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Live updates: Silver Line’s weekday debut

July 28, 2014

The first phase of the $5.6 billion Silver Line opened Saturday, connecting Tysons Corner and Reston to the Metrorail system, but its first rush of commuters came Monday morning. The line’s first phase includes 11.4 miles in Fairfax County, with the second phase the connects to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County expected to open in 2018.

Map: The Silver Line’s new stations

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

The evening rush is winding down on the first workday commute on Metro’s new Silver Line, and — though changes to  Northern Virginia bus routes left some passengers confused and slower service on the Blue Line left some riders frustrated — things basically went smoothly for the transit agency and its customers.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel summed up the day this way in an e-mail:

“There is a saying in the transit industry: You’re only as good as your last rush hour. We now have two good ones under our belt, and we’ll work to keep the trend going tomorrow.

“Ridership on this first weekday of Silver Line service has been quite respectable. Wiehle-Reston East is well established as the busiest of the five new stations, thanks to its 3000+ parking spaces and lots of connecting bus service. During the morning commute, Wiehle quickly shot up to the 12th busiest boarding station. (It moved lower as the day wore on, as downtown stations with heavy all-day traffic pulled ahead. But the morning ridership is impressive nonetheless.)

“It is also worth nothing that exits at Tysons Corner during the morning rush hour exceeded entries by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. That’s exciting for us because it means that people are using the line for “reverse-peak” commutes. By filling trains in the reverse peak direction, we are making the best use of our existing infrastructure while generating revenue on trains we are already running. Best of all, riders who reverse commute usually enjoy a very comfortable trip — with plenty of seats to themselves.”

We’re wrapping up this live blog but don’t fret: There’s plenty more Silver Line coverage on the way. Meantime, read The Post’s latest stories about today’s commute:

Silver Line weathers its first morning commute

On the Silver Line, the smell of a freshly forged commute

Bus riders stranded, confused and late to work

Silver Line brings good karma for parkers — for now

What Blue Line riders should see on platform signs

  • Emma Brown
  • ·
Commuters wait for the Silver Line to depart during the first business day of operation at the Wiehle-Reston East station on Monday. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post)

Commuters wait for the Silver Line to depart during the first business day of operation at the Wiehle-Reston East station on Monday. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post)

Christine Gard likes the new Tysons station itself: Clean, shiny, airy. But her commute just got a whole lot worse.

She usually leaves home in Warrenton at 6 am to get to her job designing computer enterprise systems and writing policy in Arlington, and gets home about 6 or 6:15, plenty of time to play with her grandchildren, eat dinner and relax.

But the Silver Line is about 15 minutes slower than her old route, she said, so she got to Tysons three minutes after her usual 4:50 p.m. bus left. The next one would come at 5:40 and, with more traffic at that time of day, she wouldn’t be back home until 7:30 or 8.

Two minutes later, another regular rider joined her, exasperated. She had gone the other way out of the metro station only to find it was the wrong bus stop and see the 4:50 bus across a busy street.

Gard was reading a science-fiction novel while she waited. A second regular rider arrived at the bus stop “Did everyone else get the memo? I didn’t know it was here!” he said.

A long line was forming, many of them people she usually sees on the earlier bus.

She wasn’t worried about getting crowded out: “Oh no,” she said, half grim, half laughing. “I WILL get on that bus.”

– Susan Svrluga

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

Robert Green and Sam Hagedorn were switching lines at L’Enfant Plaza at about 6 p.m., returning to their analytics firm near McPherson Square, when they decided to do something that counts as outright nuts in Washington. An Orange Line train was coming but they decided to skip it and purposely wait for a Silver Line train coming four minutes later.

Green and Hagedorn were a bit giddy. They skipped the Orange only so they could see what all the Silver hype was about. They wondered: What did the Silver Line train cars look like? Were they fancier somehow?

“That’s the rumor? Do they exist? I don’t know,” Hagedorn said.

Finally, four minutes later, the train arrived. The men looked deflated. Nothing special about this ride. Hagedorn was even upset there was no silver-colored lettering labeling the train.

“It looks a lot like the same old cars,” he said, boarding the train, on his way back to work, four minutes later than he should be.

– Ian Shapira

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

Mary McCray used to catch a bus from in front of her house in Annandale and, for $1.70, get off a block from her customer service job at Best Buy in Tysons. “I liked the 401!”

