NTSB issues subway safety alert, defective wheel-to-wheel

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a safety alert to subway systems and commuter railways on Wednesday over an axle problem that led to a derailment in the nation’s capital, saying the fault is difficult to detect and potentially devastating.

The investigative agency released a preliminary report of its ongoing investigation into the Oct. 12 crash involving the Washington subway system that ruled out other factors such as speed.

The NTSB said the defect in the wagon’s wheel and axle assembly is “not readily identifiable” with routine visual inspection, and urged transportation agencies to comply with a recent Federal directive. Transit Administration to perform inspections for misaligned wheels – something NTSB President Jennifer Jennifer Homendy urged at the start of the investigation. The NTSB has broadened its alert to include the commuter train, which is not fully covered by the FTA order.

Several transit and rail agencies have said they have carried out checks and the issue does not appear to be with them, but the NTSB has stressed the need for vigilance.

“A derailment due to the movement of the wheels could be catastrophic,” according to the safety alert.

Most of Washington’s metro fleet has been suspended from service since mid-October after a train car slipped through tracks on the Blue Line near Arlington National Cemetery. According to Wednesday’s NTSB report, the car derailed and then reconnected on its own to the rails twice during that trip, before derailing a third time. Some passengers were trapped in a tunnel in a dark wagon and had to be evacuated on foot.

As a result of this incident, the NTSB discovered chronic issues in which the wheels of Metro’s 7000 series line, its new wagon, extended too far over the axles, allowing the cart to slip off the tracks. The problem had been apparent to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority since 2017, but neither the NTSB nor the WMATA board had been notified. At the scene of the derailment, the NTSB said the top speed allowed was 59 miles per hour. Preliminary data from an on-board event recorder showed the train speed to be slower than about 33 mph.

“The NTSB is concerned that the 7200 car operated with an axle that did not meet spec for an indefinite period of time because the car derailed three times on the day of the accident … with no noticeable indication of the problem to alert the train operator. ”said the alert. “The derailment probably occurred due to the movement of the wheel on its axle, which should never happen.”

The Washington Metro is expected to operate a greatly reduced service at least until the end of the year.

“Safety alert identifies the problem of wheelset movement on mass transit cars and commuter railways as a serious problem,” said Robert Hall, director of the NTSB’s office responsible for railroad investigations. of iron, pipelines and hazardous materials. “As we continue to investigate this derailment, it is imperative that the identified safety issues be addressed immediately to protect the American public who travel on our transit system on a daily basis. ”

The agency said its investigation would examine whether the defective axles were the result of a design flaw or an assembly error, assess the response of rail traffic controllers and attempt to identify if there are any similar problems in other types of wagons.

The safety concerns come as transit agencies scramble to win back passengers and build expanded transportation routes under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law after a crushing year of ridership drained by due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Washington, overall passenger numbers remain at about 30% of pre-pandemic levels, but are expected to increase as offices reopen and tourism resumes.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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