As a result of declining ridership amid the coronavirus pandemic, Metro has announced it is shutting down parts of the Orange and Silver lines to begin two key capital priorities, including connecting the new Silver Line to the Metro’s network.
Ridership at stations west of Ballston, including those on the Silver Line, has dropped by 95 percent since the virus outbreak began, according to Metro officials.
Metro and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is working together to integrate phase I and II of the Silver Line, according to Paul Wiedefeld, the general manager and chief executive officer of Metro.
Phase II will bring the Metro to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County.
Issues with different computer software systems on both phases of the project are expected to be resolved during the closure. The work otherwise would have required the closure of the Silver Line for 13 weekends, according to Metro officials.
Loudoun County Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles), who serves on the Board of Directors for WMATA, said it's not that unusual that the systems are different since they were built five years apart. He added Metro wants to be certain there are no issues when the two phases are connected.
"With the Silver Line being shut down all summer, they're going to have plenty of time to work out that particular issue, get to the bottom of it, do the system integrations, [and] make the connection between phase I and phase II,” Letourneau said.
The Loudoun supervisor was hesitant to say what impact the work will have on the opening date because of the “uncertainty” surrounding the impact of the novel coronavirus. Building inspections, staffing and trainings have been impacted by the pandemic.
As previously reported, Metro experienced numerous setbacks since the project's launch, including issues with concrete, rail ties and construction defects. The problems have pushed the project back at least two years beyond its initial estimated opening date.
A Jan. 16 committee report stated that there are problems with track plates and the Automatic Train Control software that were unresolved at the time.
Metro will not accept control of the Silver Line extension until the MWAA – which is overseeing construction of the project – can resolve the outstanding issues.
Most estimates for the Silver Line's opening in Loudoun County are for the first half of 2021.
Loudoun County Supervisor and Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Turner (D-Ashburn) said he is still “cautiously optimistic” about Metro's arrival into Ashburn within the next year.
Turner said, “While there’s not much good news these days about COVID-19, the related stay-at-home order has afforded WMATA and MWAA an unusual opportunity to accelerate their work on the completion of phase II of the Silver Line extension.”
Marcia McAllister, the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project's communications manager, said with the shutdown of the Silver Line, MWAA should be able to complete its work in a week and half instead of 13 weekends. “Now that they are going to have the whole line closed down, it will be a lot easier for us to get in there to get our work done and get out of their way," she said.
McAllister added that construction has not slowed down amid the coronavirus pandemic. Workers have been following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease and Control, MWAA and their respective companies, she said. Workers are wearing masks and keeping a distance of six feet or greater between themselves.
One of the highlights of the project will be the installation of a glass screen wall at the Dulles Airport Metro Station, she said. The glass screen wall will mirror the design of the airport terminal and will be located on the front of the rail station facing the airport. She expects installation of the screen wall in June.
Capital Rail Constructors has been constructing the Silver Line and its stations, while Hensel Phelps is constructing the rail yard and maintenance facility.
According to Letourneau, there will be a six-month testing period after MWAA turns the project over to WMATA. He said Metro will need to thoroughly review the concrete panels, which have been problematic for a major chunk of the project's construction.
As part of the multi-billion-dollar Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project’s Phase 2, Loudoun County will have three of the six new stations connected to the Silver Line, including Ashburn, Loudoun Gateway and Dulles International stations. The upcoming stations in Fairfax will include Innovation Center, Herndon and Reston Town Center.
Nine Metrorail Stations will be closed for construction starting May 23 and will remain closed until the fall, according to WMATA officials. Five of the nine stations are the Silver Line's McLean, Tysons, Greensboro, Spring Hill, Wiehle-Reston East.
The project also includes the demolition and reconstruction of four platforms at the Orange Line's East Falls Church, West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna.
Use of Metro should be limited to essential travel only, as stipulated under stay-at-home executive orders in effect throughout the Metro service area, according to Metro officials. Essential travel includes first responders, hospital staff, critical government employees, grocery and pharmacy workers and others who must work during the public health emergency.
What Silver Line travelers need to know
Metro’s Silver Line Local will run between Wiehle-Reston East, Spring Hill, Tysons Corner and Ballston for free. The service will run seven days a week and will operate during the same hours as the rail system, currently 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. Buses will run approximately every 10 minutes on weekdays and approximately every 15 minutes on weekends.
Shuttles will not stop at stations closed due to Metro's response to COVID-19.
No customer parking is available at the East Falls Church Station due to construction activity.
Customers can stay up to date on the project and sign up to receive email updates at wmata.com/platforms.