Luckily, the bus driver she used to see every day stopped her last week to warn her that the route was changing and her stop was being eliminated. Otherwise she, like many of the other riders, she said, wouldn’t have known about the change.

But now it costs her more than her old bus fare just to go two stops on the Silver Line. So she pays $1.70 for the bus, switches to the Metro, and pays $1.75 for the short leg to work.

She tried walking the distance instead this morning. It took 40 minutes. “I was so hungry I ate my lunch for breakfast!” she said, laughing. “It was 9:30!

“But who wants to work 8, 9 hours a day on your feet, then walk?”

She would do it rather than pay double, both ways, every day, she said. But she’s going to try something else first. “I’m going to talk to my boss and see if he’ll give me a pay raise. It’ll cost me $6 a day just to get to work.”

– Susan Svrluga

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

The added Silver Line trains meant fewer Blue Line trains headed for the Virginia suburbs, but many Blue riders were philosophical about their reduced service.

“It’s still better than being out there on I-95,” said Jeff Booth of Alexandria. He said the “Rush-Plus” system implemented by Metro in recent years also dealt a blow to Blue riders, but that “overall it’s still a good system. No complaints.”

Bennie Johnson of Alexandria smiled and shrugged. He said his morning commute from the Pentagon “wasn’t bad, but it’s always bad in the afternoons. Now it’s even worse with the Silver Line,” he said as a packed train rolled into McPherson Square. But he said he had no alternative.

Justin Tew of Alexandria also said he had no problems in the morning on the Blue Line from Van Dorn Street. “Time will tell,” Tew said. “If it stays like that I can’t complain.”

– Tom Jackman

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

Post reporter Katherine Shaver has the lowdown for those wondering who came up with “Spring Hill” and “Greensboro” and why. One reason: Planners originally wanted “Tysons” to be included in the names of four out of the five new stations, a degree of repetition that they eventually agreed would confuse riders.

As Shaver explains:

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) generally requires that Metro station names be “relevant” (derived from geographical features, landmarks or names of communities within a half-mile walk), “brief” (a maximum 19 characters), “unique” (distinct and not easily confused with other stations), and “evocative” (able to “evoke imagery in the mind of the patron”).

Read the whole story here.

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

Metro estimates that by this time next summer, after a year of Silver Line service, the five new stations on the line will be seeing about 50,000 boardings and de-boardings each weekday. About 17,000 of those “passenger trips” will be taken by riders who previously had been using the Orange Line-only stations at Vienna, Dunn Loring and West Falls Church, Metro projects.

And the Silver Line’s workday debut Monday offered early evidence of that predicted shift, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

While 9,715 trips had been taken to or from the five new Silver Line stations as of 10 a.m., he said, boardings declined markedly at the three stations at the Orange Line’s western end compared with a typical workday two weeks ago.

During the morning rush, departures were down 66 percent from West Fall Church, 14 percent from Dunn Loring and 19 percent from Vienna. Overall, Stessel said, “ridership is down about 30 percent at the last three stations on the Orange Line, by around 7,000 entries. Most are bus riders who used to get dropped off at West Falls Church.”

With the start of Silver Line operations, bus service has been routed to the new stations and away from the Orange Line.

– Paul Duggan 

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

Aerial views of the soon to open Silver line metro stations in Tysons Corner, VA.

Though the Silver Line now plunges deeper into Northern Virginia, it’s not necessarily cheaper or quicker. For Herndon resident Jason Willis, the Silver Line trip took 10 minutes more each way and cost $5.20 more per day, round trip.

Herndon will eventually get its own station. Until then, its residents must take a bus from the Herndon-Monroe lot to the new Wiehle-Reston East station. Previously the bus took them to East Falls Church, so now their commute includes a trip through Tysons Corner, adding time and the cost of a longer ride.

“I sent an email to Fairfax County,” Willis said, “asking if they’re going to change the routes. They said ‘No, no way.’” He shrugged and boarded the Silver Line at McPherson Square for his first longer, costlier trip home.

– Tom Jackman

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

On the Silver Line’s eastern end, hours after the morning rush, a midsummer, mid-afternoon calm settled over the half-dozen stations from Stadium-Armory to Largo Town Center, along a stretch of tracks shared by the Silver and Blue lines.

