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Metro’s next generation of rail cars will be designed to allow several different seating arrangements, rail chief Dave Kubicek told Metro board members today.

The board declined to act immediately on purchase plans after getting its first briefing on the financial arrangements. The transit authority staff is seeking approval to negotiate with Kawasaki to build 64 cars for use on the rail extension toward Dulles, which is under construction, as well as an additional 300 cars to replace the oldest ones in the fleet.

The board members said they needed more time to study a program that could cost the transit authority more than $1 billion. But the presentation did reveal some new details about the plan.

The new cars will represent a sharp break with the design Metrorail has been using since it began operating in the mid-1970s. The technology is significantly different and so is the car configuration. Metro cars have always been designed in sets of two. They can be combined to operate as four-car, six-car or eight-car trains.

The new cars will come in sets of four. They could be operated either as four-car trains or eight-car trains. (The plan is to operate them as eight-car trains. This long-term purchase program is supposed to lead to an all eight-car train system.)

Unlike Metro’s previous generations of rail cars, the new ones cannot be used in combination with the old ones. They can run anywhere in the system, Kubicek said, but will not be hooked up to any previous generation of cars.

The airports authority, which is responsible for building the new Metrorail line, will pay for the first 64 cars, Kubicek said. The 300 to come after that would replace the 1000 Series cars, the original cars in the fleet. They now run only in the middle of trains because they are considered less capable of absorbing the stresses of a crash than the newer cars.

Metro and its riders have long debated the seating configuration, and Metro has tested several designs that would decrease the overall number of seats or place more of them along the sides of the cars. The new cars, known as the 7000 Series, would be built to allow Metro to configure the seats in different ways, even after they are delivered.

The board members will discuss the plan again in April.