Silver Line: What to watch for on Monday


New riders had all the usual problems with the fare gates, but the red and green lights marking the ones available for entry were difficult to see. (Photos by Robert Thomson – The Washington Post)

Over the weekend, the Silver Line was a tourist attraction. On Monday, it will be a commuter route.

Here are some tips for using Metro’s new line as a work route for the first time.

Pylon guide
Pylons display new line maps.

Patience. You couldn’t go very far on the Silver Line this weekend without meeting another transit buff. One who was riding back and forth along the new route was Matt Johnson, a planner and avid blogger on local transit topics. I asked Johnson for his top tip: “I’d say give yourself a little extra time,” he replied. “There will be a lot of first-time riders figuring things out. That will slow things.”

I’m listing this first, because I think it’s going to be the top tip for Monday’s initiation in Silver Line commuting. There will be thousands of commuters switching from the Orange Line to the Silver Line, but it’s very likely that thousands will be commuting via Metrorail for the first time. And no one will be familiar with the five new stations in Fairfax County.

Fare gates. I waited a long time to get the photo at the top of the posting, so you could get a full view of the gates at the Wiehle-Reston East station. They usually were much more crowded with riders making the usual newbie mistakes: Don’t know where the insert the paper farecard, don’t know you must pull it out the top before the gate opens, don’t know that the SmarTrip card must be touched to the card-reading disk on top rather than shoved into the paper card slot, don’t know that a paper card means nothing to the SmarTrip-reading disk.

But both the newbies and the old-timers encountered this problem: It was tough to see whether the fare gate had a red light, meaning it was not for entry, or a green light, meaning it was available for entry.

Parking at Wiehle Avenue. Post transportation team editor Victoria Benning parked Sunday at the big new garage on the north side of the Wiehle-Reston East station. She had these observations about getting to the garage from the Dulles Toll Road, then getting into the garage: The exit from the eastbound toll road is confusing, because there are separate lanes for buses and cars. But it’s hard to tell the difference. If you take the wrong one, it’s impossible to switch, because of the barriers. If drivers pick the wrong lane, they’re going to have to go a block or so and find a place to make a u-turn and double back.

Wiehle Kiss and Ride
Sign marks the short-term parking at the Wiehle garage.

Once inside the garage, there are no readable directional signs to help you park or get to the trains. You can’t even see the arrows telling you which direction to drive. I saw lots of people wandering aimlessly. It looks like a maze. There are no big signs telling you which level the trains are on. It isn’t until you are actually on the elevators that you see that trains are on the plaza level.

Walking in Tysons Corner. The opening of the Silver Line is out ahead of the development of the support structure for pedestrians. This weekend, most of the walking was to and from the Tysons Corner station on Route 123, the station closest to the malls. But during the work week, pedestrians should be more evenly distributed among the four new stations in Tysons as people learn how to get to and from work as well as shopping.

Bus routes signs
Look for signs like this directing travelers to buses.

If you take a bus to and from a station, you should be fine — once you figure out exactly where the bus stops. The stops are clustered close around the stations. If you are setting out on foot, keep a sharp lookout for the traffic. The main roads are as wide as they ever were. And there’s plenty of construction interrupting sidewalks. On the south side of the Tysons Corner station, the skywalk branching off to the Tysons Corner mall has not yet opened. You must go down to the street level to reach the mall.

Jacqueline Dupree, who works at The Post but is known to many for her JDLand blog, said she hoped the traffic officers we saw out on opening day to protect pedestrians would remain at those posts.

See also


Skywalk gets Metro riders over busy Route 123,

It may be a long trip. Some commuters will be traveling from Wiehle-Reston East to Tysons Corner. It’s a 12-minute ride on the Silver Line to the middle of Tysons. Some will be traveling farther east into downtown Washington. It’s a 41-minute ride from Wiehle to Metro Center. A commuter from Rockville who wants to end the accursed drive across the American Legion Bridge to Tysons Corner may try to the Red Line from Rockville, transferring to the Silver Line at Metro Center, for a transit ride of 66 minutes to the Tysons Corner station. A Magellanic east-west transit of the entire Silver Line from Largo Town Center to a job near Tysons Corner station would take 58 minutes.


So cruel. The doors won’t open on these new shiny new rail cars. It’s just a test train.

No new railcars. On the platform at Wiehle-Reston East, I met Dave Kubicek, the former boss of Metrorail who had returned to the D.C. area to witness the Silver Line opening. I mentioned to him that my inaugural Silver Line ride was aboard one of the oldest cars in the rail fleet. He gave me five reasons to look forward to the new 7000 series rail cars. But they won’t arrive till late this year. You might see eight-cars-worth of them out for a test drive through Silver Line stations, but don’t bother lining up by their doors, even if you hear an automated voice announcing “Doors opening.” They won’t open.

For many months to come, Silver Line trips will be taken in the same old railcars operating on all the other lines. And those new cars won’t be reserved for exclusive use on the new line.


Metro staffers help riders get through the fare gates at the Tysons Corner station.

Assistance. Look for extra Metro staffers in the Silver Line stations. I hope the deployment is similar to what we saw on opening day. The staffers were very helpful getting people through the fare gates and onto trains.

See where the station dots are when three lines run parallel.
See where the station dots are when three lines run parallel.

Little things. Thanks to the rider bound from East Falls Church to Foggy Bottom for a show at the Kennedy Center. She pointed out to me one potential source of confusion when she looked at the line map on a platform pylon. The maps now trace the route of the Silver Line, as well as the Orange and Blue lines, since they share track. It was clear to her that both the Orange and Silver lines stop at Arlington County stations, such as Ballston or Court House. But when she looked at the dot for Foggy Bottom on the map, with the Silver, Orange and Blue lines running parallel, she was unsure if all three lines stopped at that station. The dot doesn’t cover them all.

The answer is that there are no express trains. The three lines stop at every Orange, Blue and Silver Line station between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory. But she had to ask this question, which hadn’t occurred to me.

Let us know what issues you encounter with Silver Line riding. We know we haven’t discovered them all.

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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Robert Thomson · July 25