Silver Line not so simple to understand


Metro image shows route of Silver Line between Wiehle-Reston East and Largo Town Center stations.

[Join me at noon for an online discussion about the Silver Line with Metro Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox, who is leading the transit authority's marketing and education campaign for the new line. You can submit questions and comments now via this link.]

Transit planners hope to attract about 25,000 new passengers to the Silver Line stations, but there’s a catch: To use the new line, they have to know what the Silver Line is.

So Metro has been working for months — through station signs, YouTube videos, contests, visits to local festivals — to raise awareness of the travel option scheduled to become available on July 26.

But questions and comments I’ve received from potential customers suggest that some are still confused on the basics.

Here’s one question that came in for Monday’s chat that may serve as an example.

Metrorail But Not Built By Metro? Is this line similar in nature to the MARC, but it just happens to run parallel to the Blue Line in some parts, use the same rails and stations to the Blue and Orange lines?

I’ll ask Metro Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox to address that specifically during the chat, but here’s a summary of some basic information about the Silver Line, responding to questions I’ve received.

It wasn’t built by Metro. This is the first part of the Metrorail system not built by the transit authority, though transit managers have been involved in the lengthy planning and construction process. The Metro board has voted several times to accept the project, most recently on Thursday.

It is part of Metrorail. Knowing the new line and the five stations in Fairfax County were not being built by the transit authority led some travelers to think it would be a separate system. In fact, riders won’t change trains to join the rest of Metrorail. And they can use their Metro SmarTrip cards to pay the fares. The fare rates are the same as in the rest of Metrorail.

It’s not just five stations in Fairfax. The new part of the Silver Line consists of 11.4 miles of track and five new stations in Fairfax County. But eastbound Silver Line trains join up with the original Metrorail system before East Falls Church and will end their trips at Largo Town Center. So if you’re bound for Metro Center from Largo and the sign on the railcar says “Silver Line,” that’s your next train.

New rail cars aren’t just for the Silver Line. Travelers sometimes refer to the next generation of rail cars as “the Silver Line cars.” Some of the 7000 series cars are being bought to accommodate the demand created by the Silver Line. That doesn’t mean they will run exclusively on the Silver Line. In fact, new rail cars can’t be reserved exclusively for one line. (And none will have entered service in time for the line’s July 26 opening.)

This part doesn’t go to the airport. This is one of the biggest transportation projects in the United States, and it’s very complicated. The first phase, the part opening July 26, goes only as far west as the Wiehle-Reston East station. To reach Dulles International Airport, riders will need to transfer to buses, which will charge their own fares. (Travelers also have asked the flip side of this question: “Does the Silver Line just go to the airport?” The first phase includes four stations in Tysons Corner, in addition to the end-of-the-line station at Wiehle Avenue, on the east side of Reston.)

It won’t necessarily save time. How practical this new route is for individual travelers depends on their starting points, destinations and the time of day for the trips. A rush hour ride from the west end of the line to Metro Center should take 41 minutes and cost $5.90, using a SmarTrip card to pay. Some drivers say the time and expense isn’t worth it. A rider who is used to going to the West Falls Church station to catch a Washington Flyer bus directly to Dulles now will have to go to the East Falls Church station, board a Silver Line train to Wiehle-Reston East, then board either a Washington Flyer or a Fairfax Connector bus to complete the airport trip.

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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Lori Aratani · June 28, 2014