Metro’s concerns about Silver Line construction problems get support

Safety officials and regional leaders are lining up behind Metro’s potential refusal to accept the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, Virginia, as it is currently constructed.

Metro’s inspector general last week raised new concerns about ongoing repairs.

Concerns include incorrect rock supporting tracks in the rail yard, concrete panels framing stations and improperly installed switches.

On Tuesday, Fairfax County supervisors expressed full support for Metro in holding off on accepting the line until the issues are addressed, even if that means a later start for rail service. A formal letter is expected later this month.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission was also briefed Tuesday afternoon on its role in the opening of Silver Line Phase 2, and the Metro Board is due to hear more about Metro’s internal concerns Thursday.

The line is being built by private contractors working for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which still hopes trains will begin carrying riders in July 2020.

The contractors are now projecting even more delays, but an internal Airports Authority report from July said negotiations continue on how to speed things up.

The project was supposed to be finished last year before construction delays and other changes pushed the target completion date back to this year.

Since Metro will take ownership of the line when it goes in service, the transit agency and those responsible for it are pushing for potential long-term problems to be addressed.

The safety commission has its own responsibility to sign off on the stations, tracks, rail yard and other features before the extension opens.

“While the WMSC’s role is not to be prescriptive in the solutions selected in remedying any safety issues that arise, the WMSC’s role is, however, to conduct an overall project assessment of the project’s readiness to start revenue operations for passengers, for employees, first responders and the surrounding community,” COO Sharmila Smarasinghe said.

Commission staff have conducted a number of inspections already, and participate in safety meetings about the Silver Line launch.

In addition to any construction issues, the commission plans to only sign off on operations when there has been proper training for train operators, rail controllers and maintenance crews; stations have proper signage, lighting, fire suppression, fire alarms and fire exits; and there have been
chances for local first responders to train on response to stations or tracks.

But with warnings from Metro’s Office of Inspector General about the outstanding construction problems, those remain the focus for now.

“[The contractor] went forward, on their own, without WMATA approval, on a mitigation measure which didn’t work,” Fairfax County Dulles Rail Project Manager Mark Canale said.

The attempt to fix the slanted switches also would create more maintenance problems since pieces used were different at each location.

Concerns also remain about concrete support fixes for windscreens at the Dulles International Airport station.

Ongoing work while fixes for other issues are worked out is focused on the inside of stations or buildings and the testing of systems.

Work to tie in the extension to the existing Silver Line is expected to lead to weekend closures of the Wiehle-Reston East Station for the weekends of Oct. 5, Nov. 9 and Nov. 30, Canale said.

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