How we get new rail cars ready for service


As most Gold and Expo Line riders know, trains have been rather crowded lately. In the past three months, new rail extensions have opened to Azusa and Santa Monica, bringing more riders on board. But Metro’s fleet of light rail vehicles is still stretched thin. For some background on why we don’t have all the rail cars we need just yet, see this previous post.

Through the opening of Expo, Metro has received a total of 31 new rail cars. Most of the new cars are now in service, split between the Gold and Expo lines and allowing for three-car trains on some peak hour trips. But most of the trips are still two-car only — and will remain so until more rail cars become available.

And they will become available. Metro receives a new rail car roughly every week. However, you won’t see the new rail cars dropped into service right away. Each has to first be put through a rigorous testing process.

New rail cars are delivered via truck.

New rail cars are delivered via truck.

When new rail cars are delivered from the final assembly site in Palmdale, a number of tests are conducted to ensure that nothing happened to them while they were in transit — that no bits were jostled loose or dinged while on the road.

Part of the testing involves the 1,000-mile burn-in. Burn-in is code for putting a new rail car through its paces, a stress test, if you will, so staff can catch and address any issues before the car is placed in service. New trains must run a minimum of 1,000 miles of pre-revenue service before getting to meet the public.

As for the rest of the process, it involves a series of tests that check the function of every system on board, i.e. the computer programming, the signal and electrical connections, the bells and whistles, even things like air conditioning. Some tests are performed within the rail yard — so when you see the new cars in the rail yard, they’re not just sitting there for no reason. Other tests must be performed on the line, which is why you may encounter test trains occasionally during midday or if you happen to travel in the wee hours of the night.

Due to the number of complex systems that must be tested, the entire process normally takes about one week. However, it may take longer depending on availability of rail yard resources — the yard also needs to handle trains currently in service — and availability of the line. Staff makes every effort not to impact service hours with test trains, which limits the amount of time they have each day to complete the 1,000-mile burn-in.

The reason for all of these tests, of course, is to make sure the new rail cars are safe and reliable before passengers climb on board.ExpoOpen-11

So until these new cars become available, expect some extra crowding on Gold and Expo, particularly during peak hours. Metro Rail Operations staff is always monitoring ridership to make sure the situation doesn’t become unsafe. And we’ll keep making announcements about moving to the center of the train and not blocking doors — little things that make traveling with a lot of people a little easier.

But please also keep in mind that new rail cars aren’t a magical fix. They don’t automatically mean every train will suddenly be longer. There are various reasons why not every rail car is placed into service, such as regular maintenance. And while Metro will try to add capacity to its system, we also want the mass in mass transit to happen. We’re not trying to pack people in like sardines, but passengers standing? Might just be the new normal.

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27 replies

  1. What about the Blue Line? During the evening commute I see people packed like sardines headed towards Long Beach.

    • Hi Mary,

      The Blue Line normally runs 3-car trains, which is the current capacity, to accommodate ridership.

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

  2. The people who meet up with their van pool at the Norwalk Station should park at the far end of the parking lot. Sunday night I saw 23 Metro vans. With 4 cars or more for each van that’s close to 100 spaces. Those who ride the Green Line need the closer parking spots!

  3. Don’t mind standing. Do mind getting intimate with my fellow passengers without wanting to. However, I still, prefer that over sitting in my car on the 210 going nowhere. You all are doing a very good job rolling these extensions out!

  4. First, thank you for making strides in bringing a truly regional mass transit system to LA County. I’m curious about why it took three years for Metro to sign a new contract with the new car manufacturer.

    • It took about 2 1/4 years. The reason: the procurement process had to start again from scratch. The bids need to be out on the street for a certain amount of time in order to get good responses from potential contractors and then it takes staff time to analyze the bids to determine which firm to recommend.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. Thanks Steve, I appreciate the response! However, 2.25 years sounds like a very long time, especially when most of the grunt work had already been completed because of the first contract negotiations. Maybe I’m oversimplifying it. In the future, does Metro have plans to streamline the process, or is this sort of timeline part of the messy bureaucracy that Metro deals with?

  6. I’ve read that these new rail cars have been “conditionally accepted” from the manufacturer. What exactly does that mean?

    • Per APTA guidelines…

      Conditional Acceptance: The status granted to a completely assembled LRV, located at the Agency or its vehicle acceptance facility, that has successfully completed tests and is ready to run in revenue service except for minor Defects that require corrective action but that will not materially affect revenue service operations. Conditional Acceptance requires that all documentation for the LRV, including the Car History Book, Technical Specifications, has been delivered to and accepted by the Agency.

