Ah, that new Metro smell.
The flashes of giddiness on the Silver Line’s first weekday — and there was giddiness, along with surliness, confusion and apathy — stemmed from just how fresh and functional it is. This is a Metro utopia where the light bulbs shine and the elevators go up and down. At least in the five new stations. At least for now.
At the Wiehle-Reston East station, the farthest outpost of the line’s first phase, commuters walked in Monday morning and lifted their heads like visitors to a cathedral, workaday pilgrims bathed in light from a high and airy atrium. The bathrooms — four of them! — were unsullied and stocked with paper towels. The public-address speakers were not just loud but clear, unlike the garbled mix of echo and feedback that reverberates through most stations.
“It feels more like an airport,” Caiti Carlo, a 22-year-old government worker, said of the similarly gleaming McLean stop. “Big and clean and modern. I like it.”
The transit gods, maybe feeling guilty over the whole escalator thing, gave Metro a spectacular day for its Silver Line commuter debut. A cool breeze tickled the leaves of the newly planted saplings in the plaza outside the Reston stop. The cranes from the building boom that is unfolding around each station rose into a gorgeous summer sky. A bright sun winked from the windshields of vehicles on the adjacent Dulles Toll Road, which was thick with the traffic that many Silver Line riders want to avoid.
“I’m surprised there’s not more of a backup,” said one rider, disappointment in his voice as he looked at the road. (The Silver Line operates in the median, just as the Orange Line does along Interstate 66.) He works for a tech company in Tysons Corner, but declined to give his name because he was gleefully looking forward to enjoying some traffic-bound suffering through the train window. “That’s going to be my favorite part. I have spent too many hours stuck on that road.”
The schadenfreude would have to wait, though, maybe for the evening rush, maybe for the start of school. The midsummer traffic Monday morning never backed up. Cars and trains kept pace with each other between stations, many of the drivers looking curiously at the silver streak their daily tolls have helped to fund.
Veteran riders, many of them Orange Line switchers, started their morning slog like tourists, snapping photos and sending look-at-me tweets. Val Winslow took a picture of the “Trains This Way” sign before hurrying off to catch one for her trip to Metro Center.
“This is wonderful,” she said of a route that will cost her $40 more a month than her old Orange Line trip but lets her avoid driving to a park-and-ride lot and catching a bus to West Falls Church.
It won’t save her much time, but that didn’t matter. Winslow said the arrival of Metro would definitely make her suburban life more urban. Before now, she has missed downtown events on weekends because she won’t drive in the city (“Ever!”). But as transit is meant to do, the Silver Line will shrink the metropolis, allowing her to zip into the city for museum visits and festivals.
“I’m going to do a lot of Smithsonian things that I haven’t even seen,” Winslow said.
About 10,000 people had passed through the new Silver Line stops by midmorning. Many had experienced adventure just getting to the stations. Connector bus routes have been shuffled. And trying to walk or bike around the newly built facilities sometimes felt like the revenge of the car.
Jorge Quinones’s ad-hoc route to his office from the new Greensboro station included a detour through a car lot and not much time on a sidewalk. “It’s all guardrail and bush out here,” Quinones, 31, said while waiting to cross Chain Bridge Road at a corner with no walk sign. “There’s no safe and direct route, so this’ll be a crapshoot.” He had to jog, but he made it.
To make it easier on customers when they did show up, officials turned out an army of guides wearing “Courtesy Ambassador” vests and “Ask Me” T-shirts. (Note to new riders: This is not a permanent feature of Metro.)
But once folks found the platform, many of them were clearly Metro veterans. They rushed to grab window seats. They bolted for the cars as if the “doors closing” chimes were a starting gun (or a yellow light). One young man in a white polo shirt knew enough to quickly lower his breakfast sandwich to his side when a Metro worker walked through the car.
Once the ride downtown began, the novelty of the new route seemed to wane with each passing stop. At first, most passengers looked with interest at a view none had ever seen from a Metro train, at least, not this particular rush of office parks and buffer walls. The tracks soar over the densely packed intersections at Tysons and McLean, affording some dramatic vistas of office towers rising from the distant forests like Mayan ziggurats from the jungle. A young woman using earbuds nudged a young guy wearing headphones to point out the scene.
Each station, too, put a new place name on the region’s mental map. To the Dunn Lorings, Shady Groves and Huntingtons, add Wiehle, Spring Hill, Greensboro. Riders tried to get at least a brief look beyond the confines of the outdoor platforms of places some had never heard of before.
But one by one, riders lowered their eyes to phones and tablets and novels. By the time the Silver Line cars had sailed over the Beltway and rolled into East Falls Church (a station that opened in 1986), new Metro had merged with Old Metro.
It was almost impossible to decipher the message heard on the platform when the doors opened. But it had something to do with elevators out of service.
Robert Samuels and Karen Chen contributed to this report.