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Metro’s Silver Line extension moves closer to finish line

Transit officials said the agency should take possession of the long-delayed project within weeks and begin preparations for opening

A Metro sign points to Ashburn, the terminus for the long-delayed Silver Line extension in Virginia. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Metro could take control of the Silver Line extension this summer, transit officials said Thursday, which would move the long-delayed project a step closer to passenger service after nearly four years of delays.

The conditional handover between the transit agency and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction of the 11.4-mile rail extension to Loudoun County that includes a stop at Dulles International Airport, will be one of the last hurdles to the project’s completion.

Metro interim general manager Andy Off said during a Metro board meeting he expects the transit agency to take control of the project within “the next several weeks.” He provided no opening date but said it would take Metro more than three months of testing and other preparations before the extension would be ready to open. Under that timeline, it’s unlikely that passengers would board trains at the new stations until late fall or winter.

“We’ll certainly be coming back to the board as we refine those schedules,” Off said.

Dulles Toll Road users could see rate increase to pay for Silver Line

The latest development was met with muted optimism by Northern Virginia officials who have waited for the start of passenger service. The extension is viewed in Fairfax and Loudoun counties as a boon to economic development and has led to the construction of several office campuses and retail centers along the transit line.

“Certainly our patience and that of my constituents already ran thin many months ago — especially since all of the County related facilities we had to build have been ready to go since July of last year,” Jeff C. McKay (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “I can however say that I do see progress. Getting MWAA to turn over the project to Metro is a major milestone.”

McKay said he is hopeful the line will open to passengers this winter.

The $5.8 billion Silver Line project will add six stations to the Metrorail system — which currently has 91 stations and six lines — starting at the Wiehle-Reston East station in Reston and extending to Ashburn. The Silver Line’s first phase, with four stops in Tysons and one in Reston, opened in 2014.

Construction of the extension began in 2014 with an opening set for 2018, but the project has been delayed multiple times because of construction issues. Toll road users are paying nearly half the cost of the extension, with Fairfax and Loudoun counties and MWAA also contributing.

MWAA declared the project substantially completed in December. Since then, Metro and airports authority officials have gone over a punch list of items that are incomplete or were flagged out of concern. That list has been whittled down enough for transit officials to foresee the next step, which is to declare “operational readiness” and gain provisional control of the extension for testing. Metro would not gain full control until the line is about to open.

The delay has proved costly for MWAA, which has paid contractors more than $8 million to continue to supervise the project until it is turned over to Metro.

“We are working constantly with [Metro] to make sure this happens,” MWAA spokeswoman Marcia McAllister said.

The operational readiness designation will allow Metro to simulate service, run emergency drills with first responders, work out security issues, fully train workers and ensure that construction issues are resolved before taking full possession. On Thursday, Off said that period would take more than 90 days.

Metro pulls 70-plus train operators for retraining, warns of delays

The transit agency is preparing for the opening of the Silver Line as it works through several crises that are affecting passenger service, including the overdue recertification of nearly 400 train and bus operators.

Last month, Metro revealed that nearly half of its train operators had not completed required recertification training and testing because Metro officials lost track of a waiver program created during the pandemic. The transit agency then stopped the training program because of a train shortage stemming from the suspension of Metro’s 7000-series cars. In addition to rail operators, Metro officials say nearly 200 bus operators — about 8 percent of workers in that role — also weren’t current on training.

Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said 87 of the 257 train operators with lapsed credentials have been recertified after receiving the required training.

“We are still averaging five recertifications per day and expect rail operator recertifications to be completed in the coming months,” he said.

Of the 197 Metrobus operators found to be lacking recertification training and testing, 65 still require refresher training. Nine of those operators are unavailable because of long-term absences. Metro employs 2,458 bus drivers.

Metro is also conducting assessments of other employees to ensure they are up to date on their qualifications. Rail traffic controllers have completed required classroom training and knowledge assessments, Jannetta added, while 16 still require practical proficiency testing.

Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

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