Metro’s Dulles rail line to cost $107 million to operate for first three years


A Yellow Line train travels over the Potomac. (Ricky Carioti/WASHINGTON POST)
October 13, 2011

The new Dulles rail extension, which Metro officially named the Silver Line on Thursday, will cost $107 million to operate in its first three years, just as the transit authority faces a jump in its pension, health-care and insurance costs.

Carol Kissal, Metro’s chief financial officer, told the Metro board’s finance committee Thursday that servicing the 11.5 miles of rail and five stations now under construction is expected to cost $20 million in fiscal 2013.

At the same time, Metro faces a 32 percent growth in its pension costs, which are expected to hit $148 million in fiscal 2013. The hike in pension costs is driven in part by financial losses the funds suffered in the stock market in 2008 and the contributions the transit authority is required to make to pensions, Kissal said.

Metro is the sole source of pension contributions for 90 percent of its employees, roughly 9,000 workers who are members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Kissal said. That means the rise in pension costs has to come from increases in what local jurisdictions pay to run Metro, “or the fare box,” she said.

Metro also faces an 8 percent increase in employee health-care expenses and a 5 percent rise in insurance costs related to claim payouts from the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured dozens.

Thursday’s meeting was the first time the transit authority gave cost estimates for operating the first phase of the Silver Line, which will run from West Falls Church through Tysons Corner to Reston and is expected to open in late 2013.

The $2.8 billion project has gone through more than 70 percent of its contingency funds since construction started two years ago. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is responsible for building the new rail track and will turn it over to the transit authority to operate and maintain. Metro officials have said it will take the agency up to six months to test the rail line and train new employees.

The $20 million of expenses in fiscal 2013 include equipment to run the railroad, plus recruiting and training train operators, station managers, escalator and rail car maintenance personnel, and police officers. It is expected to cost $43 million in fiscal 2014 and $44 million in 2015.

The Airports Authority and local, state and federal officials are negotiating costs for Phase 2, which would run from Reston to Loudoun County.

Some board members expressed concern that updated revenue and ridership projections for the Silver Line haven’t been calculated. They also want a firm date on when the system will be turned over to Metro and when paying customers will ride.

Airports Authority officials have said the rail line will be completed Aug. 9, 2013 — nine days later than previously planned, but the lead contractor on the project has said it is at risk of being six months behind.

Metro officials are expected to have ridership projections at next month’s board meeting.

At Thursday’s meeting, the customer service panel gave preliminary approval to a new version of the transit agency’s iconic map that will include the Silver Line and other service changes.

The committee approved changes to the Blue and Yellow lines to make way for the new Silver Line service and to ease overcrowding on the Orange Line.

The new line connects to the Orange Line at Falls Church, so its trains will have to be integrated into overall service.

Between the Court House and Rosslyn stations is the “busiest place” on the rail system at peak periods, Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel said.

There are 106 passengers per car at rush hour between those stations, compared with 94 passengers per car on the Red Line between Dupont Circle and Farragut North.

Starting in June, to offset crowding and make way for the Silver Line, some trains on the Blue Line will be routed across the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac. A dashed line on the new map will show service changes on the Blue and Yellow lines.

The change is expected to benefit more than 108,000 customers. But 16,000 passengers who connect in Rosslyn and head west would have to wait six minutes more for a Blue Line train.

Metro also decided that the new Dulles line will be called the Silver Line because an overwhelming number of the 14,000 respondents to an online survey favored that name.

Metro’s customer service committee postponed until November action on whether to change the names of some stations.

Dana Hedgpeth is a Post reporter, working the early morning, reporting on traffic, crime and other local issues.
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