Metro responds to Silver Line questions


A test train approaches the Wiehle-Reston East station, which will be the west end of the Silver Line’s first phase, opening July 26. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Metro Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox took more than 30 questions about the Silver Line and Metro service during an online Q&A Monday. You can read the full transcript here.

Here’s a summary of her responses, focusing on some of the most frequently asked questions about the Silver Line.

The basics
The Silver Line will look and feel just like the existing Metrorail lines. There are five new stations in the first phase — four in Tysons Corner and one in the Reston area. The “Silver Line is not just about five new stations in Virginia,” Bowersox said. “It is a regional line that will serve customers from Reston to Largo — and, importantly, connect the region’s two economic centers (Tysons and D.C.) with a direct train ride. That would not be as effective/powerful if riders had to transfer between trains. There are other regional benefits, including to customers in the core of the system, who will see off-peak service increase to every four minutes between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory.”

Blue Line impact
Blue Line riders in Virginia are looking at a cutback in service to accommodate the Silver Line, and many have written to express their anger about it. This is how Bowersox addressed their concerns.

“I understand that this means a change for Blue Line riders and not all will find the change convenient,” she said. At rush hour, the Blue Line runs on a “lopsided” frequency: There’s a 12-minute gap, then six minutes, then 12, then six. and so on. Once the Silver Line opens, Blue Line trains will run every 12 minutes apart consistently. “It is worth noting that we are executing on a plan that was developed more than a decade ago when the Silver Line was planned/approved. The original plan called for Blue Line trains every 14 minutes. We were able to do a little better than that by extending Silver Line to Largo Town Center, rather than Stadium-Armory.”

Stations served by Blue and another color will see the same or more trains as they do today. “For example, stations from Pentagon to King Street see a train every three minutes at rush hour today. Once Silver Line opens, they will still see a train every three minutes. It’s just that two trains per hour that were formerly Blue Line trains will become Yellow Line trains. The Yellow option does require a transfer for some riders, depending on their destination.”

The platform displays (the next train advisories often referred to as “PIDs”) will continue to show the next three trains to arrive at the station, except at stations served by the Blue Line. “Thanks to customer feedback,” Bowersox said, “we made a change to displays at stations served by the Blue Line. They now always show the next Blue Line train, even if it is not one of the next three trains. This feature provides a key piece of information to Blue Line passengers, allowing them to make better travel decisions, particularly those considering the Yellow Line as an alternate path of travel.”

See related: Interactive Silver Line map

Week of “simulated service”
During the week before the Silver Line opens, Metro will test trains on the new line in a “simulated service.” The trains will operate on their normal schedule. They will be empty while traveling through the five new stations in Fairfax County. On their eastbound trips, they will become Orange Line trains on arrival at East Falls Church and will take on passengers at each stop to Largo Town Center. On the return trip, they will unload all remaining passengers at East Falls Church.

This is the week when the Blue Line goes to the constant 12-minute gap between trains. It’s also the week when the Orange Line loses its Rush Plus service, so there will be fewer Orange Line trains between Vienna and West Falls Church, on the far west side of the line.

“Stations like East Falls Church, Ballston and Court House will actually see a service increase,” Bowersox said. That’s the effect of those future Silver Line trains coming down the tracks from the Wiehle-Reston East station and becoming Orange Line trains starting at East Falls Church during the “simulated service” week.

At Arlington County’s Orange Line stations, Bowersox said, the number of trains will increase from 19 trains per hour during peak periods to 21 trains per hour. But this still is a worry for the far-west Orange Line riders because none of those riders will be able to switch over to new Silver Line stations till the following week.

In a conference call with reporters last week, I asked Metro General Manager Richard Sarles about this concern. He noted that the week of the simulation — the week of July 21 — is deep into the summer. “A lot of people take vacation, he said. “We expect ridership will be down in general,” making it less likely that those west-end Orange Line platforms will be extra crowded.

Orange Line shift
Once the Silver Line opens for business, transit planners anticipate that many of the west-side Orange Line riders will begin boarding Metrorail at the five new Silver Line stations in Fairfax County. How many?

“About 25-30 percent will be existing (Orange Line) customers,” Bowersox said of the initial Silver Line ridership. “The rest are expected to be new riders to the system.

Here, Bowersox saw another reason that opening in the summer “will definitely help.”

“We know from experience (e.g. Rush Plus) that commuting habits are slow to change,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to ramp up to full ridership over the next year,” as commuters figure out what travel patterns work best for them.

Will Wiehle Avenue parking garage be ready?
“Yes,” Bowersox said, “it will be ready, opening at 9:30 a.m. on July 26.” This isn’t a Metro garage, but “My understanding is that rates will be the same, and SmarTrip will be accepted along with credit cards” to pay for parking.

Weekend track work?
“The Silver Line will be maintained just like every other line on the system,” Bowersox said. “While the 11 or so miles of the Silver Line are new, the line also includes some of the oldest track on the system, and that rebuilding will continue. So, expect that Silver Line service will be adjusted on the weekends — just like Orange and Blue — as we advance this important work.”

Because the 11 miles of Silver Line track in Fairfax is new, riders are unlikely to experience the disruptions caused by major track work or platform rebuilding on other lines. But most of the Silver Line ride is along the Orange and Blue Line tracks. Whatever weekend rehab affects those tracks will affect the Silver Line schedule.

The new rail cars
“Our new 7000-series cars, which are currently going through testing, will not only replace the 1000-series and 4000-series, but also add 128 cars to accommodate ridership growth (Silver Line),” Bowersox said. “We are also looking to exercise an option in the contract next fiscal year to expand the fleet by another 220 cars to get closer to our goal of all eight-car trains during rush hours.

“We expect the first 7000-series train set to serve passengers later this year.”

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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