A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority contractor has confirmed that some homes located over a section of the Green Line are vibrating more than they should but the cause of the vibration is unknown, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said last week.
“WMATA continues to analyze track conditions, car design and car maintenance to identify the cause or causes for the elevated readings,” Wiedefeld said, but a report on the investigation of vibrating homes will not be available until 2018.
Ward 4 D.C. Council member Brandon Todd said residents in Northwest D.C. have been complaining to him about vibrations and damage to their homes for more than a year.
“I remain extremely concerned that progress on this matter has been unusually slow, given the significance of the impacts described by residents,” Todd said last month. “They report intense shaking of the vibration of their homes, which is causing cracks in the wall and other property damage. Similar reports have also occurred in other neighborhoods throughout the district.”
D.C. resident Billye Jean Dent Armstrong said she requested that Metro contractors test her home for vibrations several times over the last year without any success, though WMATA performed such tests in previous years, including during the years when the Green Line was under construction.
“It concerns me, but I’m not surprised,” said Armstrong of the report release date, later adding that she “put in [her] name several times, that ‘you can come in my house,’ but they never did.”
Armstrong – who lives in a rowhouse on the 3800 block of New Hampshire Avenue – claims that she can feel the vibrations and that they are damaging her home.
“It’s not constant though,” Armstrong said. “Big vibrations – it’s just every so often.”
Armstrong heard other area residents complain at a community meeting in December that dishes were shaking in their homes when Metro trains traveled nearby. She observed her concrete steps separating from her front walkway, forming a gap roughly an inch wide which is now filled with weeds she must use chemicals to kill.
The period during which Armstrong noted the crack grew roughly coincides with the point when Metro added 7000 series trains to the system.
Wiedefeld said Dec. 15 that when contractor Wilson Ihrig – who Metro hired following D.C. residents’ complaints of shaking homes – took measurements of vibrations in residences in July and in August, some vibration was above acceptable levels. Old and new trains alike caused the vibrations that failed to meet the standard.
Federal Transit Administration Metro safety oversight personnel, however, said they believed that the new 7000 series trains might have been the source of the issue.
Federal Transit Administration inspectors observed damage to parts of the rail fasteners, which hold the rails in place, near Petworth Station, according to a report the FTA posted online in March.
Todd mentioned this FTA concern to Wiedefeld in a June 30 letter and asked him to see that employees repaired the broken rail parts.
“We can confirm that the broken fasteners near our Georgia Ave-Petworth station that were cited in the March 2017 report from the Federal Transit Administration have been replaced,” Wiedefeld said July 17.
The inspector had said FTA was investigating the tracks near Petworth Station on the Green Line, following the complaints of the D.C. residents about their homes vibrating.
Those were the same complaints Todd discussed in his November letter to Wiedefeld.
FTA inspectors said in the area of inspection, several of the fastener parts called “e-Clips” appeared brand new yet had “fresh” breaks. The fasteners help prevent trains from derailing by holding the rails in place.
The inspector suggested the 7000 series railcars, which are heavier than the previous series of Metro’s fleet, could be damaging the tracks.
"FWSO observed that track 1 had recent maintenance completed to replace numerous broken e-Clips,” according to a December 2016 report, which FTA posted in March. “However, even some of the recently replaced e-Clips had already snapped."
FTA officials said in March the inspectors would not be available for interview.
Wiedefeld said earlier this month the consultants didn’t find evidence that trains even played a role in the vibrations.
“Investigation of the trains with elevated readings did not detect problems with any of the railcars,” Wiedefeld said. “Inspection of the track conditions in the testing area also did not identify anything that could contribute to the elevated readings.”
Metro employees single-tracked trains several times between December 2016 and September 2017 to replace broken rail fasteners.
Wiedefeld said in April Metro hadn’t been replacing fasteners more often, but that it may have seemed that way due to the more frequent single-tracking of trains to replace them.
“Nothing more than previously,” Wiedefeld said in April, regarding frequency of rail fastener breakage. “I think we are more aggressively maintaining the system.”