Silver Line extension on track to open next year despite issues, official says

Switches in the new Silver Line rail yard do not line up with the tracks they are supposed to connect to, systems to detect train locations in the yard have failed, and there are still problems with the rocks that support the tracks, a new report to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board said.

The rail yard must be completed for Metro to take over and open the rail line to Dulles International Airport and Ashburn, Virginia.

Even with the ongoing problems, Airports Authority project head Charles Stark still believes it is possible to turn the new line and yard over to Metro in time to get riders on board around July 2020.

The contractor building the rail yard for the Airports Authority has largely completed significant track work fixes to long loop tracks at the yard, but has yet to address the problems with the switches failing to line up properly.

“It’s a derailment hazard,” Stark said Wednesday. “It’s very obvious … it’s been on the punch list for a long time.”

In a similar issue, but one that poses the risk of a collision rather than a derailment, fixes are required for insulated joints that have failed testing in ways that would prevent Metro from identifying the precise location of a train in the rail yard.

“All of these items are very old and, quite frankly, it’s taken Hensel Phelps a long time to get to the point where they’re starting to address these in a real expedited manner,” Stark said.

The contractor told the Airports Authority Board last month that it is negotiating over solutions for the issues and ways to address delays.

There are also long-running problems with the ballast — the rocks that support the tracks in the yard — since it was not washed properly before installation, and now fails to properly drain water during storms.

“It compromises the ability of the track to support the weight of the trains,” Stark said.

Metro is monitoring the issues and responses, as are the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission and Metro’s Office of Inspector General.

“We are working with WMATA and MWAA to determine how the contractor plans to address (the issues),” Inspector General Geoff Cherrington said.

“If issues like this are not addressed properly, we will recommend that WMATA not accept the project until the contractor and MWAA give their assurance that they have been addressed, and will not affect cost, operation and maintenance,” he added.

Metro must formally accept the Silver Line extension from the Airports Authority in order to start the process of launching service.

After taking ownership of the line, Metro will have about two months to do additional testing and training before it must start carrying riders between Loudoun County, Dulles airport and Reston.

WTOP’s Max Smith reported from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s headquarters in Crystal City.

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