Metro evaluating Petworth residents’ vibration complaints

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A subway train arrives at the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metrorail station. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

A year after Petworth residents first reported feeling new 7000-series Metrorail trains shake their homes, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is in the midst of an in-depth investigation of the issue.

In late June, the transit authority sent out 30 letters to residents requesting their participation in a study and asking for a response by mid-July. “The tests are ongoing and there is nothing to report at this time,” Metro spokesperson Richard Jordan told The Current.

Last summer, residents began feeling vibrations in their homes, increasing in frequency during mornings and evenings. Soon they pinned the blame on Metro, which had just rolled out its first all-new design for a subway car: the 7000-series, which is heavier and made of different materials than older versions that had traveled under Petworth since the Green Line began operating there in 1999.

Several months after complaints began to surface, the transit authority conducted a preliminary study in Petworth and concluded that vibrations had a negligible impact on residences.

But neighbors refused to accept the agency’s findings. Petworth advisory neighborhood commissioner Timothy Jones led a town meeting last December, with Ward 4 D.C. Council member Brandon Todd and transit representative Ann Chisholm in attendance. About 30 concerned neighbors reported feeling shaking every few minutes, cracking walls and one instance of severe damage to a porch, according to resident and Petworth News founder Drew Schneider, who attended the meeting. “Residents have lived here 25, 30, 40 years and have never felt anything until now,” Schneider told The Current.

Meanwhile, the transit authority contends that neighbors haven’t shown  interest in a study. Last month, the authority’s appointed noise and vibration consulting firm, Wilson Ihrig, discontinued its initial investigation because only four of 13 homes responded to letters sent out in May, Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld wrote in a July 17 letter to Todd.

Todd’s spokesperson Joshua Fleitman said, however, that some residents did not respond because they had concerns about the legal language of the waiver.

Todd has sent two letters — on Dec. 14 and June 30 — urging Metro to investigate the vibrations.

“I am concerned that the progress on this matter has been unusually slow, given the significance of the impacts described by residents,” Todd wrote. “They report intense shaking of the foundations of their homes, which is causing cracks in the wall and other property damage.”

This week Todd plans to ask Metro for an update on the vibration study, according to Fleitman.

In the July 17 letter, Wiedefeld wrote that Metro may have addressed part of the issue. The Federal Transit Administration published a study in March revealing that several fasteners, designed to absorb pressure and quell vibrations, had broken near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station. The damaged fasteners have been linked to the above-ground vibrations and have since been repaired, according to Wiedefeld’s letter.

The rumblings are not unique to Petworth. Residents of North Michigan Park and Southwest Waterfront, who also live along the Green Line, have reported similar vibrations that they attribute to the 7000-series. Council members Kenyan McDuffie and Charles Allen, who represent wards 5 and 6 respectively, have each implored Metro to act — with little success.

“It’s unclear how seriously they are taking it,” Allen told The Current, adding that the transit authority never formally responded to his February letter.

Jones plans to address the vibrations at a meeting for residents of single-member district 4C08 on Monday. “It’s definitely not getting any better,” Jones said.

Metro has ordered 748 7000-series rail cars, according to Jordan. He said that about half of those have already been delivered and that the remainder will be deployed over the next two years.