“What are you talking about, the Silver Line?” said F. T. Smith, a Metro station manager at Largo, when asked if he’d encountered any confusion among riders Monday. “Nah, I haven’t had any problems with that. So far it’s been going smooth.”

Standing beside him at the station’s fare gates, another manager, Michael Green, said: “Looks like a real smooth transaction to me, this whole thing. Basically, it looks like everybody knows where they’re going.”

Given the time of year, passenger traffic Monday was less than overwhelming. At 3:38 p.m., for example, a six-car, westbound Silver Line train rolled into the Benning Road station — its fifth stop, including Largo, where it originated — with only one rider aboard, a woman in the third car, dozing with her head against a window.

“I got all my questions on Saturday,” Smith said, referring to the Silver Line’s first day of operations. “People wanting to know how to get to Tysons Corner to go shopping. Not today, though. None of that.”

At Stadium Armory, a station manager named Brown — “just Mr. Brown” — said people concerned about potential problems with the opening of the Silver Line were worrying needlessly.

“It’s not that hard, man,” said Brown, leaning on a fare gate in the nearly empty station mezzanine. Gesturing to the tracks below, which carry westbound trains on three lines, he said, “You either get on a Silver Line train to get where you’re going, or you get on a Blue Line train to get where you’re going, or you get on an Orange Line train to get where you’re going.”

He shrugged. “I mean, it ain’t no big deal.”

– Paul Duggan

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

Volunteers from Fairfax County’s transportation department stepped away from their usual jobs, including accounting and budget work, to help direct confused bus riders at the Silver Line’s new Tysons station.

Around them, instead of commuters’ usual head-down hurried pace, people were walking slowly, looking around, pausing at signs. Clusters of people were speaking rapid Spanish, trying to figure out the new station.

“Oh, this is a mess!” Fransisca Nolasco, a bus driver said, dropping onto a bench with her back slumped.

She was volunteering to help people figure out the new routes, but she was confused herself. People were upset about delays, she said, and about having to cross the street to get the next bus, rather than transferring at the same bus stop.

“I don’t know why they did it that way. Everyone is confused. As soon as they see me they come ask,” seeing her official yellow vest and friendly smile and hearing her Spanish accent, she said. She kept watching people miss buses whose silver tops were visible across several lanes of traffic, too far away to run and catch. “They are not happy about it.”

Raul  Manzana, 59, was trying to get home to Fairfax City from his job at Freddie Mac. Usually he takes the bus and they come every 15 minutes, he said. But he had been waiting 20 minutes and wasn’t sure where to go. “The service before was perfect.” He said. “If we miss the 4:25, we get the 4:34. Now I don’t know how to do it.

“Too many people are lost.”

– Susan Svrluga

  • Emma Brown
  • ·
A staff member stands before the Silver Line's opening on Saturday at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. (Yue Wu/The Washington Post)

A staff member stands before the Silver Line’s opening on Saturday at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. (Yue Wu/The Washington Post)

Wiehle-Reston East was by far the most popular of the Silver Line’s five new stations on Monday morning, according to Metro’s ridership numbers. More than 4,700 riders entered and more than 1,000 exited at Wiehle-Reston East during the morning rush, making it the 12th busiest of the system’s 91 stations.

Next busiest was Tysons, which had far fewer riders overall and a very different pattern: Nearly twice as many riders exited than entered, suggesting that at least some of the many folks who are employed at Tysons but live elsewhere turned to the Silver Line to get to work today. “Tysons’s station proved to be a destination for morning commuters,” Metro said in a release.

There is plenty of opportunity for Tysons to draw more workers via mass transit, according to Post reporter Jonathan O’Connell. More than 72,000 people work at Tysons and only 8 percent currently take  public transportation.

Here are the ridership numbers for each of the five new stations as of 10 a.m. today:

Wiehle-Reston East: 4,727 people entered and 1,063 exited
Tysons: 507 people entered and 900 people exited
Spring Hill: 559 people entered and 432 exited
McLean: 568 people entered and 442 exited
Greensboro: 185 peopled entered and 332 exited

  • Emma Brown
  • ·

Now that the Silver Line is open, the Washington region can turn its attention to other pressing transportation issues, argues The Post’s Robert McCartney. He favors finding a way to pay for and plan two priorities in particular: replacing Metro’s six-car trains with eight-car trains and building another crossing or two across the Potomac River.

Both might seem far-fetched, McCartney writes, but the survival of the Silver Line after years of near-death moments is proof that local leaders do have the wherewithal to carry off big public projects.

