Safety tests to disrupt Orange Line weekend service

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Service will be disrupted on Metro's Orange Line over the next three weekends while safety tests are performed for a bridge that will carry trains over Interstate 66 to Dulles International Airport.

Free shuttle buses will carry riders between the West and East Falls Church stations while the contractor building the first 11.7 miles of the Metrorail extension conducts load-bearing tests on 10 bridge supports. The tests were ordered by the federal government, which opened a safety inquiry into what it called an inadequate plan by Dulles Transit Partners to test the 32-year-old foundations. The inquiry was reported by The Washington Post last fall.

This will be the longest service disruption on a single train line in recent memory, Metro spokesman Lisa Farbstein said, and Orange Line riders should expect the Dulles rail construction to cause other weekend closures in coming months.

"This is a major expansion of the rail system, and integrating the new line into the existing system is something that is extremely involved," Farbstein added.

The work will be noisy, as workers drive piles into the ground, focusing on difficult-to-reach foundations under the Orange Line tracks and the thin, grassy median strips on the east and west sides of the highway.

"This recurs over and over,'' said Patrick Nowakowski, the rail project's executive director. "It's metal pounding metal." The sound will not be as loud as the testing on caissons near Tysons Corner in recent months, but it will be repetitious, he said. The pounding will stop at night.

The project also is moving forward on another priority for the line from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. Nowakowski said he reached a deal with Metro to share a cost increase for 64 rail cars that will carry riders on the new Silver Line.

The regional airports authority, which is building the 23-mile line, said last month that Metro was overcharging by $75 million for the new cars by having the Dulles rail project pay for the entire cost of engineering, design and development for the Silver Line cars as well as for hundreds of replacement cars Metro plans to buy for the rest of the system.

"We've reached a compromise that allows us to enter a 50-50 sharing agreement," Nowakowski said, calling the deal "the right business decision for both of us."

The deal is expected to be approved by Metro's board of directors Thursday as part of a contract worth as much as $1.9 billion for hundreds of replacement cars. News of the agreement was first reported by the Examiner.

The safety tests were ordered by the Federal Transit Administration, which opened an inquiry last fall into the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's testing plan and oversight of the project. Dulles Transit Partners had proposed testing just two of 11 foundations it discovered underground while designing the Silver Line. But federal officials, who are contributing $900 million to the project, demanded a more rigorous testing plan out of concern that the failure of any of the supports could cause a structural collapse that would endanger riders.

Load-bearing tests on two of the foundations showed no problems. If any of the others are found unable to bear the load of the trains, workers will probably drill in additional steel pilings to add to those already embedded in the concrete, Nowakowski said.

Irrespective of the tests, most of the foundations need to be modified with additional pilings to support the alignment of the inbound and outbound tracks, officials said.

Nowakowski said Dulles Transit Partners is paying for the tests. He said he does not know the cost but doubted it would add to the $2.6 billion cost of the first leg.

The work is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. Friday. On that night (until the system closes at 3 a.m.) and June 4 and 11, Orange Line trains headed toward the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU and New Carrollton terminals will share a single track between East Falls Church and Vienna. Riders should add 40 minutes to their trip.

From 7 a.m. Saturday to closing on Memorial Day and all day June 5-6 and June 12-13, there will be no train service between the West and East Falls Church stations.

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