Second-Guessing the Silver Line as Metro’s Problems Mount

Some of the Silver Line's first passengers on July 26, 2014Two years ago this month, the Silver Line — after years of discussion, rising costs and many construction delays — finally opened, bringing long-awaited rail service to Reston.

But ever since, Metro has been plagued by problems — track issues, smoke and fire, near-constant single tracking, and now, the SafeTrack project to fix them.

Is it the new Silver Line to blame for Metro’s issues? A Washington Post story Sunday laid out the case:

To make room for the line, Metro reduced service on the Blue Line, angering thousands of riders. New rail cars set to arrive before the line opened did not — leaving fewer trains in reserve when older cars broke down. The result? Worsening service disruptions systemwide. Adding to Metro’s woes, ridership was well below projections.

After the January 2015 tunnel fire near L’Enfant Plaza, which left one passenger dead, things got worse, the post points out.

Metro blamed the chronic breakdowns on its inability to keep up with much-needed maintenance that had been neglected for years and said it needed more money to catch up. Some observers — and Metro to a degree — blamed the Silver Line, saying the new line placed too much of a burden on the system’s infrastructure. Some riders and others argued that the transit agency should have invested in rebuilding instead of expanding.

Several transportation consultants quoted in the article have mixed opinions. One says Metro would likely have the same problems it does with or without the Silver Line; another says adding a new line to a broken system was “beyond idiotic.”

The article also points out that the ridership on the Silver Line has not met projections. While Wiehle-Reston East — the end of the line until Phase 2 opens in 2020 — has met projections, but at the one-year mark, the average of 17,000 weekday boardings is far short of the 25,000 the line was projected to have after its first year.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va. 11th), who was a crucial advocate in bringing Metro to Reston (he formerly served as chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors), and the current chair, Sharon Bulova, are urging residents to stick with the Silver Line as the benefits will be felt in the decades to come.

Read the entire piece on Washingtonpost.com.

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