The Dulles Metrorail project remains a construction work in progress, as drivers along torn-up Route 7 in Tysons can attest. But as work on the first phase wraps up this fall, commuters will become less concerned about construction disruptions and more about using the new Silver Line trains.
Metro and Fairfax County’s transportation department will market the Silver Line extension as a convenient new way of getting across the Washington region, replacing the solo drive for some and old bus or train trips for others.
Commuters, creatures of habit, will be asked to create new habits. The initial success of one of the biggest transit projects in the nation depends on their willingness to try.
After all, there will be few new commuters around to board the Silver Line. During the first year at least, most of the weekday passengers will be commuters who shifted from an old route to a new route.
Here are answers to a few basic questions about the train service to begin early next year.
After construction began in 2009, I would occasionally ask officials involved in the project how long the train ride would take. The usual answer: “I think it’s in the environmental impact statement.”
Engineers aren’t much for marketing. But now Metro has offered more information about travel times.
The four new stations in Tysons — Spring Hill, Greensboro, Tysons Corner and McLean — will be two minutes apart by train. The station at the end of the line’s first phase is in the middle of the Dulles Toll Road about eight minutes west of Tysons.
A trip from Wiehle-Reston East station to Metro Center in downtown Washington will take 41 minutes.
Let’s say you live in the region’s core and plan to use the line to reach a job or shopping in Tysons. A trip from Rosslyn to the Tysons Corner station should take about 22 minutes.
Several factors will affect ridership. One is the location of the five new stations. Wiehle-Reston East is likely to be the most popular. It will have commuter parking, and also will be a bus hub. Some commuters who drive or take buses to Orange Line stations will find it more convenient to switch to Wiehle-Reston East. Fairfax Connector route changes will encourage that.
None of the four Tysons stations has a commuter parking garage, although there will be bus stops. Some limited parking will be available near the McLean station, east of the Capital Beltway. Planners anticipate that the biggest draw among the four will be the Tysons Corner station, nearest the shopping malls.
These are the estimates for daily ridership by station during the first year of operation.
Wiehle-Reston East: 16,400
Tysons Corner: 10,400
Spring Hill: 8,000
Lynn Bowersox, in charge of the marketing campaign for Metro, noted in a Wednesday night presentation to the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council that the most basic factor in ridership will be the number of people who are aware of the new line. Metro’s marketing research indicated that only about half of the potential customers know about it.
Look for Metro and its transit partners to step up the awareness campaign. A new Metro Web site is dedicated to publicizing the Silver Line: silverlinemetro.com.
Bowersox said Metro is reaching out to employers, business groups and civic associations to familiarize them with the new line. The awareness campaign also involves some traditional marketing: Look for your chance to buy a T-shirt with the new line’s SV logo, or pick up an eyeglass-cleaning cloth with the new Metrorail map showing the Silver Line route.
The first thing riders are likely to notice on the new map is that the Silver Line isn’t just five new stations in Fairfax County. After linking up with the Orange Line at East Falls Church, the Silver Line trains will continue through the District to Largo Town Center in Prince George’s County.
It will be a 70-minute trip from one end of the Silver Line to the other. This might provide an opportunity for a football fan living in the Reston area to take a one-seat transit ride to the Morgan Boulevard station just south of FedEx Field. A Prince George’s resident could take a 58-minute train ride to shop in Tysons, although an off-peak drive on the Capital Beltway would almost always be faster.
The most significant benefit of stretching the new line through the District will be the additional midday train service. The Orange, Blue and Silver lines will each operate trains every 12 minutes. Between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory, a train should reach platforms about every four minutes.
At rush hours, Metrorail already is at capacity in the tunnel through central D.C. Adding the Silver Line, with service every six minutes at peak periods, will require Blue Line trains to operate every 12 minutes.
Also, Metro will reduce Orange Line service between Vienna and East Falls Church, where the Silver Line trains join the track. There should be fewer riders in that outer zone as many bus routes switch to Silver Line stations.
The fare structure for the Silver Line is the same as on the rest of Metrorail.
Metro fares are based on time of day and distance traveled, up to a cap of $5.75. The transit authority has not announced whether it will consider a fare increase in 2014 and has not set the official fares for Silver Line stations. But this summer, the Dulles Metrorail project offered some estimated fares under the current structure.
A ride to Metro Center using a SmarTrip card at rush hour could cost $5.75 from Wiehle-Reston East, $5.05 from Spring Hill, $4.90 from Greensboro, $4.70 from Tysons Corner and $4.50 from McLean.
By comparison, an Orange Line ride to Metro Center from Vienna costs $5.30, and from West Falls Church, $3.95. (None of these figures includes the cost of car parking or bus riding to reach the stations.)