The long-absent silver trains appeared as an apparition on Thursday, emerging from subway tunnels to surprise passengers waiting at green and yellow line stations.
The return of the 7000 series metro trains increases the optimism of the users
On Thursday afternoon, Charles Preston’s cheeks curled into a smile his black medical mask couldn’t cover as he descended the stairs of the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station. He quickly boarded one of six 7000 series trains which returned to service for the first time this year.
“It’s bigger and it’s cleaner and it’s newer and there’s more fresh air,” said Preston, 63. “It’s cooler.”
Suspended metro trains will return Thursday amid eight-month shortage
The sleek, modern trains have been a source of optimism for riders who have grown weary of double-digit wait times amid the suspension of the series, which accounts for 60% of Metro’s fleet. Many runners saw their reappearance on Thursday as a harbinger of normal service to come, even if that reality remains at least weeks away.
Metrorail’s regulatory agency has allowed it to bring back eight trains, or 64 cars, while the other 684 cars remain on the ground until Metro can develop an automated system capable of performing daily wheel measurements for each car in service. Metro has installed machines for this purpose, but further testing and configuration of this system is required, the agency said.
Transit officials say the eventual return of the 7000 series and the accompanying reduction in wait times is an important step to boost ridership as Metro faces a pandemic-induced revenue shortfall from next summer.
The trains that Metro has been allowed to bring back under a manual inspection plan will serve as reinforcements during the shortage. On Thursday, Metro ran 52 older-model trains in addition to its latest run, agency spokesman Ian Jannetta said.
Until the full fleet is restored, service levels are unlikely to reach what passengers were used to before the pandemic, when trains arrived every three to six minutes, on average, and punctuality was around 90%.
Metro will restore some 7000 series trains during the summer
“Obviously they’re much nicer trains, so that’s good,” said Logan Circle resident Matthew Martin, 29, as he rode a 7000-series train on the Yellow Line on Thursday. “But I would say the priority we hear about and talk about the most is reducing wait times.”
Lauren Elliott, 28, left Salt Lake City for DC a few weeks before the 7000 series trains were withdrawn. Driving one of the trains on Thursday, Elliott said their absence caused a significant increase in the time she spends to move.
“It looks newer and cleaner,” she said. “But I feel comfortable in both. It takes you from point A to point B.”
The return trains were a welcome stop for the transit agency and riders. The sight created a buzz that spread to social media.
“The 7Ks are back”, Metro tweeted just before 7 a.m., the agency released a video message from acting chief executive Andy Off, who boarded one of the trains at Huntington station on his way to work.
“Super excited for today,” said Off. “It was a ton of work to get us here. We truly appreciate the patience of our customers and the hard work of our front line employees who have gone to great lengths to get us to this point. Take a safe ride.
The 7Ks are back, and interim GM/CEO Andy Off heads to the office for one of the first.
A big thank you to all Metro staff who helped get the 7Ks back into service.
— Subway (@wmata) June 16, 2022
Riders and watchers marked the moment with a mix of heartfelt excitement, mild anxiety and hollow praise.
“I’M ON A 7000 SERIES TRAIN REPEAT I’M ON A 7000 SERIES TRAIN IS THE END IN SIGHT,” tweeted user @Brontosaurus_DC.
I’M ON A 7000 SERIES TRAIN REPEAT I’M ON A 7000 SERIES TRAIN IS THE END IN SIGHT
— Bronte (@Brontosaurus_DC) June 16, 2022
“Well, nothing’s happening here,” CQ Now and Roll Call Washington correspondent Niels Lesniewski tweeted on another.
“May the odds always be in your favor,” replied Catherine Watsona CBS News reporter at the White House.
“I just hope the wheels on these 7000 series trains don’t fall off!” Twitter user @VTrduong replied both.
The suspension of the 7000 series trains came after the National Transportation Safety Board investigated a Blue Line derailment on October 12 and found that the model’s wheels had moved outward from their axles in nearly 50 cases dating back to 2017. The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, an agency created by Congress to oversee Metrorail’s safety, withdrew the series five days later. The fault, which does not affect all cars, progresses slowly and can be detected before it becomes a safety risk. The commission allowed Metro to return the trains to service if it could demonstrate a way to do so safely.
Elected officials and many runners expected the problem to be resolved quickly, but the origin of the fault remains unknown.
In December, the commission let Metro return the series to service under a plan that included daily wheel measurements and inspections. Reintegration was short-lived; when the commission found that Metro had deviated from its inspection plan, it imposed the suspension again.
Metro officials were given permission in May to try again using more precise digital measurements, leading to the return of trains on Thursday.
The trains, which are slightly larger than Metro’s previous six models, attracted looks and comments on Thursday. It was the first time Metro had operated eight-car trains – up from six – during the shortage, and passengers often piled into the cars with the most passengers, apparently unprepared for the extra space offered by the cars additional.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have eight cars,” a train operator announced at one point on the yellow line. “We have eight cars. You can use all doors.
Juanita Torrence, a longtime Subway user who volunteers for the National Museum of American History, said she appreciated the cleanliness of the 7000 series trains. She was happy with the return of the series’ digital screens and to hear the quiet, automated voice announce the next station – features missing from previous train models.
The ride filled her with cautious optimism that the train shortage would soon end.
“It adds a sense of normalcy to life,” Torrence, 77, said. “I’m just really happy to see the new trains coming back, and hopefully all the issues will be resolved.”