What Metro needs to open the Silver Line next summer

Days after Metro’s inspector general raised new concerns about ongoing repairs to the new Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, Metro is laying out the exact changes needed within the next six months if service is to launch next summer.

The biggest unresolved issues are problems with several dozen switches that move trains from one track to another, major issues with the rocks that support the tracks in the rail yard, and renewed worries about faulty concrete panels that frame most of the stations.

Metro’s Office of Inspector General released two warnings last week against accepting the line as it stands today because of significant concerns with the concrete panels and with the rock ballast that holds the tracks in the rail yards.

Testing has suggested at least one in five of the panels were not properly protected by sealant meant to keep water out. While additional sealant is planned, the issues could get in the way of a warranty promised for the panels, so Metro’s inspector general called for complete replacement of the panels or additional financial guarantees that would cover any future replacements.

The office is continuing to investigate other issues, and the independent Washington Metrorail Safety Commission is also conducting its own checks to ensure the line will be safe.

The problems with switches that Metro engineers are already concerned about include metal pieces that don’t sit properly and locations where the switch is not properly level. Metro has rejected the builders’ proposed solution of essentially propping up each switch to the correct level, worrying that that could make maintenance complicated later.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and the contractors building the line for MWAA, have already either resolved, or provided plans to resolve, several other issues that Metro accepts, including cracking on girders that hold up aerial tracks, problems with wind screen pedestals at the Dulles Airport stop, and pavement issues in the rail yard.

Work is ongoing on other significant issues including improperly installed rail joints in the rail yard, cracks in concrete panels at the rail yard, switch issues in the rail yard and problems with certain rail ties that hold tracks in place.

The airports authority believes all of the issues can be resolved by winter, which would allow trains to start carrying riders next July.

Metro warns its board, though, that all of the fixes would need to be in place by February in order to be sure service could begin in July 2020.

Metro remains cautious about setting an official opening date until it is sure it is ready to accept the line and fixes are made.

Agreements and contracts provide Metro with up to 150 days from substantial construction completion to begin service, although the additional testing and training could move much more quickly than that.

The contractors building the line for MWAA have already completed most of the big construction and have begun testing trains in many areas. They must also demonstrate all systems work before Metro moves to take ownership of the 11.4-mile line, including six stations from Wiehle-Reston East into Loudoun County.

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