      Hope that helps!

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

  7. Once the full delivery of cars has been tested and put in service, when will we know the new expected frequency times of the Expo line? I use it to get to Culver City and this last week with the extension opening, the rush hour cars going from 7th/Metro went from moderately full to standing room only. I’m happy the Expo Line is being embraced, but I’d love to know when I can (hope) that will be somewhat alleviated.

    • Hi John,

      The frequency of trains also depends on coordination with city department of transportation on traffic signals. Currently there is no update on that, and we’ll surely update when we have news.

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

  8. It is so frustrating to read yet another one of Ms. Chen’s breezy and shameless white-washings of Metro’s administrative shortcomings and its continuing failures to provide adequate service to its passengers–including those who ride Metro’s various light (and heavy) rail lines.

    Ms. Chen personally may not care about having to stand throughout an extended trip on Metro Rail, but some of us who are twice her age intensely dislike having to balance ourselves on our tired legs while sharing the aisles and entrance/exit spaces of swaying and jerking streetcars (often lacking reliable A/C) with dozens (sometimes scores) of our fellow passengers, not to with mention their bicycles, wheelchairs, shopping bags and personal shopping carts, baby carriages, suitcases, etc.

    To add insult to injury, some train drivers seem to delight in complaining over the PA system about how long it can take us to fight our way through the clutter in time to get through the exit at our station before the driver slams the doors shut.

    Strangely, Ms. Chen confines her discussion of the lack of sufficient Metro train cars to the Expo and Gold Lines–ignoring the equally problematic lack of functioning cars on the Blue Line that began many months ago.

    Is Ms. Chen unaware that for at least the last several months, the Blue Line often has been operating only two-car trains as well, even during periods of heavy passenger usage. I suggest that she try jamming herself into a two-car Blue Line train originating at 7th Street Station in late afternoon or early evening on a Saturday.

    I personally have been advised by drivers of Blue-Line trains at the 7th-Street Station that this frequent reduction in Metro’s Blue-Line trains to only two cars often has been necessitated by (a) insufficient acquisition of new cars for the Blue Line, and/or (b) a continuing (growing?) backlog in routine maintenance for those cars. Presumably, the train drivers on the Blue Line would be more likely to be aware of the true situation in such matters than is Ms. Chen.

    Is Ms. Chen’s blythe overlooking of such problems with the Blue Line just another example of ignorance among Metro staff about the true (inadequate) state of service on the Blue Line, or does it rather reveal a studied lack of concern by Metro for its most transit-dependent, lower-income passengers, those in the inner city?

    Has Metro considered that the significant continuing decline in passengers on the Blue Line over the past couple of years just might be due to continuing inadequate service on this route, with no hope of real improvement? How does Metro expect to obtain enough votes to pass yet another sale-tax increase this fall, given such an inadequate level of service on its oldest rail line?

    • maybe you should visit some other countries and ride their subways… you won’t complaint about standing anymore.

      • Sure. I’m 16. I’ve been on Hong Kong’s top notch system. And In sure you weren’t told to allow elderly, disabled, and pregnant passengers sit.

        And burbox, I think you aren’t aware of the problem. We’re talking about a company who doesn’t check everything during 12-5 AM. That is the perfect time to give the new trains their hours. They couodnt even maintain time on the gold line stations (LEDs are days to months old on time).

  9. I wish that the expo line went to Union station without transferring. Also do the light rail cars have a way to move from one to the other like BART has?

  10. Anna, are their any firm plans to expand the car order past the current 62 on order? I don’t recall seeing how many are on order for the Crenshaw/LAX line, and certainly the oldest Blue Line P865 cars need to be refurbished or replaced.

    Numbers please!

    • Hi Mike,

      Most recent update:

      The base order of 78 rail cars was augmented after Metro exercised an option to purchase an additional 97 vehicles for a total cost of $739 million. Metro has two more options pending for an additional 60 rail vehicles. All cars in the base order of 78 are destined for the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa and the Metro Expo Line Phase II extension to Santa Monica that are currently under construction with expected completion by summer 2016. The option cars will be used on the Metro Crenshaw/LAX Transit Line and the Metro Blue Line.

      Per the Blue Line Upgrades page:

      Refurbish 52 rail cars
      Purchase 78 new rail cars

      Hope that helps.

