they hope to know the causes of downtime "in the next couple months". He pointed out that ELES had been elevated in the organizational structure to help problems be addressed more seriously.
Sarles added that the major overhaul work at Foggy Bottom, where the 3 street to mezzanine escalators are being completely replaced and a staircase added, is indicative of the steps Metro is willing to take to get the vertical movement problem under control.
"I'm an engineer by background," Sarles said. "I started out in construction, so my thing is delivering results, not talking about them forever."
On bag searches
Having told WTOP on Monday that the bag searches are more about deterrence than detection, we asked Sarles to explain how exactly these searches could deter a terrorist attack. Instead, he turned to the example of New York, essentially saying that because the NYPD and Port Authority Police have this policy, WMATA should as well.
"You don't want the bad guys to think everything is predictable," he said, reminded the group of bloggers several times that this is not his rationale, but that of counterterrorism experts. These experts have advised the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and NYPD policies, where, he says, random searches have been successful, though without offering any clarification of what 'successful' means.
When pressed on how much unpredictability is introduced by forcing a bad guy to go to a station several blocks away, Sarles again relied the authority of counterterrorism experts. These unnamed experts say that terrorists like to plan, and the unpredictability of random searches may force them to go back to the drawing board. Asked what's to keep a terrorist for planning for the event that their first target station has bag checks, he immediately changed the subject.
We asked Sarles whether WMATA had explored any ways to use the TSA grants to implement counterterrorism measures that also increase the presence of officers within the station, on the platforms. He answered quickly, "Well, these searches are just outside the fare control line," before changing the subject.
On a positive note, Sarles emphasized that he would not allow random searches to be something that caused any riders to stand in line to enter a station. "I don't want customers to be inconvenienced."
Sarles voiced far more concern over the future of federal funding, given the new Republican-controlled House, than the future of funding from Virginia or Maryland. He said he would be actively lobbying Congress, as well as working to mobilize other supporters much like was done at the end of 2010 to support extending the $230 transit benefit.
When asked what a drop in federal funding would mean, Sarles was blunt about the impact it would have on bringing WMATA up to a state of good repair. "We will not catch up. It's devastating."
On farecard improvements
WMATA has revealed plans to migrate from SmarTrip cards to an open payment fare technology. Sarles said the agency is just in the beginning phases of exploring these technologies, and will not be rolling out a full scale change until it is sure of the reliability and can mitigate the inconveniences to riders.
When asked about the summer revelation that the agency seemed to be running out of SmarTrip cards, he recognized there were clearly some communication issues that needed to be addressed as the agency moves forward with new fare payment programs.
On improving communication
We asked Sarles how he can help break the barriers between the various divisions of WMATA to improve communication within the agency, and between the operating divisions and the public. He said that he is working to instill the idea of "one message" with his leadership team.
When asked if this unifying approach could result in precluding more communication between the agency's divisions and the public, he said that WMATA is trying to open up communication through data reports and other regular releases.
On customer service
Sarles has been talking with riders at downtown stations over the last couple weeks, asking them what their biggest complaints are.
While the most common complaints he's heard deal with the disrespectful way in which many riders treat the trains and buses, leaving newspapers and trash behind, he acknowledged that the agency needs to make improvements in customer service.
WMATA is having an independent group assess the agency's customer call center, and how quickly and effectively it responds to customer issues. Sarles also plans to reintroduce a "secret shopper" program to get feedback from riders.
On increasing capacity
Major capital investments will be consumed by safety and state of good repair projects. In the near and medium term, Sarles acknowledged that the agency has no plans for major increases in capacity. Instead, WMATA will be concentrating on ways to improve the bus system, working with the jurisdictions to implement priority measures such as traffic signal priority and bus lanes.
On the 7000 series
The new rail cars, expected by 2014, will be 4-car sets, instead of married pairs, eliminating two cabs on each four car set and making more room for riders. The cars will have cameras throughout as well as automated station announcements and electronic information boards very similar to the New York Subway's new FIND systems.
While the "transverse" seating arrangements of the current cars, with forward and back facing seats, will remain, the cars we be built to allow reconfiguring the seating to "longitudinal," where seats face the center, if crowding becomes a problem and the agency decides to make the change.
Sarles said he would be happy to host blogger roundtables in the future, and we also discussed briefly the possibility of having chats with other members of the leadership team who can speak to more specific questions.
Although our time was short, and there were some dodgy answers regarding bag searches, the conversation with Sarles was informative and encouraging. We hope this engagement with the community continues.
Sarles is also appearing on TBD NewsTalk starting at 10 today.
The team working on the 7000 series, the next generation of Metrorail railcars, has chosen to keep the current "transverse" seating instead of switching to a "longitudinal" arrangement based on unquantifiable safety benefits. In doing so, they've given up the opportunity to substantially increase Metro's capacity as overcrowding gets worse.
Early designs for the 7000 series had two possible seating arrangements under evaluation. The first, transverse seating, is what Metro uses today. The new cars make some specific changes to the current layout, including moving the end doors closer to the center and therefore having more seats at the ends and fewer in the middle. In general, though, it's what we're all used to.
