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WMATA Series 7000 Car at West Hyattsville Station, 31 October 2015

WMATA Series 7000 Car at West Hyattsville Station, 31 October 2015

Elvert Barnes Photography/Wikipedia Commons

Metro To Update New Cars for Blind Riders, But Not Until Next Year

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allow Metro to make accessibility changes to their 7000 Series cars by May 2019. FTA had previously requested Metro complete modifications to its newest rail cars by the end of 2018. Blind passengers have had trouble navigating the 7000 cars and accidents this year have injured at least one rider.

Series 7000 Cars Lack Safety Features

FTA said earlier this year that public complaints and accidents indicate safety flaws in the initial 7000 series design. A January 2016 letter from FTA also raised concerns about the new cars.

The shiny new Metro cars have only rubber barriers on each end, so gaps appear when they’re hooked together. In May, a blind passenger attempted to board a train at Van Ness and fell off the platform. They mistook the gap between cars for an open door. Fellow riders stopped the train from leaving the station, preventing serious injury.

On previous design series, Metro cars have chains linked between them, providing tactile feedback to blind riders. New trains have chains at every second gap. The front and back of each car have a dark rubber barrier set back from the platform more than older cars. With reduced visibility on the barriers and sparse chain placement, there is a higher risk to visually impaired riders.

Metro Is Installing Temporary Safety Upgrades to Series 7000 Cars

To increase safety temporarily, Metro has added a verbal announcement to assist disabled riders: “This is a 7000 series train.” In theory, blind passengers will be extra cautious once they realize they’re riding one. But, riders might not know before they attempt to board such a train for the first time. Those PA announcements aren’t always loud enough to hear during rush hour on a crowded platform. Metro has also added orange and white reflective tape to the rubber barriers between cars.

The agency has promised FTA it won’t introduce more 7000 series cars it installs chains on them. Kawasaki has been delivering more of the model and Metro plans to add them to the fleet so the oldest models in service can be put out to pasture.

FTA Will Work with Partner to Confirm WMATA Compliance

FTA has conducted safety oversight of Metro since October 2015 and plans to cede that authority by April 2019. The Metro safety improvements are now due one month later, during the transition of authority to the Metrorail Safety Commission (MSC). MSC staff will likely be made familiar with WMATA’s safety improvements during the preceding transition period, and the multi-state body will hopefully be ready to confirm in May that Metro did what it promised.

With today’s deadline extension, Metro has agreed to provide monthly updated to FTA on project progress. The FTA may withhold federal funding to WMATA if the safety upgrades aren’t delivered by May 31, 2019.

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