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Phase One of rail construction hits home stretch

When the final segment of pedestrian bridge was lifted into place Monday, it marked the completion of the most visible portions of the Silver Line construction.

Construction of the first phase of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project is now about 89 percent complete and is still expected to wrap up on schedule this August, according to the project’s executive director, Pat Nowakowski.

Most of the construction work left to be done is taking place inside the five new rail stations, where workers will be busy laying floor tiles, installing wiring and equipment, constructing hand rails and stairs and more over the coming months.

There are a lot of portions of rail stations that the traveling public generally isn’t aware of, Nowakowski said: rooms housing backup batteries, communications systems and other equipment,

“They hear a PA system or they see a message board telling them when the next train is coming, but what they don’t see are the wires connecting to a back room,” he said. “The whole behind-the-scenes rooms that people typically don’t see ... that’s where a lot of the work is going on.”

Finishing the stations does also include the completion of architectural details, installation of fare gates and other work in the public areas.

While finishing construction on the stations, project and Metro staff are starting to do some testing on the rail systems.

“There is a tremendous amount of testing that has to be done, and it all has to be documented,” Nowakowski said.

Two segments of the third rail have been electrified on the eastern end of the project, where it ties in with the Orange Line, and they will soon electrify the third rail on the western end in Reston and then work in to Tysons Corner from both ends of the line, Nowakowski said.

Soon, people will begin seeing some test cars on the rail line, he said. In addition to making sure all of the systems work under normal conditions, the project will need to test different scenarios.

For example, making sure that the electrical equipment still works if there are three trains in a row backed up due to delays, Nowakowski said.

There will also be some “cleanup” work to do around the stations ­— restoring Route 7 to its final configuration, removing barricades, constructing sidewalks and other smaller tasks.

While the construction portion of the new rail line is expected to be completed on time, Nowakowski said, the actual start date of service for passengers is up to Metro. If there are larger problems discovered during testing, that could slow things down, he said.

The construction schedule was able to catch up on delays experienced early in the project, but that might not be the case toward the end, Nowakowski said.

As construction on Phase 1 wraps up, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority will be starting construction on Phase 2.

The contract for the second half of the rail line, which will take the Silver Line to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County, is expected to be issued in May with the start of work in June.

The initial work on Phase 2 will involve the completion of design, as well as engineering tests like soil borings, Nowakowski said, so the construction work probably won’t be very visible to the public until 2014.

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