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Metro aims for new generation of railcars in 2024

The transit authority has its sights trained on a new model

A 7000-series Metro train
David Tran Photo/Shutterstock

Metro trains may look a little more high-tech in the not-so-distant future and include outlets for charging cell phones, more screens for digital advertising and maps, and better lighting.

That’s because the transit authority is searching for companies that could design, build, and deliver its next model of railcars, the 8000-series, starting in 2024. This week, Metro put out a solicitation for the new series, which the authority’s general manager Paul Wiedefeld says will “build upon” the 7000-series trains currently chugging through tunnels across the area.

According to a release from Metro, “the 8000-series car design will incorporate the most advanced safety technology available.” It will also feature additional handles, signage for people with disabilities, and a system for remote PA announcements, among other aspects. Responses to the solicitation are due on Jan. 31, with pre-bid conference slated for Oct. 9.

The transit authority plans to order between 256 and 800 of the future railcars and retire its 2000- and 3000-series fleets, whose railcars can operate for up to 40 years. Buying more of the new railcars would make it possible for Metro to run a full fleet of eight-car trains, which is the system’s maximum length, offer more frequent service during rush hours, and remove the 6000-series cars from service earlier than planned, instead of overhauling them midlife.

A concept rendering of the 8000-series railcar

Today, the 7000-series cars, which launched in 2015, constitute more than half of all trains in service, Metro says. They can travel about 156,000 miles on average before experiencing mechanical issues. (All 1000- and 4000-series cars, and most 5000-series cars, are offline.)

Metro recently discovered faulty wiring on the 7000-series railcars that could hinder their reliability in the long term and will need to be replaced over the coming year. This summer, federal regulators also ordered Metro to replace the rubber barriers between those railcars with chain barriers after finding that the former were a safety risk to visually impaired riders.

With roughly 750 total 7000-series cars anticipated to be in service in 2019, Metro will have spent $2 billion on that model. The cars are being rotated out of service for the wire repairs.

As for the bill for the 8000-series railcars, Metro’s solicitation notes that it would like to see “alternative pricing models” that could translate to cost savings, incentives for accelerated production, longer lifecycles, price breaks based on scale, and timely spare-part deliveries.

“The overall cost of this project is very important to WMATA [the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority],” the solicitation explains. “We expect a final product that will meet or exceed the stated technical requirements and serve the needs of our regional customers.”

In a statement, Wiedefeld says the procurement is possible thanks to a dedicated capital funding source that the District, Maryland, and Virginia agreed to provide earlier this year. The three jurisdictions will contribute $500 million a year to improve safety and reliability.