Metro’s 8000-series cars are a boon for Maryland, transit agency

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HAGERSTOWN, Md. — As winds blew 35,000-pound concrete panels around the future Hitachi Rail assembly line in western Maryland on Tuesday, gusts nearly toppled a large red Japanese daruma doll meant to signify good luck.

Metro chief executive Randy Clarke jumped from the crowd of dignitaries seated at the construction site outside Hagerstown to stop the doll’s runaway cart from tipping over, saving the fierce-faced symbol of perseverance from a fall.

“We need good luck,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (right) later said after helping fill in the doll’s left eye with a black pen.

“Yes, we do,” Clarke said. When the factory opens in the first quarter of 2024, the other eye will be filled in, completing the token tradition, company officials said.

Hogan joined state and local leaders, Metro officials and Hitachi executives in marking the company’s $70 million investment in a railcar assembly line that, at full capacity, will be able to build 20 railcars. each month. As Metro recovers from a pandemic-era ridership slump and wheel issues that put its new trains out of service, the transit agency is turning to its eighth generation of railcars as its older models nearing the end of their lifespan.

Metro’s next rail cars will be built at a new $70 million plant in Maryland

Metro has ordered 256 Series 8000 cars for an average of $2.15 million each, with an option to purchase up to 800. The first cars are expected to roll off the assembly line and be handed over to Metro in 2025.

Metro’s contract with Hitachi, which could total $2.2 billion if all 800 cars are purchased, includes a clause requiring the cars to be assembled in the mid-Atlantic region. Hitachi officials said they plan to continue manufacturing wagons at the Maryland site after Metro’s contract ends.

Hitachi officials said the 300,000-square-foot facility about 70 miles northwest of Washington will be its main rail car plant in North America. The site will have up to 460 employees working directly for Hitachi as part of a broader economic development in the region.

“The potential for job creation and the associated economic benefits are game-changing for this region and for the state as a whole,” Hogan said. “Hitachi’s success is truly Maryland’s success.”

The 41-acre site near cornfields and a FedEx distribution center has enough open space for an 800-yard test track. Insulated concrete walls stand halfway around what will be a cavernous workspace that will have raised rails, allowing workers to easily reach under cars.

Tuesday’s event came at a low point for a transit agency struggling with safety and financial issues amid a pandemic that has cut ridership in half. Clarke said the new cars will be an integral part of the future of the rail system, which will see a rebound in passenger numbers as the region and the country continue to rely on public transit.

“I am convinced that the future is bright,” he said. “We are becoming more and more transit-oriented. We are building closer to train stations and bus stations. We are reducing parking.

While the future of commuting in Washington may no longer involve trekking five days a week to a downtown federal office building, Clarke said Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are becoming increasingly crowded in system, while demand for weekend service is recovering rapidly.

Tensions simmer as subway ridership spikes during train shortage

Crowded trains have been a source of tension in recent days with the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, the rail system’s regulatory agency, limiting the number of 7000-series trains it can operate. Subway board members have expressed frustration over a year-long car shortage that transit officials say has exacerbated budget shortfalls.

Clarke said Tuesday that Metro was working to restore riders’ confidence in the system amid long waits for trains.

“I ask people to have a little patience with us,” he said.

As Metro slowly puts the 7000 series trains back into the system, it is also preparing for their successor.

Aluminum shells for the 8000-series cars will be shipped from Italy to the Maryland plant and then fitted with components sourced from across the country and around the world, company officials said.

New cars will have heated floors, Wi-Fi service, phone charging ports, additional grab straps for passengers standing near the doors, easily changeable digital maps that can alert passengers to system problems, and more cameras inside and out to improve safety and help train operators. The cars will also be more crash-resistant than the 1980s models they will replace, transit officials said.

The cars from Metro’s first order are expected to replace its 2000 and 3000 series cars, the oldest models in the system. The wagons have a lifespan of approximately 40 years. It will be Metro’s eighth generation of railcars since the transit system opened 46 years ago.

Designed to match the all-silver 7000 Series, the 8000 Series cars will have similar wide bench seats and aisles, as well as upgrades including improved braking and increased ventilation and filtration systems to combat future pandemics, in addition to ordinary colds and flu. , Metro officials said.

Each car can seat about 68 passengers. Hitachi Rail said the cars will be quieter and more energy efficient than previous Metro models.

Metro’s next generation of railcars has been overshadowed by the fate of its 7000-series cars, which make up 60% of its fleet. This series, built by Kawasaki Rail between 2014 and 2020, was suspended more than a year ago by the safety commission.

Metro chooses Hitachi Rail to build its next-generation rail car

While investigating a Blue Line derailment that occurred in October 2021, the National Transportation Safety Board discovered a defect in some railcars that pulls wheels away from their axles, creating instability. The cause of the slowly progressing defect has not been determined, although investigators say several factors are likely involved. The safety commission has authorized Metro to operate up to 160 cars per day in the series under conditions that include regular wheel throws.

Metro anticipates that the series wheels will be released indefinitely. The transit agency is testing automated wayside inspection systems that officials hope will be able to check wheels instantly and regularly, and eventually allow the 748 cars to be reinstated.

The year-long suspension continues to hamper the transit system as Metro struggles to find enough trains. The agency said this month that it would not be able to simultaneously reopen six stations next week that were temporarily closed for a construction project and also open the 11 Silver Line extension, 5 miles this year with no more trains.

Fallout grows over Metro train shortage amid safety investigation

Metro’s long search for an 8000-series manufacturer began in late 2018 and was marked by protests from lobby groups, overtures from a Chinese rail manufacturer, and the passing of a federal law that limited partners with whom the transit agency could associate.

In choosing Hitachi, Metro is also turning to a former partner: three of its first four models were built by Breda, a company later sold to Hitachi Rail, a division of Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd. Hitachi Rail has US headquarters in Pittsburgh and holds contracts to build a new rail system in Honolulu and railcars for mass transit systems in Miami and Baltimore.

Strolling by an orange Hitachi earth-moving machine and a towering crane, Joe Pozza, president of Hitachi Rail North America, said he hopes increased transit funding for the project last year’s federal infrastructure bill will help occupy the Washington County site in the future. .

“We’re looking to put down roots here pretty quickly and be successful together,” Pozza said.

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