“I raise this in hope that the Silver Line’s debut will reassure us that vision and persistence can overcome severe obstacles — and these proposals will face plenty,” McCartney writes.

Read the column here.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

While some commercial and residential parking lot owners made arrangements with tow truck services to deal with unauthorized vehicles left by Silver Line riders, towing firms said Monday’s opening didn’t move the needle.

“It was just a normal day,” said Fred Scheler, owner of Henry’s Wrecker Service, a towing company used by Fairfax police and residential developments in Reston and elsewhere. Henry’s averages about 6,000 calls a month across 15 locations in Virginia and Maryland, and today was no busier.

– Spencer Hsu

  • Michael Laris
  • ·

There was a brutal bit of math underlying the Silver Line’s first day. Although transit ridership in the region is up, most people still drive to work — and in more suburban communities such as Fairfax County, only a tiny fraction use public transportation.

At the Gulf filling station across the street from Tysons Corner Station Monday, drivers were calculating their own commuting pain threshold, in dollars, and more importantly for many, in minutes.

For many of them, getting on the train wasn’t worth it.

“I work in Bethesda. I hate going in to Metro Center just to go north,” said statistician Sarah Garland, who can make it from Vienna to her job in 25 minutes.

“It doesn’t do anything for me going downtown,” said Chris Button, who commutes from Northern Virginia to the Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters in the District. “We want to like it. It looks nice up there and it seems like a good idea,” he said of the Tysons Corner station. But until the line reaches Dulles International Airport years from now, he’ll have little reason to use it. The “real effect,” he said, will be in how the line impacts development in Tysons and destinations west.

Ashburn software engineer Bruno Vercillo said it makes no sense for him to get on the Dulles Toll Road, pay the toll, then get off at Wiehle and pay to get on the Metro to go the final distance to his job in Tysons.

“It’s not practical. It’s basically halfway,” Vercillo said. “At some point, I may consider how to actually do it. But I haven’t figured it out yet.”​

But computer programmer Dennis Kaye, who made the morning rush hour commute from White Oak to Tysons in a well-worn Honda Accord Monday, may soon be swayed by the Silver Line.

It would be convoluted: driving (or taking a bus) to Silver Spring, then heading downtown to catch the train heading west.

“All that stuff is time,” Kaye said. “I’m playing with that. I want to get the kinks out of it first and then decide.”

It takes him 45 minutes to drive to Tysons in the morning. But headed home in the afternoon, it’s been averaging 45 minutes just to get to the American Legion Bridge, and it can take more than an hour more from there to reach his Montgomery County home.

He might lose time on the train in the a.m., but gain it back in the p.m.

“The aggravation on the Beltway would be alleviated,” Kaye said. “If the time’s equal to what I’ve got now,” letting the Metro do the driving would be way less stressful, he said.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

As of 10 a.m., police reported light ridership and no traffic or pedestrian-related incidents at Metro stations in Tysons, McLean and Reston, Fairfax Police said.

“Things ran smoothly this morning,” with no issues, Fairfax County Police spokesman Officer Dan Gotthardt said, citing Reston district officers. “Traffic was steady, but not overly heavy.”

The police traffic division coordinated delivery of three message boards to Reston to direct motorists and pedestrians, while Reston and Sully neighborhood patrol units and auxiliary officers monitored station areas during rush hours. Fairfax County Department of Transportation workers wearing “Ask Me” shirts also are ready to help, Gotthardt said.

– Spencer Hsu

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

In line with Metro officials’ expectations, most off-peak riders on the Largo-New Carrolton-bound platform at Rosslyn say they have noticed any difference in the frequency of trains. Many are not regular riders and not as finely attuned to their timing as the morning commuters are.

Sometimes, the ride takes too long no matter what. A petite, weary-looking woman lugged a duffle bag, a small rolling suitcase and another larger suitcase swaddled in plastic wrap behind her onto the Franconia-bound platform. She would give only her first name, Michelle. She was coming from Dulles International where she landed after a 30 hour flight, “from Bangkok to Dubai to Washington,” she said. Her company would not spring for a taxi, so she has had to add travel time on the subway before she can reach her final destination, Van Dorn St Metro station, then a friend’s house in Alexandria. “I know it’s good to have Metro,” she said. “It’s just a long connection to make.”

