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MWAA still not prepared to share timeline for Phase 1 completion

With patience wearing thin for many of the Silver Line’s backers, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority officials said Wednesday that they still cannot provide a date or a timeline for when the new rail line will be completed.

MWAA officials said they are working closely with contractor Dulles Transit Partners and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which will ultimately own and operate the Silver Line, to have the project ready to turn over before April 9. If work continues beyond that date, Dulles Transit Partners could be subject to millions of dollars in penalties under the terms of the contract.

“I think all parties are interested in getting that done,” said Jack Potter, president and CEO of the airports authority, adding that it is in “the collective interest” to avoid the legal wrangling over the contract.

MWAA Board of Directors member Tom Davis, who is also a former congressman from Fairfax County, said he hopes the authority is prepared to pursue legal action against the contractor “to hold their feet to the fire.”

The original timeline for the $2.9 billion first phase of the Silver Line, which includes four stations in Tysons Corner and one in Reston, anticipated rail service beginning by the end of 2013.

In late 2013, MWAA said it would need an additional two months to complete testing, then the timeline was pushed out further to correct issues identified during testing.

Last month, Dulles Transit Partners declared that it had reached substantial completion, an important contract milestone that would have launched the process of turning the system over to MWAA and then to Metro.

However, after reviewing the contractor’s submission, MWAA officials did not accept the declaration, saying the contractor failed to obtain occupancy permits for about 20 buildings and structures and had not fully resolved issues with the automatic train control system and other items.

In all, MWAA said the submission did not meet the contract standards in 12 areas. That is what Dulles Transit Partners is working on correcting.

“We all feel the urgency, we all want to get this done,” said Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the rail project. “We’re focused on getting these things to the finish line.”

Representatives from MWAA, Dulles Transit Partners and Metro are meeting on a daily basis to ensure that the remediation work is being conducted in a way that won’t create more delays, he said.

Pressed by Davis to explain the type of work that is taking place right now, Nowakowski cited one example — replacing every speaker in every station. The speakers originally installed match ones used elsewhere in the Metro system, but building code inspectors said they needed to be replaced with a model that is UL listed, a type of safety certification.

This one item on the list of tasks needed to be done involves ordering new parts, tweaking the speaker design, installing the new speakers and then testing them again, Nowakowski said.

“You don’t just snap your fingers and send two guys out to fix a punch list item,” he said.

It is because of the complexity of the work left to do that Nowakowski and other MWAA officials will not project a completion date.

Once MWAA and Metro officials sign off that the work is completed and the new line is ready to go, the transit agency has 90 days to complete its testing and training before determining when rail service will begin on the Silver Line.

There also continue to be significant challenges with the automatic train control system. Although it will not affect reaching substantial completion, Nowakowski said there is a communication link that continues to have reliability issues and will need to be replaced.

Next month the authority will issue a contract directly with the equipment manufacturer Alstom, rather than a subcontractor, to make the repair, Nowakowski said.

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