Metro urged to buy fewer new rail cars for Dulles line

As Metro prepares for the new rail extension to Loudoun County, it is reviewing a proposal that could reduce the number of rail cars it orders for the line as a way of saving money on the project.

Metro will operate the line, but the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs Dulles International and Reagan National airports, is overseeing construction.

Federal Transit Administration chief Peter M. Rogoff made the suggestion to buy fewer rail cars as officials from around the region seek ways to reduce costs for phase two of the Metro line, which will serve Dulles. County, state and federal governments, along with fees from the Dulles Toll Road, are paying for the project.

On Thursday, Metro officials are expected to present board members with feedback from rider focus groups on the design of the new rail cars, known as the 7000 Series, and on changing some rail station names. The Metro extension includes 11 new stations, with five in phase one, scheduled to open by 2013, and six in phase two, which is targeted for completion by 2016.

The second phase of the Metrorail extension has come under scrutiny for its increasing costs, now estimated at almost $3.5 billion. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been mediating talks between the airports authority and regional leaders, who have been at odds over whether the station at Dulles should be closer to the main terminal and underground, at a higher cost, or farther away and aboveground.

Metro is ordering rail cars for the Dulles line as well as replacements for the 300 oldest cars in its fleet, known as the 1000 Series. In its report on the 2009 Red Line accident, which killed nine people, the National Transportation Safety Board said the 1000 Series cars pose an “unacceptable risk to Metrorail users.”

Plans call for Metro to order 428 of the new 7000 Series cars from Kawasaki. More than a quarter of the cars will be used on the Dulles line, according to Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. The cost of the order is $886 million, which includes design, parts and training, Metro said.

In a July 3 white paper addressed to project stakeholders, Rogoff wrote that the 7000 Series cars will be “manufactured in sets of four cars, which are estimated to cost approximately $12 million each.”

“If two sets of vehicles can be eliminated from the project budget,” he wrote, there would be a savings of up to $24 million. Rogoff declined to comment on his memo.

Metro officials are reviewing the system’s needs and could decide to place the full order but use more of the new rail cars elsewhere in the system, transit officials said.

Stessel wrote in an e-mail Monday that the transit authority has not taken a position on Rogoff’s proposal.

“We’re not going to speculate on something that is predecisional,” he said.

The rail cars are going to be assembled in Lincoln, Neb., and are expected to be delivered by the end of 2013.

Riders’ feedback on names

As Metro prepares for the Dulles line, it has hired the designer of the original rail system map to integrate changes. Officials also hope to shorten some cumbersome station names, and they must approve names for the new line.

At Thursday’s meeting, Metro officials are expected to share findings from the focus groups about station names. In a 15-page presentation released Wednesday, some people said they found the new names confusing, but they supported having icons — an idea proposed by map designer Lance Wyman — as an aid for tourists.

The focus groups found that shorter names, such as Rosslyn, Bethesda and Pentagon, were more effective than longer ones, such as U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo. Among the proposed names for new stations that caused confusion was Herndon-Dulles East, for a station near the intersection of the Dulles Toll Road and Route 28. Some people thought it was referring to Dulles Airport.

Some of the proposed names that have surfaced are familiar, while others are not.

Lynne Baker, a spokeswoman for the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, which has a campus near McPherson Square, said in an e-mail that the school asked Metro about placing its name on signs after “noticing that other local colleges and satellite locations have their names on the Metro stops.”

Georgetown University would also like the increased visibility that having its name on a Metro stop would bring, said spokeswoman Rachel Pugh. It would help students “find our campuses more easily,” she said.

Arena Stage, which has a dramatic new theater complex in Southwest Washington, has also sought to announce its presence on a Metro stop. Desiree Urquhart, director of government and community relations for Arena Stage, said it “just makes sense” to have the name on Metro signs.

“We’re the big dog on the corner of Southwest,” she said.

Similarly, Holy Cross Hospital spokeswoman Yolanda Gaskins wrote in an e-mail that having the facility’s name on a Metro stop would “make it clear to patients, visitors and employees that taking Metro to our hospital is a viable and desirable option.”

The Metro board of directors’ customer service and operations committee is expected to vote on the agency’s station name policy at a meeting Thursday. The matter would then go before the full board later this month.

No decisions have been made to change station names to anything specific, Metro officials stressed. Changing a station name needs board approval. Historically, the cost of changing a name typically falls to the jurisdiction where the station is located, Stessel said.

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