Whenever Metro sets a date for opening the Silver Line, the start of passenger service will be proceeded by a week of what the transit authority calls “simulated service.” During that week, no passengers will ride to or from the five new stations in Fairfax County.
While the testing is designed to familiarize the staff with the new operations, it will be the first time riders on the Blue and Orange lines see some of the effects the new line will have on their service.
Because this is meant to be a full test for the transit staff involved in operating the Silver Line, the trains will operate on what will be their regular schedule between the station at Wiehle Avenue in the Reston area and Largo Town Center. When an empty eastbound train joins the active portion of the line and stops at East Falls Church, it will become an Orange Line train, destination Largo Town Center, and accept passengers for the rest of the run. When the train makes its westbound run, it will stop being an Orange Line train, unload all its remaining passengers at East Falls Church and continue as a Silver Line test train to the Wiehle Avenue station.
Riders who want to continue west on the Orange Line toward Vienna will need to wait for the next arriving Orange Line train. Between West Falls Church and Vienna, trains should reach platforms every six minutes at rush hours.
The Blue Line schedule will be reduced by two trains per hour at rush hours, so that its trains reach platforms every 12 minutes. Those two trains will shift over to Rush Plus Yellow Line service. This benefits riders who are heading for the central part of the District, but it’s a further service cut for riders bound for the west side of the District or points along the Orange Line in Arlington or Fairfax counties.
A Virginia rider who commutes opposite the main rush hour direction on a trip between, say, the King Street and West Falls Church stations would want to pay extra attention to the new schedule because that rider will experience two service cutbacks: There will be fewer Blue Line trains to the transfer station at Rosslyn, and fewer Orange Line trains to West Falls Church.
A short-distance rider in the District shouldn’t have any issues with the simulated service week. For example, a passenger waiting at Capitol South’s platform for a train to Farragut West is simply going to get on the next arriving train, and the rush hour service will be as frequent as now.
Riders traveling longer distances on the Blue or Orange lines during simulation week will want to pay extra attention to the destination signs. They won’t see “Silver Line” on the trains or the next train display boards during that week.
While no date has been set for either the Silver Line opening or the simulated service that precedes it, it’s likely to occur during the summer, when ridership will be down somewhat for the vacation season. Commuters on the Blue Line and the far west portion of the Orange Line may consider that a small blessing because it could ease crowding and confusion as riders make the transition to the new system.
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles is scheduled to ask the Metro board Thursday afternoon for authority to set an opening date for the Silver Line.