(Updated at noon) Trains are taking off at the Dulles Airport Metro station one year after the opening of Phase Two of the Silver Line — but ridership at the other five stations of the $3 million project has a long way to catch up.
In the backdrop of post-pandemic recovery, ridership for stations beyond the airport is modest, according to Metro data.
More than 3.5 million trips later, daily average ridership on the rail extension hovers at 3,600 trips. Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) planners had hoped for 20,000 riders a day when the rail line was being planned in the early 2000s.
But that was well before the pandemic upended how people work and travel, among other societal trends.
Jordan Pascale, a spokesperson for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), emphasized that “many factors have changed since then,” especially the massive shift to telework that has contributed to reduced revenue and a $750 million budget shortfall.
As more companies usher — and, in some cases, threaten — their employees to return to long-empty offices, Pascale notes that the Metro system has recovered more than half of the riders it lost at the onset of the pandemic.
“Our ridership has continually increased, but recovered unevenly with strong ridership on weekends, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays,” Pascale said.
One year ago today, the long-anticipated Silver Line Extension opened six new stations in Northern Virginia. They've now seen 3.5 million trips!
The extension took a lot of work, and I'm thrilled to see so many Virginians making good use of it every single day. https://t.co/FWFdfaDU1p
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) November 15, 2023
While Dulles Airport boasts more than 1.2 million cumulative entries, the stations in Herndon and Reston hover in the mid-to-high 400,000s.
Herndon has had more than 482,000 entries since service began last November, compared to 431,000 at Innovation Center and 450,356 at Reston Town Center. Ashburn has the second highest ridership figures (774,000), while Loudoun Gateway — which is on the west end of the rail — stood at 156,000, as of Nov. 12.
“The biggest wins are probably the new connectivity with Dulles Airport and across the Dulles Corridor,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who represents Reston. “The rail line provides convenient options for airport passengers and workers, and for many who live and work in the Dulles Corridor. It has also reduced the number of vehicles driving to and parking in the commuter garage at the Wiehle Reston-East station.” Read More
Two stops on Metro’s Silver Line have risen above all others since the rail line was extended into Loudoun County last fall.
At a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board meeting on Thursday (May 11), Metro Director of Performance Improvement Jordan Holt said that nearly a third of all Silver Line Phase II trips start or end at the Dulles stop. Additionally, a quarter of all trips start or end at Ashburn.
“Downtown D.C. is a draw,” Holt said.
She also noted that more than half of all customers traveling from Silver Line Phase II stations went to one of 12 stations. Roughly 35% went to Silver Line stations in D.C., while 14% traveled to Silver Line stations in Virginia. Three percent went to Union Station.
The extension began service on Nov. 15 after years of delays. The second phase of the Silver Line includes 11.5 miles of the rail line, including stations in Herndon, Reston Town Center, and Innovation Center.
So far, there have been more than 1.1 million trips on the new extension in its first five months of service.
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn introduced a motion formally expanding the review’s scope to incorporate elements like equity, community health, and land use issues related to Reston’s village centers.
The review comes after Alcorn’s 31-member task force created a draft of the amended plan. The draft plan was the product of 58 full task force meetings from May 2020 through August 2022. County staff are preparing recommendations for updating the comprehensive plan.
“In order for the range of recommendations to be considered, the goal s to now formally expand the scope fo the plan amendment to include these topic areas for consideration as part of the proposed comprehensive plan amendment,” the board matter said.
Alcorn’s fellow supervisors voiced some concerns about the plan, similar to issues expressed last year about its scope.
“I know this is a pretty Herculean lift,” Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said.
Sully Supervisor Kathy Smith said she was very concerned about the incorporation of equity and community health into the policy plan — which could conflict with the county’s future policy plans.
“I think that succinctness and putting things in the right place is important in the comprehensive plan and so, redundancies of policies into the area plans could be difficult,” she said.
Others said Alcorn’s expanded list should not be viewed as an appropriate template for other comprehensive plans.
Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said that the “devil is in the details.”
“I’m also very concerned that I would not want to see this particular list as a template for doing comprehensive plans in other parts of the county, because I think it will strangle opportunity and I think it will give our staff just an overload of work,” Gross said.
In addition to the topics discussed above, the plan will include discussion of land uses for 1810, 1825 and 1950 Samuel Morse Drive and 11111 Sunset Hill Road. The plan would also establish the appropriate land use mix for the Roland Clarke Place residential mixed-use section near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station.
A staff report on the revised plan is expected mid-February. The Fairfax County Planning Commission will take a look at it on April 26, following by an anticipated vote by the board on May 9 or 23.
The Metro stations at the Dulles International Airport and Ashburn have been the busiest stations since phase two of the Silver Line opened in the middle of November.
