WASHINGTON — The most anticipated expansion of the Metro's Silver Line could be happening in time for the holidays, but more trains are needed to make it a reality.
Metro released a statement Wednesday saying they are ready to open the extension to Dulles International Airport before Thanksgiving when travel increases. but it would need the 7000-series trains to be returned to service in order to make it happen. Opening the new tracks without those trains could lead to additional delays, Metro said.
“We committed for the Silver Line extension to being operationally ready for the Silver Line extension in October, and we have met our deadline,” said General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke.
The extension opening was approved this week by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC). Metro leaders say the date of the opening now rests with WMSC pending approval of a data-driven Return to Service Plan for 7000-series railcars and a safety certification report of the Silver Line.
"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, following Metro’s submission of additional data analysis Friday," a Metro press release said Wednesday.
Both of Virginia's US Senators are furious that a skirmish between Metro and the safety commission could hold up the opening.
"My patience is gone. The riding public's patience is gone," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). "We shouldn't be here weeks before this system was due to open after delay, after delay, after delay, and have these two competing bureaucracies in a pissing match.”
The $6.8 billion project was launched eight years ago.
"No one leaves the room until we have an agreed-upon plan that allows us to open by Thanksgiving in a safe way that we all agree makes sense," said Jeff McKay, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
But the Safety Commission says it's still waiting for Metro to even certify the line is ready.
"Metro does the safety certification for the project. They have not completed it. When they do complete it and address these open items, we are ready," said Max Smith, a spokesman for the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.
When it opens, the extension will add three new stations in Fairfax County, and Loudoun County, including the most-anticipated stop at Dulles Airport.
"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," Clarke said.
Metro leaders say the Return to Silver Plan was originally submitted on Sept. 28 and was not approved for citing "lack of data" to support changing multiple variables at once. WMATA needs the WMSC's concurrence this week to safely transfer trains into the different yards to support the restoration of service for stations south of the National Airport and prepare trains for the start of passenger service at Dulles Rail Yard.
Additionally, Metro needs to align real-time communications systems and finalized other details to support passenger service.
“We have provided all of the available data and analysis we have after safely running 2.7 million miles, however, WMSC has provided confusing direction,” said EVP and Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato in a statement. “We simply ask for clear guidance on what is required to satisfy them as to the integrity of our process.”
The phase three return to service plan is needed for both increased service frequency for customers systemwide and the Silver Line extension.