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Silver Lining: Light at the End of the Track

The end of the project is in sight, but the day passengers climb aboard isn’t.

In this series, Patch looks at the Silver Line, Metro's largest expansion in its 34-year history.

The first 11.7-mile phase of the new Dulles Metrorail is scheduled for completion in less than three years, but there is no official prediction when the line will actually open for commuters.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — which is managing the new Silver Line construction — says it cannot estimate an open-for-business date because safety tests will be conducted on the new rail after construction is finished and Metro employees must be trained to operate the new track.

"At this point in time, we haven't worked out the details," said Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the Dulles Metrorail Corridor Project.

The first phase of the line — expected to be finished by 2013 — will run from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston and will include four crucial Metro stations in Tysons Corner — the largest employment hub in Fairfax County.

The project's second phase, which will include a new station at Dulles International Airport, is not scheduled to open until 2016.

The entire project is expected to cost $6.5 billion. It will be the largest expansion of the Metro system since it opened in 1976 and will add 23 miles to the existing 106-mile system. The line has been marketed as a "one-seat ride" from downtown to Dulles.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — which manages the existing Metro system throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia — will assume control of the new line when the Dulles Metrorail is completed, said Marcia McAllister, a spokeswoman for the airports authority.

"We're building it," McAllister said. "When we complete it, WMATA tests it and it becomes theirs. The testing period could be a year."

WMATA spokeswoman Angela Gates confirmed the transit authority is working with the airports authority to develop a testing and acceptance plan, but could not offer any specific information on when the line would open for riders.

But an end to this Virginia "megaproject" is nearly in sight — which is significant considering discussions to build a rapid transit line to Dulles began nearly 50 years ago.

Video: A Brief History of the Dulles Metrorail

"For a long time it was just something that was out there. It was a dream. It was a vision," McAllister said. "The airport itself opened in 1962 and Dulles was just way out there. Right after that, literally, within days, talk began about building a road and a rail line eventually to connect Dulles to downtown."

Part Two, tomorrow: Why the Dulles Metrorail is a vital piece in the ongoing economic vitality of Northern Virginia.

John Farrell December 20, 2010 at 01:25 PM
"The line has been marketed as a "one-seat ride" from downtown to Dulles." It will be 21 stops from Metro Center to Dulles and the design precludes express trains. I'd advise riders to bring a meal or two but eating is not allowed on Metro.
Bob Bruhns December 21, 2010 at 04:22 AM
To put this into perspective - Governor McDonnell just announced that as an emergency stimulation for the Commonwealth, he is planning to put $4 billion into the entire very needy transporation infrastructure of Virginia over the course of the next three years... but about a month ago he had to give $3 billion just for a few miles of Dulles Rail, that now isn't even going to quite make it to the airport terminal! There is something very wrong with this picture - and the sooner people see it, the better.
Michael December 21, 2010 at 02:25 PM
How can there be something wrong with providing rail service to a major international airport -something that should have occurred many years ago - and transit-challenged Western Fairfax County? Regarding the number of stops when departing from Metro Center: the airport will be the eighteenth stop. The last planned stop, Route 772/Ryan Road, would be the twentieth.
John Farrell December 21, 2010 at 03:17 PM
Michael Its 18 if you don't count the transfer from the Dulles station to some conveyance to the terminals, and don't count West Falls Church (the back up for which will cause delays) and don't count Metro Center itself. The point of the comment was that the preclusion of express trains is a major design flaw that will be a huge disincentive for people from downtown to actually use Metro to access Dulles. It won't happen. Donkeys or camels will get you there quicker. When NYC built its underground system in 1898, they recognized that workers from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens wouldn't use the system to get to the factories in Manhattan without express trains. Those runs are shorter than the Metro Center to Dulles run. Why did our leaders ignore the experience and wisdom gained by NYC more than 100 years ago. Another point to consider, Micheal, there's no headway left downtown. That's the measurement of capacity in a transit system. Downtown is full. Every train sent to Dulles is one less train to Vienna and Franconia. Metro riders already experience substantial delays at the Rosslyn tunnel as the trains take their turn going through that choke point. That says nothing about the too small tunnel under Tysons and the impact the overhead lines will have on land values in Tysons. It's an extremely expensive project to have so many flaws which inhibit it from being an effective and beneficial transportation improvement for the entire Metro Area.
George December 22, 2010 at 03:22 AM
The obvious is this area, The National Capital Area, has rarely, if ever, funded any transportation system based on true costs and benefits. We always seem to try doing projects for the least possible and then wonder why they are so often dismal failures. Add to that the horrible delays in starting projects and the unbelievable time they take to finish and you have "The Silver Line." This thing should have received a big chunk of stimulous money to blast right out to the airport and start running this year, not in six, seven, ten(?) years. Instead we ended up with Virginia taxpays being hit up for more funds, but just a drop in the bucket for the project. Isn't this the perfect project to help put back some pride in the American worker? We really need to show that we can do more than fight wars and build great military might. We have a country here that is crying as it falls apart.
John Farrell January 05, 2011 at 12:20 AM
Now the Federal Transit Administration is lower projected new ridership on the Silver Line from 29,100 to 10,000. And the least used station will be at Dulles Airport. Fabulous. http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/2010/12/new-lower-rider-estimates-dulles-rail-expose-big-costs

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