So far, more than 60% of entries at the new stations happen during peak periods, according to Martha Coello, who works with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s special projects division.
At a Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Coello noted that customers of the six new stations appear to generally be coming from or going to downtown D.C. The most frequented points of origin or destinations are Farragut West, McPherson Square, Foggy Bottom and Metro Center.
“A lot of the common starting and ending points…are actually in downtown D.C.,” she said.
Coello said that Fairfax Connector bus service changes in the Herndon and Reston area are going smoothly, with new routes providing more than 500 passenger trips per day.
The 11.4-mile extension into Loudoun County sees about 3,500 daily boardings. Around Thanksgiving travel time, that number hovered closer to 5,000 boardings, Coello said.
As of yesterday afternoon, the county was still waiting to finalize the execution of its maintenance and operations agreement with Metro for facilities in the county. That step is simply contingent on the receipt of documents, Coello said.
The installation of a sidewalk on Sunrise Valley Drive near Reston Parkway is still ongoing. The project is currently in the land acquisition phase, with construction anticipated in the spring of next year.
The county is also working on the removal of bus bays near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. That project will wrap up in the next few months.
After bus services were realigned, there is no longer a need for the bus bays.
The bays were primarily used by Loudoun County buses and are a “surplus at this point,” Coello said.
Drivers on the Dulles Toll Road can expect to pay higher tolls beginning next year.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s Board of Directors voted yesterday morning to increase fees for users of the toll road — bringing tolls to $6 for the average driver.
The increase is expected to cover highway operations and maintenance costs, along with a dedicated set-aside for phase two of the Silver Line, which opened Tuesday (Nov. 15). The increase does not directly fund cost overruns associated with the project and has long been anticipated as part of a long-term funding plan.
At the main line plaza, tolls will rise from $3.25 to $4 for two-axle vehicles, $6.50 to $8 for three-axle vehicles, $7.75 to $9.25 for four-axle vehicles, and $9 to $10.50 for five-axle vehicles.
At the ramps, tolls will increase from $1.25 to $2 for two-axle vehicles, $3 to $4 for three-axle vehicles, $3.50 to $4.50 for four-axle vehicles, and $4 to $5 for five-axle vehicles.
The next toll increases is slated for 2028, according to MWAA’s board. “Modest” toll rate hikes are generally expected every five years, MWAA wrote in a statement.
MWAA also plans to collect a $1.60 administrative fee to process tolls for drivers who do not pay with the EZPass. The move comes as the toll road makes a shift to all electronic collections next year.
MWAA plans to eliminate toll boots at existing toll lanes in the coming months.
“Eliminating toll booths is expected to speed traffic flow and benefit the environment by reducing emissions that would have been produced by vehicles waiting in toll-booth lines,” MWAA wrote in a statement.
The cold and rain didn’t dampen enthusiasm for the opening of Metro’s long-awaited, $3 billion Silver Line Phase II.
Yesterday marked the much-anticipated public opening of the 11.4-mile extension of the rail line from Reston into Loudoun County. Along with six new stations, this marks the first time that locals can take a train to Dulles International Airport.
Over multiple ribbon-cutting ceremonies throughout the chilly, wet November day, local officials touted the debut of the line as a “game-changer” and a “new era” for western Fairfax County and the D.C. region as a whole.
“It really is the establishment of a new identity for the Dulles corridor,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said at the new Reston Town Center station. “Now, what we’re going to see is the Dulles corridor tied together with transit in a way that was really never anticipated…We are in a new era.”
Riders, too, recognized what this could mean for the region and their daily travel.
“It’s going to change my life,” Raj Paradaar told FFXnow while riding the extension’s first passenger-filled train heading westbound. He lives in Ashburn and works near the Reston Town Center station, so he plans to ride the Metro most days.
Inside the Innovation Center station, commuters came and went, including a United Airlines flight attendant headed to work at Dulles. He lives in an apartment building across the street from the new station, along with a number of other flight attendants, FFXnow was told.
“That’s where we live,” the United Airlines flight attendant said pointing outside. “And that’s where we work…Honestly, taking a train is just much easier.”
Other riders said the extension won’t significantly affect their day-to-day habits, but they agreed it will make getting to the airport simpler.
Franconia resident Terry Rice, clutching luggage, happened to have a trip to Italy scheduled on the extension’s opening day. While planning, she realized that Dulles Airport was now only a train ride away.
“It may not change my life, but it’s going to make my life much easier,” Rice said.
Pulling into Reston Town Center station, the first stop on the new line. pic.twitter.com/83JP2LwMQh
— Matt Blitz (@WhyBlitz) November 15, 2022
During yesterday’s ceremonies, officials tried to make clear that the Silver Line extension’s impact is anticipated to go beyond simply being a link to the airport, reiterating a message that many have been saying for years.
