Silver Line delays costs WMATA millions

Construction crews work on the McLean Station, one of five new stations along the Silver Line, in September. (WTOP)

WASHINGTON – As the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority announced more delays to the Silver Line, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the agency that runs Metro, admits it loses millions each month the new subway line is delayed.

About 350 employees are already working on the Silver Line, including train operators, maintenance workers, track workers and Metro Transit Police. Each are paid regardless of when the Silver Line officially opens to passengers.

“Those employees are in place and at work now, and so there are expenses associated with that. But it’s not a reason for concern, it’s not going to result in service cuts elsewhere,” says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

On Monday, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority announced that necessary software modifications for the automatic train control system are the reason for the latest Silver Line delay. Automatic train control refers to Metro’s signal system, which keeps trains properly spaced and at proper speeds to ensure safe operation.

Metro also loses about $2 million to $3 million in revenue from passengers who can’t ride on the Silver Line. If passenger service doesn’t begin until April or May, Metro could lose about $10 million.

But Stessel says delays on the Silver Line won’t affect the FY14 budget that calls for a 3 percent fare hike on Metrorail trips, or about 10 cents on the average train ride.

“It will not affect customer fares, it’s something we’ll be able to manage through our normal budgeting process,” he says.

While $10 million is a lot of money to the average person, it represents about 0.5 percent of the overall budget. For example, the Metro FY14 budget projects $1.76 billion in overall operating expenses and $1.14 billion in capital improvements. Stessel says one snow day costs Metro about $2 million.

Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the project, says it would take several weeks to run the tests on the automatic train control system, a process that will occur in concert with Metro.

The deadly 2009 Red Line Metro crash was partially caused by a breakdown of the automatic train control system. Since then, Metro has switched from automatic train operation to manual train operation and conducted a detailed review of the automatic train control system.

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