Fairfax County official: eager for July Silver Line opening

Max Smith and Ari Ashe, wtop.com

WASHINGTON –A top Fairfax County leader says she’s eager for the Silver Line to open this summer and is keeping her calendar open in July for a possible grand opening.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova tells WTOP that she has also heard about the significant progress over the last several weeks on the Silver Line.

As WTOP first reported on Friday evening, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Dulles Transit Partners could be very close to a substantial completion and certification of the Silver Line. Sources tell WTOP that Metro is privately hoping to launch passenger service around July 4.

“I don’t have any secret dates as far when the opening might be. But what I understand is that there’s a lot of collaboration and working together to try to iron out the final punch list. Everyone is at the table trying to make sure that’ll happen quickly,” says Bulova.

Multiple sources tell WTOP that the contractor could reach substantial completion within the next two weeks and MWAA could certify the project as complete before the end of April, if not sooner. One source says it’s now more likely that a handover to Metro will occur this month than drag on into May.

“Hopefully we’ve got some good news here. This has sort of been the Perils of Pauline, it’s been up and down. Right now it looks like there’s a promise of maybe things moving along pretty quickly,” says Bulova.

“I can tell you that I’m saving my June and July months, just in case,” she adds.

Once MWAA certifies DTP’s work as complete, the Silver Line gets turned over to Metro. Metro can take up to 90 days to run more tests to make sure trains are safe for passengers to ride.

But a source has told WTOP that Metro is privately hoping to finish the work in 60 days.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles has told reporters that he hoped to shave some days off of the 90 day window, although he’s never commented on whether a 60 day target would be realistic. Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, who serves on Metro’s Board of Directors, says the agency will work as quickly as possible to begin passenger service, while making sure it’ll be safe.

Even at the full 90 days, if Metro gets the project by the end of April, passengers could be riding trains to Tysons and Reston before the end of July.

“If your story is true, I think it’s extremely positive. I think the community wants some sense of a real understanding on where we are with this, how soon it can occur, and giving some commitment towards a date is progress,” says Hudgins.

While Hudgins doesn’t have any independent knowledge of the timeline that WTOP has laid out, she hopes that a July launch will happen.

“I just want to get it come to us. That’s exactly right. When it comes to WMATA, I would feel really, really good and ready to keep moving. I’m ready for it to be open, as are all my constituents along the Silver Line,” says Hudgins.

Whether the July 4 launch actually happens will depends on many factor.

MWAA will conduct more tests over the next week to ten days. While it’s unclear what tests are being conducted, it’s likely that MWAA will do an extensive analysis on the automatic train control system. Problems with the system were identified on the Silver Line in late 2013.

Automatic train control is a system that evenly spaces trains apart and prevents them from colliding into each other. The 2009 Red Line fatal accident occurred because of a failure in the automatic train control system. Since then, Metro has operated on automatic train operation, although automatic train protection has remained in effect. Metro has not set a date to resume automatic train operation. Automatic train protection and automatic train operation are the two main sub- components of automatic train control.

If there are any new problems, or the tests don’t go well, then the July timeline would be pushed back.

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