“We have within our grasp…the ability to completely reinvent, reimagine [this corridor] as mixed-use development, as transit-oriented development, as environmentally friendly, as improving quality of life, as reducing carbon emissions, and as restoring choices for people who live in Northern Virginia,” said newly reelected Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) at a ceremony outside of the Innovation Center station. Read More
(Updated at 2 p.m.) It’s official: after years of rising costs and an ever-lengthening construction timeline, the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line has opened to the public.
A train pulled out of the new Dulles International Airport station for the first time shortly after noon following a celebration this morning, where local, state and regional leaders gathered to mark the opening of the 11.4-mile extension of the rail line into Loudoun County.
If everything went according to schedule, an express Silver Line train departed from the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station at 1:15 p.m., carrying winning “Silver Ticket” holders straight to Ashburn. The first passenger train from Ashburn to Downtown Largo will leave a little before 2 p.m., making all stops along the way.
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) November 15, 2022
At this morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, which started at 10:30 p.m. at the Dulles station, Rep. Don Beyer said the extension would usher a “once in a generation community infrastructure paradigm shift.”
Metro Board of Directors Chair Paul Smedberg lauded regional and local leaders for coming together to make what was a decades-log planning dream a reality.
“Today represents the best of what transit can do it,” Smedberg said.
Sen. Mark Warner said that the opening is the culmination of years of bi-partisan planning for decades.
“Every one of these speakers are going to come with partially silver hair at this point,” Warner said.
Others characterized the opening as an opening of new opportunities and possibilities.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who noted that today also marks the 60th anniversary of the airport, said she was confident that the Silver Line will offer a “comeback from Covid.”
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Board Chairman Jeff McKay said the extension provides a much-needed investment for the local economy, noting that the county is a significant economic engine for the commonwealth overall.
The long-anticipated project, which cost upwards of $3 billion, brings six new Metro stations to Virginia and activates the Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County with Metrorail service.
“This is the result of what many people before us have done,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
U.S. Department of Transportation @SecretaryPete sharing…
“What we see here with the ⚪️ Silver Line is democracy at work. Democracy 🇺🇸 in action can be a lot to bear. In the end, people have come together to make this work.” #SilverLineExtension #ridesilver #yourmetro #wmata pic.twitter.com/omKQPNp4Uz
— Metro (@wmata) November 15, 2022
Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about the 11.4-mile extension, which brings six new stations into Loudoun County. Notably, the extension provides a direct connection to Dulles International Airport, with its terminus in Ashburn.
The project also includes the largest rail yard in the Metro system — the Dulles Rail Yard — which is located on 90 acres of the Dulles Airport property.
Grand opening ceremonies
The first train will take off at 1:54 p.m. on the Ashburn Metro station, traveling the full 11.2-mile extension to Downtown Largo in Maryland. The deadline to snag one of 100 “Wonka-style ‘Silver Tickets'” for a preview ride at 1:15 p.m. ended last week via a social media contest.
A slew of grand opening ceremonies and celebratory events are planned throughout the day.
Dulles Airport gets its own big, invite-only ribbon-cutting. Then, at 2 p.m., the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will hold its own ceremony at the Innovation Center station.
Meanwhile, county officials will gather at the office building at 1950 Opportunity Way in Reston at 3:30 p.m. for another celebration. Attendees will get a chance to ride the new Reston Town Center shuttle and the new Fairfax Connector routes that start the next day, though service will officially launch Wednesday (Nov. 16).
Town of Herndon officials will also gather at 8 a.m. at the entrance of the Herndon Metro Station on the first full day of service — Wednesday — to celebrate the station’s opening. Newly re-elected Mayor Sheila Olem, State Senator Jennifer Boysko, and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust are all scheduled to speak.
FCDOT is also planning a family day at the Innovation Center station from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19.
How the extension works
Trains will run up to every 10 minutes during rush hour, every 12 minutes during midday, evening and weekends, and every 15 minutes during late-night hours.
Riding from the airport to the Metro Center station in D.C. takes around 52 minutes, while riding from the farthest station in Ashburn to Union Station takes 74 minutes.
Fares are based on distance travelled and the time of day, with costs ranging between $2 to $6. One-way trips after 9:30 p.m. are just $2. Metro offers a cost estimator to plan trips online.
Payment is made via Metro’s SmarTrip card, which can also be loaded to your mobile device. A plastic SmarTrip card can be purchased at all Metrorail stations, retail locations and online.
Getting to Metro
Each Silver Line station has a kiss-and-ride drop-off location — except the airport stop. Fairfax Connector buses are also available for all the stations. Detailed routes that service each station are available online.
Local jurisdictions own all the parking facilities near the Metro Stations. Parking fees can be paid by the SmarTrip card. Commuter parking is available for all but the airport and Reston Station stops.