The other option, longitudinal seating, involves a row of seats facing the center on each side. Many transit systems around the world use this seating arrangement. It has the advantage of holding more standees, as there is more open space in the center.
The longitudinal arrangement does sacrifice some seats, though surprisingly not very many. It seats 122 per pair of cars, compared to 126 per pair in the current (transverse) 6000 series, and 130 per pair on the 7000 series in transverse configuration. But it holds more people standing. If trains started using longitudinal seating, the seats would fill up scarcely faster than they do today, but trains wouldn't become crush-loaded as much.
Similarly, Metro decided not to explore having 4 doors per side on each car. Many other systems have 4 doors on cars of this length. New York even has 4 doors on many 60-foot cars, compared to Metro's 75-foot cars. More doors mean the car can load and unload faster, reducing dwell times and keeping trains moving. That increases capacity as well, because the faster each train gets in and out of the busiest stations, the sooner another train can come in and the more trains Metro can run overall.
Why has Metro chosen to forego this opportunity? They say it's because of safety. According to Debo Ogunrinde in a presentation made to the Riders' Advisory Council, the engineers believe there's some safety benefit to transverse seating. Having seats in front of and behind some riders could keep them from sliding into other riders or flying toward the end of the railcar in the event of a crash.
The argument is similar for doors. Fewer doors mean stronger car walls. Of course, the wall strength wasn't the problem in the June 2009 Red Line crash, where the cars telescoped, but there could be crashes where it matters.
That's probably right. But is it worth sacrificing capacity? Consider that overcrowded platforms and escalators present their own safety hazards. And overcrowding is a certainty, while train crashes are hopefully avoidable.
And the more crowded Metro gets, the more people will drive. If they do, they're much less safe. After the crash, BeyondDC calculated that
driving Metro is 34 times safer per passenger mile than driving. Is the benefit of transverse seating 34 times greater than longitudinal?
Unfortunately, Metro's engineers don't have (or haven't been willing to share) any sort of quantifiable assessment of the safety value of transverse seating. It's just "some." But we can't tell if it's more of a safety benefit than the safety benefit of less crowded platforms and escalators. And we don't know if it's more of a safety benefit than the benefit of moving a few more people by rail instead of by car.
Mr. Ogunrinde said that Metro felt if there were anything it could do, no matter what, to improve safety, then they would be remiss in skipping it. But is that really true? Why haven't they designed the cars with seatbelts? What about four-point harnesses like on military jets? Airbags? Padded walls? If fewer doors is stronger, why are there still windows on the cars? Why don't the cars have foam peanuts filling their space, which riders can worm their way through? Maybe Metro should run every train at 10 mph?
When the FTA first announced its desire to regulate trainsit safety, I worried that this shortsighted tradeoff is exactly what would happen. Regulators whose sole responsibility is to prevent deaths or injuries in crashes would push transit systems to make changes that reduce the risk of crashes but increase other risks, like crowding and driving. That's what happened when the Federal Railroad Administraton over-regulated commuter and intercity railroads to make cars heavier and therefore slower, harming the overall value of rail passenger service.
FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff has assured everyone this is not what the FTA would do. He said,
We must remember that, despite WMATA's safety challenges, every Washington area commuter is safer traveling on WMATA than they are traveling on our highways. Thus, we cannot allow any degradation in WMATA's reliability and performance such that commuters opt to abandon Metro in favor of our already congested highways. We must also caution against any proposals that will reduce significantly WMATA's existing capacity, forcing more commuters onto our highways. Any actions or proposals pushing WMATA riders onto our highways simply will degrade safety and worsen congestion in the region.Hopefully he's right and the FTA will avoid following the FRA's path. But Metro is going ahead and doing the same thing all by themselves. I can understand the viewpoint of the railcar designers as well. If someone is hurt in a crash, people might ask why the railcars weren't designed differently. But if people are hurt in stations, the questions won't revolve around the railcars. And if people die out on the roads, nobody (except maybe us) asks why that person couldn't have been on transit, where they would have been safer.
I don't know if the current political climate allows Metro to design its railcars for the maximum capacity and with the overall transportation safety picture in mind instead of the narrow goal of safest railcars at any operational cost.
Certainly Congress keeps hammering at safety without really analyzing the big picture. Yesterday, a Senate committee approved this year's $150 million federal contribution, but Senator Barbara Mikulski attached conditions that all money be spent on safety and WMATA report quarterly on its progress on safety. The focus on safety is important, but the big picture is more complex than a sound bite.
The Board is supposed to take the broader view. Can they? Is it politically feasible to approve railcars with higher capacity, which will cut down on unsafe overcrowding and reduce reliance on dangerous cars even though some engineers say that transverse seating is safer to some, undetermined and vague degree?
Hopefully they will, asking staff to go back to the longitudinal seating as well as evaluating whether it would bring additional cost to build railcars with 4 doors. Riders in 2030 would be glad they did.