– Annys Shin

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Wal-Mart, CVS, 24-hour Fitness and Golfsmith are among the national retailers that have cropped up around Silver Line Metro stops in recent months.

The idea behind those openings, real estate developers and retail brokers say, is simple: To fill day-to-day necessities for Tysons commuters — and a growing pool of residents — that are likely to balloon with the arrival of the much-anticipated Silver Line.

Read the whole story.

– Abha Bhattarai

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

On the best days, it took an hour and 20 minutes for District resident Molly Weisse-Bernstein to commute to her job in McLean with government contractor LMI.

“There’s waiting time, there’s the handoff between the Metro and the bus, and the bus is fighting the same traffic as everyone else,” Weisse-Bernstein said.

She only started with LMI eight weeks ago, and she has tolerated the rough commute because she knew it was only temporary. The Silver Line, which offers a direct ride from McPherson Square to her company’s new headquarters near the Tysons Corner stop, should cut her commute to about 45 minutes.

Was the transit option a key factor in her decision to take the job?

“One-hundred percent, yes,” Weisse-Bernstein said.

Local recruiters and businesses are betting that there are many more workers like Weisse-Bernstein who might be newly receptive to working in neighborhoods along the Silver Line. And so the opening of the transit option adds a new dimension to the local war for talent: Companies in McLean and Reston believe they have a new recruiting tool for getting far-flung workers to consider their jobs.

Read the whole story.

– Sarah Halzack

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

The full benefits of the Silver Line were tantalizingly close, yet still out of reach, for some.

Deneisha Hollis, 22, sat on a sad little wood bench across Chain Bridge road from the new Tysons Corner station at 7:45 a.m. She had gotten on the Silver Line in Reston and taken it this far, but stepped off the train to grab a bus the rest of the way to job at Pentagon City.  “It’s just cheaper to get off earlier,” Hollis said.

Hollis left her home in Reston at 6:45 a.m., walked 10 minutes to the bus stop and waited 10 minutes for the Fairfax Connector RIBS 3, which dropped her in front of the Wiehle-Reston East station and the Silver Line. It was smooth and easy once she was on the train, but “I’ve spent $3 so far,” she said. “It would take more money to get where I need to be.”

Hollis splurged and took the Silver Line all the way to her church in Ballston Sunday. But daily commuting is costly. Peak train fare from Wiehle to Pentagon City is $5.90, but getting off at Tysons cuts that to $3.40.

The steady stream of drivers speeding by, headed toward Tysons office buildings or on to Washington, were looking pretty good from the worn-grass strip that passed for a sidewalk.

“I want a car. It’s just not in the budget right now,” Hollis said.

She works at Express, touted by the mall as the “must-have sexy, sophisticated fashion brand,” and it looked like she was going to be late for her 9:00 a.m. shift.

Next time, she said, she’s probably going to have to figure out a way to cover the costs of staying on the train.

“I won’t do this again,” she said, before the bus finally arrived at 7:59.

– Michael Laris

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Headed to work at the USA Today campus in McLean, Eddie Timanus, 45, who has been blind for most of his life, emerged from the Silver Line’s Spring Hill station on the east side and tap-tap-tapped his cane, guiding himself, with the aid of his wife, to a bus stop on nearby Leesburg Pike.

“It’s all about creating a mental map,” he said of learning a new daily commuting route without the benefit of eyesight. “You have to learn where all the landmarks are” — like the retaining wall he nearly walked into just outside the station — “and then remember where they are.”

He said, “Nothing I haven’t done before.”

Until now, Timanus, who works in USA Today’s sports department, rode a Fairfax Connector bus from his home in Herndon to the West Falls Church Metro station, then another Connector from there to McLean. But a Silver Line-related change in Fairfax Connector bus routes has forced him to change his routine.

From now on, he’ll ride a bus from Herndon to the Silver Line’s Wiehle-Reston East station, take a train to the Spring Hill station, then catch another bus. Monday morning, his wife, Kelli, was helping learn the route.

“There’s a lot of commonality to the stations,” Timanus said. “The escalators, the turnstiles, they’re all laid out more or less the same.” It’s the particular features of the Wielhe and Spring Hill stations – the locations of walls, curbs, light poles — that he has to get used to.

He said he’s a quick study. After work Monday, without Kelli, he said, “I’m going to try to get home on my own.”

– Paul Duggan

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