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BREAKING: Silver Line Phase II could start ‘in time’ for Thanksgiving, but more trains needed, Metro says

The Reston Town Center Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) The second phase of the Silver Line may finally be ready to begin in time for the start of busy Thanksgiving travel, Metro announced today. 

But the opening of the long-anticipated and long-delayed extension into Loudoun County is pending security certifications from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission. Metro says it also still needs more trains to officially support the extension. 

“We committed for the Silver Line extension to being operationally ready for the Silver Line extension in October, and we have met our deadline,” Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said. “Since control of the extension was turned over to Metro, we and our partners at the Airports Authority, Fairfax, and Loudoun have worked diligently to complete all of the steps needed for Metro to offer safe and reliable service for rail travel to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County, and we are just awaiting concurrence from our Safety Commission partners.”   

The WMSC still needs to provide approvals of two submissions: a return-to-service plan for 7000-series railcars and a safety certification report on the extension project. The commission formally rejected Metro’s new return-to-service plan for its 7000-series rail cars.

Metro does not view the final Silver Line safety certification report as a barrier to preparing for the opening of passenger service before Thanksgiving holiday travel,” Metro said in a statement.

Last month, Metro’s senior safety and operations officials said they were concerned about the safety of moving cars from other crowded lines for new service, citing the need for more trains.

Metro says that it’s confused by WMSC’s rejection of its plan, noting the following: 

The letter indicates that there are differences in the track interface with trains on Blue/Orange/Silver lines that require monitoring, then indicates permission to run on those lines temporarily, but offers no metrics for successful completion;

The letter implies that Metro could swap axles to increase the fleet; however, that is operationally infeasible and would impact Metro’s ability to safely and efficiently manage its fleet, as well as changes many variables at once;

WMSC approved in December 2021 the use of the 7K fleet on all rail lines, and is now using the same data analysis to justify fleet restrictions, with no definitive root cause identified in the NTSB investigation.

Metro took control of the project from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in June. The project’s completion has been delayed several times over the last two years.

In a statement, WMSC spokesperson Max Smith said the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has “not yet” submitted any documentation to get the necessary safety certification for the Silver Line extension:

Metrorail has since been conducting the additional work needed to prepare for a safe opening of the line. Metrorail is responsible for completing its safety certification of the project in accordance with its safety procedures. Metrorail still has open items in this process, and has not completed its safety certification of Silver Line Phase 2. After Metrorail completes its process, it will submit that information to the WMSC for our concurrence – based on our spot checks, regular meetings and other work over the last three years – that Metrorail has carried out this safety process in accordance with its procedures. As Metrorail has not yet completed all open items, Metrorail has not yet submitted this documentation and request. There is nothing pending before the WMSC.

Smith added that Metro hasn’t submitted any revisions to its return-to-service plan for the 7000 series trains that have mostly been offline since a Blue Line derailment last October.

WMSC says it sent Metro a letter on Monday (Oct. 17) explaining that a plan it submitted on Sept. 28, and then again without revision last Thursday (Oct. 13), “is not supported by all available safety data.”

“The letter also reiterates specific examples of options for Metrorail that are supported by the available data,” Smith said.

Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine expressed frustration with the dispute between WMATA and the safety commission in a joint statement:

The United States government, the Commonwealth of Virginia, local governments, taxpayers and commuters have spent billions to construct a state-of-the-art Silver Line. It’s taken decades to realize the dream of Metro service to Dulles and now travelers along the corridor can see tracks, gleaming new stations, and test trains moving along the route. All that remains is for WMATA and the Safety Commission to get their acts together and remember that they are not in existence to wage turf battles but to serve the transportation needs of area residents. We are making it clear to both agencies: it’s time to get this done.

Prior to Metro’s latest announcement about the Silver Line extension’s status, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay shared in a newsletter that he, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik and officials from WMATA and MWAA rode a train last week from the Innovation Center and Dulles International Airport stations.

Metro began running simulated service with no passengers between the six forthcoming stations from Reston Town Center to Ashburn earlier this month.

In the newsletter, McKay said he is “very optimistic” that the new Silver Line stations will open “very soon,” but he noted that “there remains much unsettled” around the return of the 7000-series trains.

“The uncertainly surrounding these train cars as well as the larger picture of Metro’s financial and operational future is something we are all working on together to remedy,” he wrote. “Metro is a foundational part of our area’s economic and environmental sustainability, and it is incumbent upon all regional leaders to advocate for better transparency and accountability, and additional financial assistance from the federal government — the primary beneficiary of Metro’s service.”

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