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Construction on Silver Line extension hits a new snag

A Silver Line test train at the Innovation Center station in Fairfax County. (Courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

New Silver Line construction delays could push back the opening of the extension to Dulles International Airport and Virginia’s Loudoun County by more than two more months.

While the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — which is responsible for construction of the line — still hopes to speed things up, the contractor responsible for building the new rail yard near Dulles Airport revealed its latest schedule slipped 67 days in just a month. The estimated substantial completion is now set for late July 2020.

Metro will not accept the rail project without both the rail yard and mainline tracks complete. This means the earliest start of rail service on Silver Line Phase 2 will be pushed into September or October of next year.

Metro believes the rail yard is needed to support the additional trains that will be running when the 11-mile extension from Wiehle Reston-East through Herndon to Dulles Airport and Ashburn opens.
Metro’s plans to contract out operations of the new service also plays a role in the agency’s requirements that everything come online at once.

Metro will take up to two months for testing and training after taking control of the line. The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission is also checking the project — once to sign off before the project is substantially complete and once after it becomes Metro property, but before Metro starts carrying riders to and from the new stations.


The new schedule problems are revealed in an Airports Authority monthly progress report dated May 28 but obtained by WTOP this week. As of earlier in May, the authority had higher hopes of getting the line to Metro in time to open to riders in July 2020. 

The Airports Authority and Hensel Phelps, the railyard’s construction contractor, “are actively and collectively making efforts to improve the projected [substantial completion date],” the new progress report said, so the summer 2020 opening is still theoretically possible.

However, that would require shaving months off the latest schedule proposed by Hensel Phelps in order to get most rail yard construction finished this winter. The promised, already late, completion date for the rail yard was the end of last year.

The current challenges for the project include train testing plans and readiness reports, delays for a clean room and HVAC at a service and inspection building, delays for overhead platforms and safety and security certifications.

The Airports Authority recently authorized testing of the yard in phases so that track testing can begin even while work continues on the delayed buildings.

The separate contractor working on the stations and mainline tracks expects that portion of the line to be substantially complete in April 2020, which would be in time allow for a summer 2020 opening. The schedule for that portion of the project slipped six days between March and April estimates.

It is eight months behind even the delayed schedule laid out a few years ago.

Challenges for the main tracks and stations include the work to link up to the current portion of the Silver Line at Wiehle Reston-East and to test trains in that area, and installation of fire alarm systems and station commissioning work.

Trains are already being tested in other parts of the tracks between Reston Town Center and Dulles, even as the groups involved in the project try to finalize exactly how many tests are needed.

Even after the substantial completion of construction that allows Metro to take over the line, other finishing work is expected to continue.

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