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Metro's Silver Line in need of post-9/11 security upgrade

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 7:36 PM

A new rail line linking Loudoun County to the region's Metro system is set to include the latest in transportation aesthetics and engineering: stained glass and sculptures in its 11 stations; aerial tracks swooping above the Beltway and Route 123; tunnels carved under a section of bustling Tysons Corner.

But the plans for the extension from East Falls Church are missing important elements: the technology and infrastructure to guard against a modern-day terrorist attack.

The missing security features, which will probably increase the project's cost, were identified in a triennial audit by the Tri-State Oversight Committee, a regional panel that oversees safety at Metro. Released last month, the nearly 300-page report noted dozens of problems at Metro, but it also highlighted the lapse in planning for the new rail line to include the "additional processes, design features, and equipment necessary in a 'post-9/11' environment."

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees Reagan National and Dulles airports, is supervising construction, but Metro will own and operate the line. Rail project officials said they are awaiting word from Metro about what security elements to include.

"Our position is, just tell us what we have to put in and we'll do it," said Tara Hamilton, an airports authority spokeswoman. "We'll look at how to cover it when we get the information back."

Among those missing features and policies cited in the audit: closed-circuit televisions currently in use at all Metro stations; technology used to detect weapons of mass destruction and outside intruders on rail tracks; and routine threat and vulnerability assessments, which are used by Metro to gauge how likely or imminent an attack is.

"It's a matter of getting the new stations in line with what we have at the stations now," said Matthew Bassett, chairman of the oversight agency and a safety manager for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

A full accounting of Metro's required security features, which are now being updated, is not publicly available because of its highly sensitive content, officials said. But the failure to include Metro's security construction and technical guidelines in the plan for the so-called Silver Line could have a substantial impact on the project's already ballooning costs.

Mame Reiley, chairman of the Dulles Rail Corridor Committee for the airports authority, said officials are worried about the added costs. But she expressed hope that the project's total budget, estimated to be as high as $6.6 billion depending on the location of the station at Dulles airport, would be significantly lowered through competitive bidding on the second phase.

"Security is on the top of everyone's mind," Reiley said. "Let's face it, regardless of what it costs, we're going to do this right."

About 20 percent of the first phase of the rail extension is complete, at a cost of $2.75 billion. Service on that portion, which runs through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, is set to begin in 2013. The second phase is scheduled to open three years later.

Metro spokesman Reggie Woodruff said the agency plans to "have corrective actions ready by the Nov. 22 deadline" to respond to issues raised in the audit. However, Metro did not have more information on why the security guideline information wasn't conveyed to the airports authority earlier.

Construction on the phase one stations in Tysons hasn't started yet, and preliminary engineering for the second phase of the project is not scheduled to finish until March 2011. Officials said that would give contractors more than enough time to change the plans. Still, alterations to accommodate security changes can be time-consuming and costly, experts say.

"When you put it in the original construction, it's not very expensive," said Jerome M. Hauer, New York City's former emergency management director who now works as a Northern Virginia security and terrorism consultant. "But to go back and change things . . .it becomes significantly more expensive," he said.

Metro has been a leader in installing technology designed to fight terrorism, Hauer said.

In 2001, before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it was the first subway system in the world to have sensors that could detect chemical weapons being deployed inside stations.

All of Metro's 86 rail stations have at least eight strategically located closed-circuit television cameras "performing constant surveillance," according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which funds many of Metro's security programs. Some stations have multiple chemical warfare and radiological sensors, and, last year, Metro started a 20-person antiterror unit that works to discourage potential attacks.

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