Subway’s Silver Line extension to open Nov. 15 in time for Thanksgiving trips

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The second half of Metro’s long-awaited Silver Line in Northern Virginia will open Nov. 15, the transit agency announced Monday, expanding the system’s footprint deeper into suburban Washington after years of overruns. costs and delays.

The 11.5-mile extension will fulfill a long-coveted goal of connecting Dulles International Airport and a burgeoning technology corridor to the public transit system and the nation’s capital. Completion of the 23-mile line will add six stations and mark Metro’s debut in Loudoun County, 13 years after the launch of the first phase.

The second phase will go into service four years late after political wrangling and numerous setbacks, including problems with faulty building materials. An opening date was announced days after a final feud: a dispute between Metro and its regulator that threatened further delays but ultimately led to the transit agency launching its service in time to serve passengers from the airport before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Metro is still working to obtain necessary safety certification from its regulator to operate passenger service on the extension. But its executives felt confident enough to have it soon to break the news in a video posted to social media, where several transit workers said, “We are ready to welcome you aboard the Silver Line.

Customers visiting the new stations – Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Dulles Airport, Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn – will be greeted by Metro employees handing out commemorative pennants, a tradition that began when the first opened station in 1976.

Officials in Loudoun County, one of the fastest growing areas in the country, say the expansion will further transform the suburb 25 miles from Washington into a destination for tourists and relocation businesses.

“The Metro will allow citizens throughout the Capitol area of ​​Washington to explore and enjoy all of the amenities and recreational opportunities that Loudoun has to offer,” said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) in a statement. “Finally, Metro provides a transit option for federal government employees and others to leave the car at home and not deal with heavy commuter traffic.”

Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), Metro board member and Loudoun County supervisor who voted to connect with the county a decade ago, said, “With this will come opportunities to diversify our economy and provide new options for residents. and commuters.

The start of passenger service on the extension will mark the completion of the 23-mile Silver Line, the first having been inaugurated in 2009 and opened five years later. The second phase began construction in 2014 and was originally scheduled to open in 2018, but has struggled with months of delays. The $3 billion project bogged down moving rainy waters management requirements, falsified testing of troublesome concrete panels, a related amount of $1 million settlementthe conviction of the former manager of a subcontractor for wire fraud and a work stoppage for cracks in the concrete beams that support the elevated tracks near the station at Dulles Airport.

Fairfax County officials, long frustrated by project delays, responded to the announcement with relief and joy.

“It’s certainly been a journey to get to this point, not always straight lines, but here we are finally at the finish line,” said Jeffrey C. McKay (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. , in a press release. . “Anyone familiar with this corridor knows the tremendous economic development that has been underway in anticipation of the opening.”

The opening, McKay said, comes at a crucial time for the region, which is still emerging from the pandemic, and for Metro, which faces an operating budget shortfall of nearly $150 million next year after that hundreds of thousands of paying commuters have abandoned public transit. for telecommuting during the pandemic. Transit officials say the expansion will lead to new users who have moved into homes or businesses that have sprouted along the tracks.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority oversaw construction of the extension. Once completed, the agency will soon hand over full ownership to Metro, which has been testing the line for more than four months.

MWAA officials expressed satisfaction at finally opening a subway station in Dulles, which currently connects to Metrorail via bus service from the Wiehle-Reston subway station. Travelers will instead have a five-minute walk from the airport train station through an underground tunnel to baggage claim.

“The opening of the Silver Line subway service will have a major positive impact for Dulles International Airport, its passengers and the entire region,” said MWAA Chief Executive Jack Potter. “It will realize a vision for transportation that has been in the making for decades.”

WMATA CEO Randy Clarke thanked the regional agencies that partnered with the project. For Metro, the expansion also includes a new 90-acre rail maintenance and service yard on the Dulles Airport grounds. The site will be Metro’s largest, employing nearly 700 people.

The planned opening almost became another delay when Clarke told Metro board members in October that Metro did not have enough trains to open the Silver Line or cope with overcrowding resulting from a recent increase in commuters returning to workplaces for the first time since the pandemic began. Metro has been experiencing a year-long train shortage due to the suspension of its 7000-series cars, which make up 60% of the transit system’s fleet.

The series was suspended after a federal investigation into the derailment revealed a defect that caused as yet unexplained wheel movement in several cars. The commission has allowed the phased return of 7000-series cars since the summer under a plan that included regular wheel checks for the defect, but subway ridership has increased at a rate that officials say public transport, exceeded the number of trains available. Safety commission officials balked at requests to release the entire series, saying Metro had not convinced them it had a plan to operate the 748 cars safely.

The dispute went public on October 19, leading to a joint meeting between the two agencies and the senses. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, both Democrats, who called for cooperation. Within days, Metro and the safety commission had hammered out a compromise allowing Metro to operate many more cars and a path to recover all of the suspended cars under the criteria set by the commission.

“I’m so proud that I worked to make it happen,” Warner said. tweeted In Monday.

Metro assesses fare increase and rail improvements while preparing for Silver Line

Still, not everything is finalized between the two agencies. To carry passengers on the extension, Metro needs the Safety Commission to certify that the Silver Line can operate safely. Metro has not officially requested this approval. Transit officials said workers were completing minor tasks this week, such as installing signs, but plan to submit their credential applications soon.

“Metro continues to work on a short list of items that we coordinate daily with the [safety commission]”The transit agency said in a statement. “We appreciate their cooperation and plan to finalize safety certification before opening for passenger service.”

Safety commission spokesman Max Smith said Metro and the safety commission discussed the last remaining issues. He said Metro did not consult with the safety commission before choosing November 15 as the opening date.

“The opening date is up to them – obviously they have to have everything done by then or it won’t be the date,” Smith said in a post.

As train shortage eases, subway and bus systems gear up for Silver Line

Regional bus transit systems, including the Fairfax Connector and Loudoun County Transit, told Metro they needed about three weeks to synchronize service with stations. The agencies said they were confident the works, which include the installation or modification of signs at bus stops, will be ready, mainly because most of it was completed before one of the many tentative opening dates that have had to be abandoned over the years.

Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

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