Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Operation Hot Air?

The following is from a March 15, 2011 press release:
Last month, Metro’s Car Maintenance department launched an initiative called “Operation Cool Breeze,” a program designed to inspect and overhaul the air conditioning units inside the agency’s 1,142 rail car fleet. Under the program, maintenance personnel are cleaning condenser motors, checking auxiliary power units and other key vital components associated with providing air conditioning, and making sure the units are ready when they are turned on at the end of the month.

“We hit the ground running in February by checking all the vital components inside every rail car,” said Dave Kubicek, Metro’s Acting Deputy General Manager for Operations.

“It has been a monumental task, however our dedicated car maintenance personnel have been working diligently during the last several weeks to help ensure our customers will be comfortable throughout the spring and summer months while riding Metrorail,” he said.
When we started to see reports of hot cars ballooning during this recent heat wave, we asked Metro for some concrete information about what was done during the operation. They haven't gotten back to us with numbers, saying only the goal was to have all the cars checked by April 1.

We asked a few sources in Metro car maintenance.

The car maintenance personnel we talked to had never heard of "Operation Cool Breeze" and were not aware of any major AC work initiative being done in February or March.

One source involved in the air conditioning maintenance said Metro's approach to fixing the AC problems is "like treating stab wounds with Band-Aids."

They'd never heard of "Operation Cool Breeze" and added that Metro lacks many of the parts needed to make the AC fixes needed.

Another source confirmed the Band-Aid approach adding that the "fixes" sometimes only last a day or so. They, also didn't know of "Operation Cool Breeze" and added that they didn't think it was physically possible to get the AC working in all the cars given the scope of the problems and age of the cars. Furthermore, they said that testing them in March didn't really make sense since the AC is not stressed then.

Another said there had been some cleaning of some cars' AC evaporation coils, but that it was nothing even close to the scale of work described in the press release.

Another source said there were "not enough hours in the day" to complete the kind of work conveyed in the press release.

"An 'overhaul' is as much as a week project per car," they said.

They added that "checking of electrical circuits is futile. The systems can only be checked under load, in other words when it is 90 degrees 90 percent humidity and a crush load of passengers."

Yet another source called the operations "standard Metro BS."

More troublesome is that some of the problems with the AC appear to be unrepairable, said one source, even if Metro had the dedication, parts and manpower.

The source said fixing the air conditioning in many of the 5000-series cars was next to impossible because the auxiliary power supplies (APS), which are integral in the proper function of the AC, "are flawed" in their design.

Because of the persistent APS problems, the AC often doesn't work correctly on 5000-series cars, leading to a decision by Metro engineers that it would be OK to have 50 percent AC in two cars.
Well, I guess if the trains were running in Montana or Canada where it doesn't get as hot as DC, this would be sound judgment, but anyone who has ridden Metro in August knows this is as bad a decision as ever made by Metro. Instead of two semi-cool cars you end up with two hot cars.
The source said that when they reported 5000-series "hot cars" they were told to "isolate" the hottest of the pair.

This source said that one day last week, they'd been called to troubleshoot 8 hot cars, 3 of which were 5000-series cars.

Last summer, a blogger, FixWMATA, asked people to report hot cars to them. While the list is in no way meant to be interpreted as exhaustive, when you look at anecdotal numbers, 79 of the 206, or 38 percent, of reported hot cars were 5000-series cars.

They are also collecting hot car reports this summer.

5000-series cars make up about 16 percent of Metro's fleet.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Site Meter