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Charles Stark, head of the Silver Line rail project, to retire in July

At the Innovation Metro station, concrete ties at the diamond crossover and at each of the turnout switches that approach east and west are examples of the concrete ties that are being examined and have been problematic as Phase II construction continues along Metro's Silver Line on July 11, 2019 in Herndon.
At the Innovation Metro station, concrete ties at the diamond crossover and at each of the turnout switches that approach east and west are examples of the concrete ties that are being examined and have been problematic as Phase II construction continues along Metro's Silver Line on July 11, 2019 in Herndon. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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The head of the much delayed, heavily scrutinized Silver Line rail project announced he will retire in July, just two months before the multibillion-dollar rail line is expected to be completed.

In an email to project staff Sunday evening, obtained by The Washington Post, Charles Stark said that with the project “at the 99% complete stage and the remaining challenges known,” he is preparing to step away.

“It is well within the capabilities of all of you team members” to finish the remaining work, Stark wrote in the email. “With these facts in mind I want to let you know that I will be working with you to accomplish these goals through July 4 and will retire from [the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority] thereafter. This has been a challenging and complex project but I believe it has brought out the best in all of us.”

Stark, 72, confirmed his plans to The Post, saying he had intended to retire in 2018 when work on the rail line originally was scheduled to wrap up.

It is not yet clear who will take over leadership of the remaining work on the $5.8 billion rail line, one of the biggest infrastructure projects under construction in the United States. Officials at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority did not respond to questions on Stark’s replacement.

The second phase of the Silver Line was originally set to be completed in July 2018, but a series of construction problems, including a federal whistleblower lawsuit over flawed concrete panels at five of the project’s six rail stations, has repeatedly pushed back that date. In the most recent monthly update, one of the project’s lead contractors, Capital Rail Constructors, said it did not anticipate completing its work until November.

Even so, Stark announced earlier this month that the second phase of the rail extension would reach “substantial completion” by Labor Day. Substantial completion is a construction milestone that means MWAA, which is overseeing the project, has certified that work is complete and that the rail line is ready to be turned over to Metro for testing and training.

Silver Line will be “substantially complete” by Labor Day, project official says

Jack Potter, MWAA’s chief executive officer, was among the officials who thanked Stark for his service as officials work toward completion.

“We look forward to continuing to work with him as head of the Silver Line project for the next three months, and we wish him all the best in his planned retirement,” Potter said.

Once the work is finished, Metro, which eventually will operate the rail line, is expected to follow with its own evaluation to determine whether the work is acceptable and the rail line is ready for passenger service — a process that could take several months.

If all goes as expected, Paul J. Wiedefeld, Metro’s general manager, said the rail line could carry passengers in early 2022.

Read Metro IG’s interim report on Silver Line, Phase 2

Stark was named executive director of the rail project in August 2014. He replaced Pat Nowakowski, who led the project for five years, overseeing construction of the rail line’s first phase, which opened with four stations in Tysons and one in Reston in July 2014.

According to MWAA, Stark’s current salary is $301,409. Before joining the rail project, he served as vice president and project executive with engineering giant AECOM.

During his nearly seven-year tenure, the project was beset by a series of construction issues, including problems with rail tracks and concrete structures. Shortly after signing on as executive director, Stark announced that portions of the project would have to be redesigned to accommodate new state and federal regulations tied to storm water management. The change delayed the project by 13 months and added at least $137 million to its cost. MWAA, its contractors and Metro officials are still at odds over several matters, including creation of an escrow account to cover potential issues with the faulty concrete panels at five of the six stations. Negotiations are ongoing.

While MWAA officials have stood by Stark and his team, routinely praising their work, others have been more critical of how the project has been managed.

In a report released last March, Metro’s Inspector General Geoffrey A. Cherrington sharply criticized MWAA’s oversight of the project, saying the authority and the contractors it hired to build the rail line routinely failed to investigate the core causes of problems, leaving them unresolved for months — even years — after they were first flagged.

“The [Office of Inspector General] concludes that all of these issues derive from two major overarching shortcomings: ineffectiveness and inconsistency of the Project Contractor’s Quality Management Program in resolving reported problem areas, and the absence of a single design-build systems integrator who view the core systems and infrastructure holistically,” the report said.

Unlike previous Metrorail extensions, Metro is not building the Silver Line. Instead, MWAA, which owns much of the right of way where the trains will travel, is managing the project.

The arrangement appeared to be the most straightforward way to build a project long sought by Virginia officials, who see significant economic benefits from the extension. But it has complicated efforts by the transit agency to resolve problems because the contractors work for MWAA, not Metro. Mindful that they will be responsible for any issues that could arise once they accept control of the rail line, Metro officials have remained adamant that they will not take it on until it meets their standards.

The second phase of the rail project will extend current Silver Line service, which ends at Wiehle Avenue in Reston, 11.5 miles to Washington Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County. The project also includes construction of a rail yard near Dulles Airport, which is being built by a separate contractor, Hensel Phelps.

Silver Line’s second phase proves more problematic than the first

A new set of problems for the Silver Line: this time it’s the rail yard

Metro eyes a February opening for the Silver Line’s second phase

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