Silver Line Not Open Yet, But MWAA Looking For $1.8 Million in Upgrades

Testing the Silver Line near Tysons/File photo by MWAAMetro’s Silver Line has not yet opened, but the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (MWAA) is already seeking a $1.8 million technology upgrade of the Automatic Train Control system.

MWAA is building the Silver Line rail extension.  The 11-mile, $2.8 billion Phase 1 of the Silver Line will run from East Falls Church to Reston’s Wiehle Avenue. When it is satisfactorily completed — a decision that could come in the next two weeks — the project will be turned over to Metro, which will then conduct its own testing before setting an opening date.

The Dulles Corridor Committee of the MWAA Board of Directors on Wednesday approved awarding a sole source contract to Alstom Signaling, Inc., of Henrietta, N.Y. for an Automatic Train Control (ATC) technology upgrade.

Alstom previously installed the Horton Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) as part of the design of the Automatic Train Control System. That system is used throughout the existing Metro system, MWAA says.

But in testing the system for the Silver Line, the RTUs have proven faulty.

“The Horton RTUs have proven unreliable in the Phase 1 application,” MWAA documents read. “Increased reliability can be achieved by incorporating the use of integral circuit boards in the Alstom Vital Processor Interlock (VPI) instead of using RTU equipment.”

“This is a reliability issue, not a safety issue,” the documents read. “The technology upgrade will take one year to complete.”

MWAA says that it will advise Dulles Transit Partners, the Bechtel unit that constructed the rail line, to make adjustments to improve reliability. It also says that once service begins, WMATA (Metro) will provide “extra staffing at the Project’s expense to ensure reliability” and that Alstom is the only contractor able to provide the necessary equipment for the upgrades.

MWAA officials said early Wednesday that roughly $23 million is available in the Silver Line contingency fund.

The ATC system has been a bug in constructing the Silver Line — and it is crucial to get it right. In 2009, the  system failed to detect the presence of a train on the tracks leading to a Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured dozens of others.

In June, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said he was troubled by unauthorized design changes Alstom made without consulting Metro. In addition, because of a shortage of equipment, Alstom workers allegedly moved some control boards from one monitoring station to another, which meant they were checking the same set of boards rather than new ones, according to The Washington Post.

In November, more issues with the ATC system were found, leading to a delay of several months.

While an official opening date was never announced, Phase 1 was originally estimated to be ready to hand off to Metro last summer for a December 2013 opening. Last spring, that was moved to a November turnover. In November, the project was delayed further while problems with the Automatic Train Control System were addressed.

On Feb. 7, DTP announced it had reached “substantial completion,” meaning it felt the construction was finished. MWAA completed a two-week review and found a host of problems, including some with the ATC system.

DTP says it fixed the problems, and on April 9 — the same day $25,000 a day penalties would kick in as part of the construction contract — submitted the project again. MWAA is in the midst of another 15-day review.

Once MWAA signs off on the DTP’s work it will turn the Silver Line over to Metro, which then has 90 days to complete its own testing.

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