Metro on Monday showed off prototypes of its newest railcars to a gathering of elected officials and the news media at its Greenbelt station.
"I think the cars look great," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley told us from inside one of the new 7000-series cars. "They're designed for safety, but they also look more spacious, they look comfortable, a lot more information for the riders, but the key issue was safety."
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles gave the VIP tour.
"This is the latest in crash energy management," he told them. “The latest standards. You can't get any better than this."
The upgrade follows by more than four years a deadly accident, the worst in Metro's history, on the Red Line in June 2009.
"And we said we wanted to bring about change," added Sen. Barbara Mikulski. "We wanted to bring about reform. We wanted to have a Metro that was safe and reliable."
Metro is ordering 528 of the new railcars to be delivered over the next four years.
"This is good news for the people in the Washington area, and certainly from the Safety Board's perspective, it's long overdue," says National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman.
The new trains will be replacing nearly 300 of Metro's oldest, 1000-series rail cars -- operating since the system first opened nearly 40 years ago.
The 7000-series cars feel roomier with non-slip flooring, seats facing out, forward and backward and with lumbar support. There seems to be more leg room, no arm rests, and the aisles are wider.
"These cars are here for tests," Sarles adds. "They'll run without passengers in off-peak hours for a few months. And we'll pick up little things from that which will go back into the design. Kawasaki will start manufacturing the cars."
We are told the Japanese motorcycle maker will build the trains in Lincoln, Neb. The brakes will be manufactured in Hagerstown, Md.
The federal government is helping with funding.
"We are tens of billions of dollars behind where we need to be in the United States to be sure to get these transit systems in a state of good repair," Peter Rogoff, the Obama Administration's Transit Administrator told us.
Metro says by 2018, more than half of its rail fleet should be the 7000-series cars.