Update: What about articulated cars, where the doors between some cars are replaced with flexible sections creating, in effect, double-length cars or even making the whole train a car? Mr. Ogunrinde said they had rejected that for three reasons.
First, security agencies say it would make things more difficult, perhaps by letting a suspect roam through the train to evade capture. That seems a little dubious. Second, there aren't examples in the US of these working in heavy rail environments. However, there are plenty of examples around the world. But third, and the one that is somewhat persuasive to me, Metro's existing facilities aren't set up to be able to handle articulated cars, making it very costly to switch.
Tomorrow, the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council is holding a public meeting on the design of the 7000 series railcars, the next generation cars WMATA will be shortly purchasing.
Riders have often asked for more opportunities to talk directly with WMATA staff on important issues. The design of the 7000 series cars is one issue very important to riders.
Last time we discussed them, commenters raised questions and/or comments about the number of doors, transverse vs. longitudinal seating, carpeting, seat fabric and colors, armrests, 6-car train operation, losing the exterior brown stripe, the new digital displays, and more.
Therefore, we've set up this RAC meeting with a WMATA official working on the 7000 series cars. Anyone who attends will be welcome to listen to his presentation, give suggestions, and ask questions. The more participation we get, the more likely the RAC will be to organize similar events open to the public in the future, and the more likely we can get WMATA staff to attend.
The meeting is 6:30-8:30 pm in the committee room at WMATA headquarters, 600 5th Street NW. After going through the metal detectors, head left to the mini-lobby and it's the room on the right.
In addition, the Board of Trade/COG task force on WMATA governance is having a public input session in the morning to hear ideas from the public. I've criticized its composition and Penny was skeptical about its value, but like it or not, the businesspeople and former government officials picked for the panel are going to be formulating a report.
I'll be there to give my constructive suggestions. Hopefully they are open to them and not already set on removing elected officials from the Board. That meeting is 9-11:30 am. Sign up at 202-962-3220 or submit written comments.
If Governor Bob McDonnell does not relent on his withholding of Virginia's capital match within 24 hours, new 7000-series railcars for the Silver Line and to replace dangerous 1000-series cars will be delayed.
At today's WMATA Board meeting, General Manager Sarles broke with his usual very controlled and even demeanor and let some anger creep into his voice. He explained that WMATA needs to give a "Notice to Proceed" to Kawasaki by July 5 to get the cars in time for the opening of the Silver Line. That requires a "preapproval authority" from the FTA verifying that the funds are there, and that is being held up because of the uncertainty concerning Virginia's payments.
Virginia has to pay by July 1, but Sarles explained that the whole order will be postponed fairly significantly unless McDonnell at least reaffirms to FTA his commitment to pay the funds as promised.
Update: I got clarification on the issue of what delay we're talking about. WMATA has to give Kawasaki the go-ahead by July 5th under their contract. If they don't, Kawasaki could back out or renegotiate. Maybe they'd just give WMATA an extension, but maybe they wouldn't or WMATA would have to pay more money. It's a risk we shouldn't have to take.
Some members pointed out that there's definite debate about whether McDonnell is even legally allowed to withhold this money. As a condition of the federal appropriation, DC, Maryland, and Virginia had to certify that the funding from a "dedicated source" was set aside. McDonnell may be on shaky ground now threatening to take it away after telling Congress the money was there.
As expected, the Board also passed its budget including the very large fare hike that has been discussed previously. The only change was to amend the budget to reduce the cost of SmarTrip cards from $5 to $2.50. The differential between SmarTrip and cash will increase on bus and a new differential is being added on rail, making SmarTrips even more important. However, some lower income riders have a harder time affording the SmarTrip cards.
Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech will talk about transportation practices around the world, and I'll talk about the challenges and successes of implementing the best of these policies in DC.
The panel starts at 7; at 6:30, DC Bike Ambassador Daniel Hoagland will give a demonstration on how to change a bicycle tire. RSVP here. It's at the Goethe-Institut, 812 7th Street, NW.
Happy hour with CSG: There's no Greater Greater Washington happy hour scheduled in the immediate future, but CSG is having one next Wednesday, June 30th. Come meet Smart Growth leaders, Greater Greater Washington contributors, and fellow readers, commenters, and activists. 6-8 pm at Rocket Bar, 714 7th Street, NW.
Ask about the 7000-series railcars: The Riders' Advisory Council is starting a new program to organize public discussions with WMATA officials about various long term projects and issues. For the first one, the staff in charge of the new 7000-series railcars will be presenting on Thursday, July 1 pending final confirmation.
Come learn about the plans and pose questions of your own. The more involvement we get, the more informed everyone can be, and the more likely we can get more WMATA officials on other topics in the future. The exact details are still to be finalized, but most likely it will be 6:30-8:30 pm at WMATA HQ, 600 5th Street, NW.
Give your input on governance: The WMATA Governance Task Force may not have any rider or advocate participants, but we can still tell them what we think and encourage them to make good choices. They're holding a public meeting on July 1 from 9-11:30 am. Sign up to speak at 202-962-3220, or if you can't go in the morning, you can submit written comments.
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