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

      • Anna: Did you say that the base order of 78 cars are expected to be completed by the end of summer 2016? That doesn’t add up. Based on the current delivery rate, the full delivery will take 47 more weeks to complete, which is sometime in spring 2017.

    • Thank you for your detailed response!

      Purely my speculation, but based on the known delivery rate new P3010s should start appearing on the Blue Line around late 2Q 2017. We’ll see ….

  11. “Metro Rail Operations staff is always monitoring ridership”

    Must be remotely, then. I’d say a huge shortcoming in Metro’s service is having staff on hand at stations to help people with TAP questions or just look after the stations. MORE STAFF AT STATIONS, PLEASE!

  12. why does Metro has to operate train cars in pairs that operates by itself. I visited other country, you can walk from first car all the way to last car. wouldn’t it be cheaper to do the same here, so we can buy more trains??!!

    • Its not like that in all countries — for example, the metro in Kuala Lumpur is only 2 trains long, usually late, and overcrowded.

  13. And even then, all that testing is not perfect. The newfangled screens aboard the new Kinkisharyo cars, for example. A week ago last Sunday, they weren’t working on the one I rode.

  14. >We’re not trying to pack people in like sardines

    While that may be true, the end result is that, at least during peak times, you are. My wife was so excited when the line opened up toward Santa Monica because she could ride it to work. In the short time it has been open, she has already had to let trains go at least twice because there wasn’t room to get on at the La Cienega station because both cars were too full, and when the doors opened, there weren’t any spots to fill in. And heaven forbid there is more than one person with a bike, in that case you may have the problem of not being able to get off at your stop either because there is no clear direction to bicyclists as to where to enter with their bikes and where to put them to keep entry/exit areas clear. Not to mention having anyone to enforce those guidelines.

    Speaking of enforcement, it’s nice to see the sheriff paroling and checking people’s passes, but the several times I have seen them catch someone without a valid card, they only say “I could give you a ticket you know” and then leave. Why is Metro wasting money on this? If you are really concerned about free riders, get some non-jumpable turnstyles. The labor hours would be better spent getting a bunch of minimum wage “helpers” to answer questions, guide bicycle riders into the right spots on trains, and help encourage people to fill in toward the center of the car when the entrances get packed.

    While it’s great that Metro has intentions and plans, I think it is safe to say that people are judging them more by actual conditions than their intent.

    I chided myself for cynically thinking that I shouldn’t trust the relief I felt when the expo line extension opened and we had three cars on all the trains. I hoped it wasn’t the case, but I told myself that it was probably just to show off for the media and politicians on opening weekend, a clever bait and switch to show that they had the capacity to make it work. About three days later all the extra cars disappeared. It’s rare that I have been so disappointed to be right as I was when that happened. And now, whether they like it or planned for it or not, people are, in fact, missing trains because people are packed in like sardines.

    • This week in particular I’ve noticed insane crowding during rush hour after work. I don’t mind standing at all, but this is beyond safe. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs turn away because there is just no way to squeeze in. Many people, myself included, have no way to grab a pole to maintain balance- leaving us at the mercy of the stop and go. And frankly, as a female I am uncomfortable being pressed up against strange men whose faces I can’t even see because of incidents riding buses in the past. What I have NOT seen are Metro Ops people taking this into account. Im sure theyre running trains beyond allowed capacity at this point, and no one is around to do anything about it. I’ve been a regular expo rider for years and am sad this is peoples experience with transit in L.A. I do think it will push people away from riding, which while lightening the crowds is definitely not what we should be doing.

  15. “Metro signed a deal with the firm Kinkisharyo in April 2012 for an initial order of 78 light rail vehicles to be delivered by early 2017.”
    “Through the opening of Expo, Metro has received a total of 31 new rail cars.”

    47 more cars to go by early 2017 which is 6 to 9 months away. ” Early 2017″ is so vague. I’m sure the contract states a specific date or an event or day, i.e., by the end of the 1st or 2nd quarter that the vehicles has to be delivered. Will Kinkisharyo be able to meet the deadline? Kinkisharyo will have to deliver 3.4 cars a month to meet the “early 2017” or by the end of the first quarter.. March 31, 2017.

  16. Anna – there has been talk on the transit coalition board that the new cars are significantly slower than the old ones. Given there are still bugs that need to be worked out after testing (I’ve heard of announcements not working, ect) and operators are new to these trains, I figured this was just a kink that needed to be worked out and that after some time in service they will run just as fast as older trains. Do you have any info on this?