Stations in Reston and Herndon
The Reston Town Center Metro Station (12023-A Sunset Hills Road Reston) is the first of the six new stations and includes two entrances on both sides of the Dulles Toll Road. While there’s no hourly parking in the kiss-and-ride lot, drop-offs are available on both sides. The facility also has 40 bike racks and 22 bike lockers. Future Capital Bikeshare stations are planned. But don’t bring your car and expect to leave it there — there’s no commuter parking.
The Herndon Metro Station (585-A Herndon Parkway) is near a planned transit-oriented development that hasn’t quite kicked off yet. While that project is still in the planning phases, the stop includes parking for roughly 3,500 cars in two garages, along with an exit to the Dulles Toll Road. The facility also has 162 bike racks and 18 bike racks. Two repairs stations and a bottle-filling station are also included.
The Innovation Center Metro Station (13747-A Sunrise Valley Drive) has a parking garage on the south side of the station for 2,000 cars, but parking is reserved and multi-day parking is not allowed. The facility has 177 bike racks and 10 bike lockers. Future electric vehicle charging stations are planned.
Add another Silver Line Phase II ribbon-cutting to the list, with the Town of Herndon planning its own celebration on Wednesday (Nov. 16).
On the extended rail line’s first full day of service, the town will celebrate with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Herndon Metro station. The event is scheduled for 8 a.m. at the entrance of the station at 585-A Herndon Parkway.
Newly re-elected Mayor Sheila Olem, State Senator Jennifer Boysko, and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust are all scheduled to speak. Members of the Herndon Town Council are expected to be in attendance as well.
The ribbon cutting will also feature music from the Herndon High School band.
On Tuesday (Nov. 15), the line will officially start running following an opening ceremony at Dulles International Airport. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is expected to be in attendance as Silver Line Phase II officially starts services at the Washington Dulles International Airport station.
Metro will be giving away “Wonka-style ‘Silver Tickets‘” as well as pennants to commemorate the opening.
Then, at 2 p.m., the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will hold its own ceremony at the Innovation Center station. Another ribbon-cutting will follow at the Reston Town Center station at 3:30 p.m.
After opening day, the Town of Herndon will have its own celebration the next morning on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
FCDOT is also planning a family day at the Innovation Center station from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19. Attendees will be able to learn about the transit, walking and bicycling options at the station while enjoying music, food trucks and other activities, according to an event flyer.
Free parking for that event will be available in the station’s garage.
For riders who want to be on the inaugural train, the first eastbound train going to D.C. is expected to depart the Ashburn station at 1:54 p.m. However, the deadline to nab a ticket by entering Metro’s social media and email contest is fast approaching at 5 p.m. today.
The first full-length westbound trip traveling from Largo to Ashburn is scheduled to depart Downtown Largo at 12:51 p.m., arriving at Wiehle-Reston East at 2:02 p.m. before proceeding on the new section of the line.
The final piece of a massive mixed-used project near the Innovation Center Metro station is officially on track for approval.
At a Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting on Nov. 2, the commission unanimously gave developer DSVO Dulles approval to complete the development of just under three acres of mostly undeveloped land at 2310 Dulles Station Blvd.
The proposal is the last remaining undeveloped portion of the larger 58-acre Dulles Station development.
The applicant’s land use representative Mike Van Atta, a land use planner with the firm McGuireWoods, said the proposal was an “appropriate end-cap” for the overall development.
The plan includes a mixed-use apartment building with 510 units and seven stories. roughly 21,000 square feet of open space is proposed on the site, which would be flanked by townhouse-style units on either side of pedestrian mews. Retail is proposed on the ground floor of the building.
“It’s also the final piece of the puzzle for the completion of Dulles Station,” Van Atta said.
The developer elected to move forward with one of two separate development options for the building, which was previously approved in 2017 for either a mid-rise or high-rise building. The latest proposal favors a mid-rise building.
The approval came after discussion about the implication of the development on area schools.
Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina asked staff and the developer to examine if and how the county school system is prepared to handle students generated by the overall project, adding that the latest approval could bring at least one classroom full of elementary school students to the system.
“It would be good to know that we’ve committed to take a look at where we stand elementary school-wise,” Cortina said.
Hunter Mill District Commissioner John Carter also questioned why the development plan calls for single ramps instead of double ramps for pedestrians as they enter and exit the development.
Referring to challenges with pedestrian connectivity at The Boro in Tysons, Carter said that single ramps don’t do an efficient job of managing traffic.
“It sends people right out to the intersection with no regard to which way the traffic is coming,” Carter said.
He conceded that, while this was a “small point,” the overall application was “well worked out.”
Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder noted that the overall application was consistent with previous approvals, the county’s zoning ordinance, and comprehensive planning documents.
“I like the straightforward applications. This one is,” he said.