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Spring, summer projects will close several Metro stations for weeks

The transit agency is planning to replace rail, install fiber-optic cables and make other station improvements

Commuters use an escalator at the Ballston station in Arlington, one of the stations that will be temporarily shut down for construction this summer. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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Construction projects this spring and summer will create waves of Metro delays and station shutdowns as the transit agency tries to balance service with needed upgrades and repairs.

The first phase will involve 10 days of single-tracking on the eastern portion of the Orange Line, beginning May 12, then 44 days of station closures are planned beginning June 3 on the western end of the line. Other projects include a 23-day closure of some Orange and Silver line stations in Virginia and a 44-day closure of the Green Line’s northern segment.

The projects include replacing potentially defective 40-year-old high-alloy rail throughout the western segment of the Orange Line, completing roofing work at Orange Line stations, installing fiber-optic cables on the Orange and Green lines, erecting new train arrival digital signs at major transfer stations in the District, and replacing an elevator and escalators at the Dupont Circle station’s northern entrance.

The work is part of an aggressive multiyear effort that began in 2016 under former general manager Paul J. Wiedefeld to modernize Metrorail and bring the system into what transit leaders call a “state of good repair” after years of neglect.

“In the infrastructure business, resting on your laurels is not a good recipe for future success,” Andy Off, Metro’s vice president for capital delivery, said Thursday at a Metro board meeting. “We want to continue our aggressive focus on providing reliable infrastructure as at the end of the day, it really underpins our ability to deliver a safe and reliable service on a daily basis.”

The work is being coordinated to limit delays and disruptions for travelers, Off said. Decisions to leave some stations open during construction and close others were based on construction costs and projected fare revenue losses during disruptions, as well as what was more efficient and less disruptive for passenger service, he said.

“It’s certainly a multi-variable calculus problem,” Off said. “We do try and manage all these variables: Costs, scheme, quality, impact to our customers and the gains in the advancement of our infrastructure.”

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Free shuttle bus service will be provided when stations are closed, bridging passengers to nearby stations that are open.

Metro officials said the work will both modernize the system and boost safety by replacing vulnerable rail and adding needed fiber-optic cables to allow workers to communicate more clearly with each other — a deficiency that Metrorail’s regulator cited last year.

The five projects will be completed in four phases.

Orange Line’s eastern segment

Between May 12 and May 22, Metro said, workers will be making improvements to roofs at the Minnesota Avenue, Deanwood and Cheverly stations. The project will bring 10 days of delayed service as trains will be sharing a single track on the Orange Line between the Stadium-Armory and Cheverly stations.

The project required Metro to coordinate with Pepco, which will de-energize power transmission lines 15 feet above the station canopies. Construction includes structural repairs, as well as waterproofing of new roofs that Metro installed last year as part of its train platform replacement program.

Lengthy shutdowns in Virginia

Between June 3 and June 26, Metro will close several of its westernmost stations on the Orange and Silver lines, including Ballston, East Falls Church, McLean, West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna. On June 27, all but West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna will reopen.

Those three Orange Line stations will stay closed for another 21 days, until July 17, Metro said.

Metro has been monitoring and slowly replacing rail that has been degrading over time on western portions of the system. Transit engineers have found that high-alloy rail installed in 1982 has “become significantly more susceptible to rail breaks than rail in any other part of the system,” according to a staff report.

Metro already has replaced about 10 miles of rail. This winter, more rail breaks occurred on that remaining high-alloy rail than rail elsewhere on Metro’s tracks, the transit agency said.

While workers replace more than 30 miles of rail this summer, Metro also plans to switch out old copper cables with fiber-optic cable under the tracks that will add cellular coverage and boost radio transmissions, increase Metro’s ability to detect smoke, expand surveillance video coverage and give rail controllers greater ability to control train traffic.

44-day closure on the Green Line

On July 22, cable-replacement work will move north to the Green Line, where stations from Fort Totten to Greenbelt will close for 44 days.

It will be the second time in three summers that stations in the area will close for work, coming after platform replacements in 2021. Metro officials said fiber-optic cable couldn’t have been installed at that time because it requires taking track apart, which was in use to move equipment.

“At the end of the day, if we didn’t do this work in a 44-day shutdown, it would take approximately six months of every-weekend shutdowns,” Off said. “Clearly, that doesn’t work for a host of reasons.”

Other projects in the works

Metro also will upgrade digital information displays at three downtown transfer stations — Metro Center, Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza. The screens, which will show train arrival times, are being installed on six mezzanines and 11 platforms at the stations.

Forty-two percent of Metro customers pass through one of the transfer stations on every trip through the system, Off said.

Elsewhere, three escalators and an elevator will be replaced at Dupont Circle this summer as part of Metro’s multiyear effort to replace about 130 worn-out escalators.

“It is a big deal not just for safety and reliability, but for accessibility and the ultimate customer experience,” Metro General Manager Randy Clarke said.

The escalators and elevator are at the Dupont station’s north entrance at Dupont Street NW and Connecticut Avenue NW. Crews will replace one escalator and the elevator, which will double in size when complete, before replacing the two other escalators, allowing the entrance to remain open during the work.