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Thursday, March 13, 2014

No date set for opening of Silver line

The Tysons Corner Station.
Metro’s new Silver line will open at some point within in the next few months, but Richard Sarles, general manager and CEO of the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA), would not pin down a specific date at a meeting with the Fairfax Committee of 100 March 11. The Silver line will open “90 days after it’s completed,” Searles said.

The most recent setback for the long-delayed Silver line is due to the failure of the construction company, Dulles Transit Partners, to meet a series of contractual obligations related to the automatic train control system, elevators, escalators, and other problems.  

“Safety is the most important thing,” so the Silver line “won’t be rolled out until all the problems are resolved,” said Sharon Bulova, chair of the Board of Supervisors. The new stations in the first phase of the Silver line are completed; “we have to make sure the software is ready.”

The $2.9 billion first phase of the Silver line includes 11.4 miles of track and five stations—McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill, and Wiehle-Reston East—and is accessible from the Orange line at the East Falls Church station.

Sarles said Metro was a “game changer” in terms of its impact on the D.C. metro region’s economic competitiveness when it was first built, and the Silver line is already having a huge impact in bringing more investment to Tysons Corner.

According to Bulova, 40 percent of the county’s bus routes are being realigned to connect with the Silver line stations, and three new bus routes will connect the VRE stations to Tysons, using the beltway express lanes. New bus circulators will connect various points within Tysons.

Phase II, extending the Silver line to Dulles International Airport and to Ashburn in Loudoun County, is expected to be completed in 2018. Plans to build the Dulles station underground had been scrapped due to the high cost, but Bulova says the above-ground station, in a parking garage, will only be a four-minute walk on a moving sidewalk from the airport. “It will be fast, efficient, and comfortable,” she said.

To help complete the project, Fairfax County and the other jurisdictions involved in the project received approval for a $1.9 billion federal loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. It is the biggest TIFIA loan ever and  won’t have to be repaid until five years after the project is completed, Bulova said. Fairfax County’s share is $403 million.

Beyond the Silver line, Bulova said the next step is bringing rail along Route 66 to Centreville and Manassas, with a stop at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax.

There a lot more going on at WMATA besides the new Silver line. Sarles told the audience a $900 million-a-year rebuilding program was started four years ago to address maintenance and safety problems that led to the 2009 Metro collision at the Fort Totten station. The train operator and eight passengers were killed, and 80 people were injured.

A lot of work is being done on the tracks and signals, but much of it being done on weekends and nights, causing delays. When the rebuilding effort stated, only 80 percent of the escalators were operational on any given day; today that’s up to 92 percent, Sarles said. Within the next two years, 100 escalators will have been replaced.

“In three years, we will have dug ourselves out of the hole,” he said, although WMATA needs to make “significant investments every year” to get to the point where the system was 15 years ago. WMATA recently got 220 new cars, which will start operating later this year.

Metro in general—and particularly the Orange line and the Rosslyn, Metro Center, and Gallery Place stations—are expected to become increasingly crowded in the next six to 10 years as the area experiences population and employment growth, he said.

Having eight-car trains will help, he said, along with improvements in the stations to relieve overcrowding on the platforms. Service will be reduced on the Blue line, which is being underutilized.

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