The subway’s 7000 series suspended trains begin to return on Thursday

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Metro announced Wednesday that it has completed preparations to return eight of its suspended trains to passenger service over the next few days, with the first scheduled to appear on the Green and Yellow Lines on Thursday.

The development came on the same day that a coalition of environmental groups filed an ethics complaint against a Metro board member who they say has ties to the fossil fuel industry.

The 7000-series trains are Metro’s newest and most advanced model, but they’ve been out of service since mid-October, when a federal derailment investigation revealed a defect that could cause wheels to shift on their axles. Metrorail’s oversight agency has retired all 748 series cars, which make up 60% of Metro’s fleet.

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Their absence has created an eight-month train shortage that has frustrated passengers with long waits on the country’s third-largest transit system. The arrival of a small number of trains, while having little effect on short-term wait times, is the first important step towards improving service as the transit agency seeks to attract users more than two years after the start of the pandemic.

Return trains will first appear on the Green and Yellow Lines, transit officials said, before being rolled out to the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines in July to help reduce waits to 15 minutes.

While the eight trains could help ease congestion slowly, Metro is at least several weeks away from restoring its entire fleet, a move that would allow the rail system to run to pre-pandemic service levels.

Metro received approval in May to return 64 cars – capable of forming eight trains – to service under a plan that requires daily wheel inspections. The agency has spent weeks training inspectors on the screening process, while continuing to work toward an automated inspection system that it hopes will persuade regulators to reinstate all cars.

The senses. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) released a joint statement Wednesday night, saying the trains’ return was “good news.” They urged Metro’s interim chief executive Andy Off to continue working to instill a stronger safety culture at the transit agency, which continues to work through multiple recent safety breaches.

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Also on Wednesday, the Metro Electric Bus Coalition — made up of groups including Greenpeace USA, several Sierra Club chapters and the Union of Concerned Scientists — said in an ethics complaint that Metro board member Matthew F. Letourneau , should have recused himself last year when the board voted unanimously to convert Metro’s bus fleet to zero emissions by 2045. In a 15 page memothe coalition argued that Letourneau violated Metro’s ethics policy for multiple reasons.

“We allege he represents the interests of the fossil fuel industry and the oil and gas industry and does not represent the public interest,” said Elliott Negin of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Letourneau is general director Communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, where he is the chamber’s spokesperson on energy and environmental issues. The institute says it supports renewable an energy that supports low- or zero-emission electric power, but also believes more the production of gas and oil should be a “national priority.” This too advocates for the relaxation of pipeline and drilling permit processes on federal lands.

Letourneau declined to comment “out of respect for the ethics process” and referred questions to Metro. In a statement, Board Chairman Paul C. Smedberg said Metro’s ethics committee will meet on June 23 to review the complaint and make a decision.

“The board takes allegations of ethics violations seriously and will give them a full and impartial review,” Smedberg said.

The coalition alleged that Letourneau violated a clause in Metro’s board of directors’ ethics policy that members must “act in the best interests of [Metro] and their respective competence in the exercise of their functions as members of the council, rather than in the interest of the member or in the interest of another person or organization with which the members of the council are personally associated. »

As Loudoun County supervisor, Letourneau (R) received nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions officials from the American Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute, while its largest donor, William B. Holtzman, owner of Holtzman Oil Corp., contributed $15,000 to his campaigns, according to Virginia election records.

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Electric buses have grown in popularity in recent years amid growing concerns about climate change. Last year, Metro’s board of directors – including Letourneau – voted for a conversion of Metro’s fleet as part of a phased plan that slowly increases the purchase of electric buses each year.

Critics, including the Metro Electric Bus Coalition, say the schedule is slower than other major transit agencies at a time when Metro plans to continue investing in gas-powered buses and related infrastructure.

The electric bus coalition alleges Létourneau made inaccurate statements during board discussions, helping to dampen Metro’s fleet conversion ambitions.

“He has consistently made false and misleading statements about the alleged benefits of natural gas buses, which he promotes extensively, and disparaged the feasibility of fleet electrification,” Negin said.

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Metro’s fleet includes approximately 1,500 buses, most of which run on compressed natural gas (CNG), diesel, or a combination of diesel and electricity. The agency’s conversion plan calls for replacing worn-out buses with more electric vehicles each year until the fleet is fully electric in 23 years. The bus coalition opposes additional spending on compressed natural gas buses and a planned expansion of refueling capabilities at one of the agency’s garages.

“It makes no sense that Metro is committing over $5 million to a new CNG refueling facility and millions more to expanding its CNG facility in Bladensburg,” said Steve Banashek, president of electric vehicles for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Last year, Letourneau spoke out in favor of a phased approach to conversion, saying a transit agency the size of Metro “can’t turn around in a flash.”

The coalition, which has reviewed tapes of board meetings, also cited Létourneau’s statement at a 2020 board meeting when he said, “It doesn’t make much sense. to convert to electric buses that will run on electricity from natural gas and then not. necessarily invest in CNG buses and then act like we’ve actually done something, because we haven’t. The coalition said in the memo that the statement “ignores the fact that electric buses are better for the climate than diesel, diesel-electric hybrid and CNG buses across the country, regardless of their source of electricity.” .

The complaint says comparable agencies, such as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, are overtaking Metro, which will see less than 20% of its fleet converted by 2030. LA Metro expects to have completely flipped by then.

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Coalition members said they were not challenging Letourneau on other issues.

“We are not questioning Mr. Letourneau’s ability to continue to sit on the board of directors of the metro,” said Timothy Oberleiton, lawyer at Earthjustice. “However, in light of Mr. Letourneau’s obvious ties to the oil and gas industry, it is imperative that he recuse himself from participating in any discussion, deliberation and decision regarding the future of the metro bus fleet.

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