Metro said it encountered no glitches while testing its new Silver Line for a full day Sunday and again during peak morning travel hours Monday, and a transit authority spokesman declared “it’s all system go” for the start of passenger service Saturday.
“At this point, from a systems perspective, everything is running as designed and the system is running reliably,” spokesman Dan Stessel said in a Monday conference call with reporters. He said Metro will continue operating the new line without paying customers for the rest of the week before opening it to passengers at noon Saturday.
After five years of construction costing an estimated $2.9 billion, the Silver Line’s first phase — 11.4 miles of tracks connecting Wiehle Avenue in Reston to existing Metro tracks in East Falls Church, with four new stations in the Tysons Corner area — has begun carrying trains at the same rate that it will when the line becomes fully operational in a few days.
“We’re pleased to report there were no issues or delays this morning,” Stessel said Monday. “All went smoothly all day [Sunday] … and also this morning.”
After arriving at East Falls Church, the Silver Line shares tracks with the Orange Line to Rosslyn. From there, the Silver, Orange and Blue lines share tracks across downtown Washington to the Stadium-Armory station, where the Orange Line diverges and heads to New Carrollton. From Stadium-Armory, the Silver and Blue lines share tracks to Largo Town Center.
During simulated service, Silver Line trains are running on a regular schedule but without passengers from Wiehle Avenue, through the Tysons area to East Falls Church, where they begin to pick up inbound customers. Heading west toward Virginia from Largo Town Center during the week of simulation, the trains cease passenger service at East Falls Church, but continue to run along the new Silver Line tracks to Wiehle Avenue.
Even without riders, the trains are stopping at each of the new stations — the four in Tysons (McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill) and the Wiehle-Reston East station — in a simulation of passenger service.
“This week is about familiarizing our employees with the operation of trains on the new segment as well as the station managers and getting them familiar with their new stations,” Stessel said. He said the managers are unlocking the new stations at Metro’s normal opening times and “going through the motions” of their duties as if the stations were filled with commuters.
“Crews will be out prepping the stations for opening day,” he said. “And that includes detailed cleaning, power-washing, painting and putting the finishing touches on the facilities.”
As for construction, Stessel said, only two relatively minor “punch-list” items remain to be completed, neither of which will interfere with Saturday’s opening. He said some drainage problems still need to be fixed at stations and “heat tape” has to be installed on the Silver Line electricity-carrying third rails to prevent icing in cold weather.
Metro officials had complained last month that the builders, a group of contractors led by construction giant Bechtel, were moving slowly in finishing the last of the construction work.
Stessel also said the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction of the line, has not obtained certificates of occupancy for the Spring Hill, McLean and Tysons Corner stations. But the stations have passed all inspections, he said. “We’re at the point now where all issues have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s really just a matter of getting the paperwork in hand. So we expect that to happen early this week.”
With the start of simulated Silver Line service, some Blue Line and Orange Line riders have begun to experience a reduction in service that will continue after the new line opens to passengers Saturday.
The Blue, Orange and Silver Lines all use Metro’s tunnel under the Potomac River, running from Rosslyn to Washington. Because the tunnel can safely accommodate no more than 26 trains per hour in each direction, the introduction of Silver trains into the mix has forced Metro to reduce the number of Orange and Blue trains it can operate during peak periods.
During peak travel periods, the number of inbound Orange Line trains leaving Vienna, which used to be 19 per hour, has been reduced to 11 and the number of Blue Line trains, previously seven per hour, has been cut to five. The combination of 16 Orange and Blue trains means there is room in the tunnel for 10 Silver Line trains per hour.
The Silver Line’s second phase, expected to cost $2.7 billion and open in 2018, will extend the line 11 miles west from Reston to eastern Loudoun county, just beyond Dulles International Airport.