The Washington Post

Three questions on how Silver Line helps, or hurts

Many travelers think of the Silver Line as five new stations in Fairfax, but the route continues to Largo. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Metro’s Silver Line is scheduled to open in under three weeks, and we’re still trying to figure out all the implications for the D.C. area’s travelers.

These three questions and comments came up during Monday’s online discussion, and I didn’t get a chance to address them during the chat. They illustrate some of the hopes and fears associated with the opening.

Q. Metro and everyone else should stop saying the gap between trains will be 12 minutes. That is best-case scenario. In reality, that gap will be much bigger due to the crowding and the extra time it will take at each station to get passengers on and off the train.

Do you know how Metro is planning to handle this, other than tossing a few eight-car trains at us per hour? Second, Metro is going to have to seriously work on train signage at Franconia-Springfield so riders know which train is Yellow and which is Blue. Currently, the train’s displays are often blank when the trains are sitting on the platform and remain that way until about 30 seconds before the train departs. This is unacceptable even now, when Rush “Plus” means one in three trains will be Yellow. Once it’s every other train, failure to fix this problem will cause huge problems and headaches. I can only speak for myself, but as a Blue line rider, it’s not the changes themselves that I dread so much — it’s that I know Metro’s horrible track record when it comes to implementing the changes in a way that takes riders into account.

A. Riders who board at Franconia-Springfield have long complained that they can’t tell which train is which till the last moment. On my most recent visit, there were no waiting trains at the platform. A loudspeaker announcement predicted which line would arrive first, but then reversed the preliminary call. With riders so focused now on which train will take them where, it’s more important than ever to get the call right.

The commenter addresses another concern I hear more and more frequently: It’s bad enough that riders will have a 12-minute gap between trains to certain destinations. But that’s the best-case scenario, and under the new system, problems on any of three lines — Orange, Blue and Silver — can create a much-worse scenario. Metro has a limited number of ways to deal with disruptions. One of them is to change the color of a train. For example, an Orange Line train heading toward Rosslyn might get changed to a Blue Line train during a disruption in the afternoon. That means everyone who started out thinking the train was bound for Vienna has to get off.

Also, in the early months of Silver Line operation, Metro will have a limited ability to adjust to unexpected demands. The original plan was to have at least some of the new 7000 series railcars enter service before the new line opened. But Metro will have to make do with its existing fleet of aging, and breakable cars.

Q. Do you think that the Silver Line will have any benefit for traffic on I-66 outside the Capital Beltway? Will enough people who live north of Route 50 have reason to take the Silver Line instead of the Orange Line or using I-66 to get to work? I live out past Dulles Airport, so maybe in the future when the Silver Line reaches Dulles, I could consider it as a way to get to work, but currently, both the end of the Silver Line and Orange Line are 15 miles away and neither seem to make sense when I am already driving two-thirds of the way to work. But, if it can get a few people off the roads, that might help more.

A. I think it’s unlikely the first phase of the Silver Line will make much difference to traffic on I-66, the Dulles Toll Road or the Capital Beltway. My concern is that this may turn out to be an optimistic statement. We’ll have to watch for traffic congestion around the new stations. Wiehle-Reston East is the one with the big parking garage. Many travelers are worried about the potential for congestion around the Wiehle Avenue access point. Farther east, travelers are concerned about whether drivers — rather than the hoped-for bus riders — will be drawn to the four new stations in Tysons Corner.

Q. Does Metro management know when they plan to move the Washington Flyer bus from West Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue? I’m asking because I plan to fly out of Dulles in few months, and I’d like to take the Washington Flyer bus to Dulles at that time, but I don’t know when the Flyer bus service will start at Wiehle Avenue.

A. The Post’s Lori Aratani writes: “There will be new bus service from Wiehle Avenue to the airport. A ride on the Silver Line Express [the renamed Washington Flyer service] will cost $5, less than half of the price of a trip on the Washington Flyer from West Falls Church. The new service will debut when the rail line opens.”

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.



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