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.
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.
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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