Metro’s Silver Line extension to open Nov. 15 in time for Thanksgiving commute
The second phase will begin service four years behind schedule after internal political strife and numerous setbacks, including problems with faulty construction materials. An opening date was announced days after a final dispute: a dispute between Metro and its regulator that threatened further delays, but led the transit agency to launch its service in time to serve the passengers of the airport before traveling on Thanksgiving vacation.
Metro is still working to obtain a necessary safety certification from its regulator to operate passenger service on the extension. But its leaders felt confident enough to announce the news in a video posted on social media, where several transit workers were featured saying, “We’re ready to welcome you aboard the Silver Line.”
Customers visiting the new stations — Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Dulles Airport, Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn — will be greeted by Metro workers handing out commemorative pennants, a tradition that began when the first station opened in 1976.
Officials in Loudoun County, one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas, say the expansion will also turn the suburb 25 miles from Washington into a destination for tourists and moving companies.
“Metro will allow citizens throughout the Washington Capitol area to explore and experience all the amenities and recreational opportunities that Loudoun has to offer,” Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) President of the Council of Loudoun County Supervisors said in a statement. “Finally, Metro offers a transit option for federal government employees and others to leave the car at home and not content with the heavy traffic of transportation.”
Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), a Metro board member and a Loudoun County supervisor who voted to bring the connection to the county a decade ago, said, “It will bring opportunities for diversify our economy and provide new options to residents. and commuters.”
The start of passenger service on the extension will mark the completion of the 23 kilometer Silver Line, with the first breakthrough in 2009 and opening five years later. The second phase began construction in 2014 and was originally scheduled to open in 2018, but has been plagued by months of delays. The $3 billion project has been plagued by change storm water management requirements, falsified tests of annoying concrete panels, a $1 million establishmentthe conviction of a subcontractor’s former manager on a wire fraud charge and a work stoppage over cracks in the concrete beams that support the elevated runways near the Dulles airport station.
Fairfax County officials, long frustrated by project delays, reacted to the announcement with relief and euphoria.
“It’s certainly been a journey to get to this point, not always straight lines, but here we are finally at the finish line,” Jeffrey C. McKay (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, he said in a statement. . “Anyone who knows this corridor knows about the tremendous economic development that has been going on in anticipation of the opening.”
The opening, McKay said, comes at a crucial time for the region, which is still emerging from the pandemic, and for Metro, which faces an operating budget deficit of nearly $150 million next year after hundreds of thousands of paying carriers left the transit. for teleworking during the pandemic. Transit officials say the extension will bring in new users who have moved into homes or businesses that have sprung up along the tracks.
The Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority oversaw construction of the extension. With this completed, the agency will soon hand over full ownership to Metro, which has been running tests on the line for more than four months.
MWAA officials expressed satisfaction at finally opening a Metro stop in Dulles, which currently connects to Metrorail through bus service from the Wiehle-Reston Metro station. Travelers instead have a five-minute walk from the airport station through an underground tunnel to baggage claim.
“The opening of Silver Line Metro service will have a major positive impact for Dulles International Airport, its passengers and the entire region,” said MWAA CEO Jack Potter. “Bringing to fruition a transportation vision decades in the making.”
WMATA General Manager Randy Clarke thanked the regional agencies that partnered on the project. For Metro, the extension also includes a new maintenance yard and rail service on 90 acres on Dulles Airport grounds. The construction site will be Metro’s largest, employing nearly 700.
The planned opening nearly faced another delay when Clarke told Metro board members in October that Metro didn’t have enough trains to open the Silver Line or handle crowding stemming from a recent surge in passengers returning to workplaces for the first time since the pandemic. started Metro has been on a year-long train shortage due to the suspension of its 7000 series railcars, which make up 60 percent of the transit system’s fleet.
The series was suspended after a federal derailment investigation found a defect that caused still unexplained wheel movements in several cars. The commission has allowed the phased return of 7000-series cars since the summer under a plan that included regular wheel screens for the defect, but Metro ridership has increased at a rate that transit officials said exceeded the number of available trains. Safety Commission officials declined requests to release the entire series, saying Metro had not convinced them it had a plan to operate all 748 cars safely.
The dispute went public on October 19, leading to a joint meeting between the two agencies and Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, both Democrats, who urged cooperation. Within days, Metro and the Safety Commission had worked out a compromise that would allow Metro to operate many more cars and a route to recover all suspended cars below the benchmarks set by the commission.
“I’m so proud to have worked to do this,” Warner he tweeted on Monday
However, not everything was over between the two agencies. To run passengers on the extension, Metro needs the safety commission to certify that the Silver Line is safe to operate. Metro has not formally sought this approval. Transit officials said workers have completed minor work this week, such as installing signs, but plan to have their accreditation application submitted soon.
“Metro continues to work on a short list of items that we coordinate daily with [safety commission]”, the transit agency said in a statement. “We appreciate their cooperation and look forward to finalizing safety certification before opening for passenger service.”
Safety Commission spokesman Max Smith said Metro and the Safety Commission discussed the last remaining issues. He said Metro did not consult with the safety commission before selecting Nov. 15 as its opening date.
“The opening date is up to them — obviously they need to get everything done by that date or it won’t be the date,” Smith said in a message.
Regional bus transit systems including the Fairfax Connector and Loudoun County Transit have told Metro they need about three weeks to synchronize their services with rail stations. The agencies said they feel confident that the work, which includes erecting or modifying signs at bus stops, will be ready – especially since most of it has been completed before one of the several dates of opening attempts that have been scrapped over the years.
Lori Aratani contributed to this report.
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