Eight years after the project began, Metro’s Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport finally appears poised to launch — and just in time for the busy Thanksgiving holiday. That is, if Metro even has the trains to do so.
To operate the extended line, which just wrapped up two weeks of simulated service through new stops in Dulles, Fairfax County, and Loudoun County, Metro says it needs to see the newer 7000-series trains returned to service. Moving trains from other crowded lines will not be sufficient and will only create more complications and delays, a WMATA release stated.
“With only half of our 7Ks available, we cannot meet all of the region’s needs for Metrorail,” Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said in the release. “It’s simple math. As we seek crowding solutions, support increasing ridership, and work to extend service, the equation of doing more with less no longer works.”
The restoration of the 7000-series cars hinges on the approval by Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) of a return-to-service plan submitted by Metro officials in September.
“Unfortunately, WMSC notified Metro Monday afternoon that it objects to Metro’s new (phase three) Return to Service Plan for the 7000-series rail cars,” Metro officials said in a release Wednesday, adding that the submission was dismissed due to a “lack of data.”
“We committed for the Silver Line extension to being operationally ready for the Silver Line extension in October, and we have met our deadline,” Clarke said. “We are just awaiting concurrence from our Safety Commission partners.”
A firm agreement between the two organizations must be reached this week to safely move trains and restore service at the stations that are currently suspended south of Reagan National Airport, Metro officials added.
In a statement provided to WUSA9, Washington Metrorail Safety Commission spokesman Max Smith said that it is Metro that has delayed proceedings by not finalizing the project’s necessary safety checks, tests that must be completed before the 7000-series trains return.
“Metro does the safety certification for the project,” Smith told WUSA9. “They have not completed it. When they do complete it and address these open items, we are ready.”
The prolonged process has now drawn the ire of Virginia’s Democratic senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who released a joint statement Wednesday decrying the back-and-forth.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
Metro officials noted that a safety certification report will be submitted to WMSC this week, though the organization “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.”
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