The target opening date for the highly anticipated Metrorail Silver Line into Loudoun County remains in question.
As future riders watch and wait, regional agencies and county leaders are mulling over when Metro into Ashburn will be fully operational and welcome riders. Numerous setbacks have been encountered since the project's launch, with concrete, rail ties and construction defects pushing the project back at least two years beyond its initial estimated opening date.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) will not accept control over the Silver Line extension until the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority – which is overseeing construction of the project – can resolve the outstanding issues.
Capital Rail Constructors is building the main line and stations, while Hensel Phelps is constructing the rail yard and maintenance facility.
MWAA said both contractors have missed their contract schedule completion dates.
“At this point, we do not have an agreed upon date for scheduled completion with either contractor,” Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Communications Manager Marcia McAllister said. “The Airports Authority is focusing on the safety, durability and reliability of the system. We continue to work with all parties to meet the project goals. Both contractors know what they need to be doing. Once construction and testing are complete, we will turn it over to Metro and they will determine the opening date for the public.”
The authority anticipates “substantial completion” in April, according to construction and committee reports, but local leaders believe riders won't come on board until well beyond that.
Loudoun County Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles), who serves on the WMATA Board of Directors, believes the first quarter of 2021 is the most likely operational date.
He notes there is a six-month testing period when MWAA turns the project over to WMATA and that Metro needs to thoroughly review the concrete panels, which have been problematic for a major chunk of the project's construction.
“Just looking at that and the fact that there's a six-month testing period … if this gets resolved in July, you're looking at 2021," Letourneau said. “I think that's where this is heading. Hopefully the issues can be resolved.”
County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) agreed.
“While we are hopeful that Metro will arrive in 2020, it’s possible that it won’t be ready to accept riders until the first quarter of 2021 as there will need to be extensive testing to ensure safety and reliability,” Randall said. “We are clear that the most important factor is having assurance that the Silver Line will provide a safe and reliable transit option for Loudoun citizens.”
In a 2019 MWAA report, the authority indicated a schedule provided by Capital Rail Constructors could push back the operational date.
Then, in a Jan. 16 analysis, the Metro Safety and Operations Committee reported several issues have been resolved, including the aerial track girder cracking and pedestal deficiencies at the Dulles Airport Station screen wall, among others.
However, the committee identified problems with track plates and the Automatic Train Control software that remain unresolved. Panel cracks in the precast concrete wall and deficiencies in the track insulated joint are also being addressed.
As part of the multi-billion-dollar Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project’s Phase 2, Loudoun County will have three of the six new Metrorail stations connected to the Silver Line, including Ashburn, Loudoun Gateway and Dulles International stations. The upcoming stations in Fairfax include Innovation Center, Herndon and Reston Town Center.
Phase 1, which was completed in 2014, runs from East Falls Church with several stations in Tysons Corner and one at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.
Last summer, MWAA announced trains for Phase 2 began testing in Loudoun.