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Over half of Washington, D.C., Metro rail cars pulled after derailment

Last week's derailment prompted Metro to take all of the system's 7000-series train cars, or 60 percent of its rail cars, out of service until they are deemed safe.

More than half of the Washington, D.C., Metro system's train cars have been taken offline after last week's derailment and a possible safety issue with wheel assemblies, officials said.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission on Sunday ordered that all 748 of the system's 7000-series rail cars, about 60 percent of its rail car fleet, be taken out of service. Metrorail service was running with reduced service and long wait times.

No one was seriously injured in last week's derailment on the Blue Line, which investigators said could have been far worse.

"This could have resulted in a catastrophic event," Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, said at a news conference.

The same train derailed and got back on the tracks at least twice before Tuesday, she said. NTSB investigator Joe Gordon said the wheels on the car that derailed "had moved outboard on the axle," making it derail when it went through switches.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has known about an issue with wheel assemblies since 2017, Homendy said. Inspections had found 18 failures this year, and since the accident, 21 more have been found, she said.

Metro said in a statement that it has been working with the maker, Kawasaki, to resolve the issue since 2017.

The agency said that it conducted thousands of inspections and that any time wheel sets were found out of tolerance, the train cars were pulled and the wheel sets were replaced before they were returned to service.

"I want to assure our customers that their safety is driving every decision being made," General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement. He said the transit authority is working hand in hand with the NTSB.

Homendy said the investigation will look at Metro's decision-making and actions, as well as whether the issue is a larger one in other parts of the U.S.