What Metro’s GM sees as the biggest issue ahead of next year’s Silver Line opening

August 12, 2019

While the agency building the Silver Line extension’s rail stations and tracks to Dulles International Airport and Virginia’s Loudoun County plans to open the project to riders in less than a year, the agency that will actually be responsible for running the trains wants commuters to hold off before putting a date on their calendars.

As WTOP first reported, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority projects the Silver Line could open to riders around July 16, 2020.

“They don’t set the date, Metro sets the date,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld emphasized in response.

The airports authority’s projected opening date factors in various risks and outstanding construction disputes, even as Metro continues its own evaluations of problems with the quality of concrete, tracks and other pieces installed by the contractors building the Silver Line Phase 2.

“There’s a lot of issues out there, but the biggest issue for us is the rail ties, and some of those issues, because [fixing] that is something you cannot do with service running,” Wiedefeld said.

Essentially, Metro does not want weekend or evening single-tracking shortly after the extension opens through Reston, Herndon, Dulles and Ashburn both for ridership reasons and the cost of any extra maintenance.

The airports authority believes the rail tie issues are not as significant as they initially appeared.

Metro is working with the airports authority and contractors to address issues on both the rail line and in the rail yard, and was consulted in developing the July 2020 projected opening date.

Metro’s Office of Inspector General and the independent Washington Metrorail Safety Commission are separately looking into the problems to ensure that there are no safety concerns along the extension.

“Until those are settled, we’re not going to put out a date on when this thing opens,” Wiedefeld said.

Once Metro takes ownership of the line, the testing period will begin. The construction contracts also include some warranties.

“We still have issues that we have to work through before we start service, so any particular day or a date, or a day of the week, putting it out there, that’s just not real right now,” Wiedefeld said.

The date set as a goal by the airports authority was established as part of a federal project management process meant to take into account all repair, inspection, testing and training issues.

It was the first time that a solid projected opening date had been established, even if the actual opening date is expected to be a few days earlier or later.

In addition to construction and financial issues, Metro may need to consider 24/7 track work plans on the Orange Line when considering a Silver Line opening date.

“What’s going to drive it is the quality of the work and safety, so we will work the schedule based on that … so we’re not out there reinvesting dollars on a brand-new product and impacting our customers,” Wiedfeld said.

Metro plans complete closures or long-term single-tracking from summer 2020 into early 2021 between East Falls Church and Vienna, according to plans announced last year.

The Silver Line and Orange Line meet between East Falls Church and West Falls Church stations, so any single-tracking or shutdown at East Falls Church would impact both Orange and Silver lines.

Metro has moved to hire its own private contractor to run the Silver Line extension, so contract details and timing could play a role in the opening date too.

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