With major construction done, the clock is ticking on opening of Silver Line Phase 2

With Silver Line Phase 2 finally reaching substantial completion, the clock has started ticking on when the line will actually open to riders.

Late last week, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) announced the completion of major construction on the long-delayed multi-billion dollar transportation project that will extend the Silver Line from Reston into Loudoun County with six new stations.

“This is a significant step toward completing the 11.5-mile extension that will provide rail service for residents in Reston, Herndon and eastern Loudoun County and give Metro riders direct access to Dulles Airport,” wrote Jack Potter, MWAA’s president and CEO, in last week’s press release.

This comes about two weeks after work was completed to tie the two Silver Line phases together and the connection of the Automatic Train Control System.

However, the project has not been handed over to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) just yet, an authority spokesperson confirmed to Reston Now.

“Metro looks forward to entering the next phase of the project, during which we will perform hundreds of tests to ensure the extension can be operated safely and reliably before the Board accepts ownership and sets an opening date,” they wrote. “Metro takes full ownership only after the operational readiness evaluation and pre-revenue activities are satisfactorily completed.”

While this is fully expected and doesn’t necessarily impact the timeline for the line’s opening to riders, there are several steps that still need to happen prior to the handover.

First, Metro’s set to conduct about 200 safety tests with any necessary repairs being made. At the same time, Metro’s safety oversight body – Washington Metrorail Safety Commission – will start the certification that the line is safe.

Additionally, the railyard needs to be completed before Metro takes over the project. It currently remains unfinished, both WMATA and MWAA spokespeople confirmed to Reston Now. Hensel Phelps is the contractor for that portion of the project.

When testing, repairs, certification, and the railyard all are done, the Metro Board will vote to take “provisional control” of the project. After that happens, WMATA will set a date to launch passenger service and will begin employee training, simulations, and emergency drills.

In total, this all should take about six months, meaning that a tentative date for opening could be May 2022.

“We’re not projecting an opening date. [It is] dependent on many factors, and the Board will ultimately make that determination,” wrote a WMATA spokesperson.

In the meantime, the public can expect to see more trains running on the line, according to MWAA, as there’ll be a significant increase in testing in the coming months.

While months remain before passengers can catch a ride to Herndon or Ashburn, substantial completion marks a significant milestone for the long-delayed project.

“This is a major step in bringing passenger rail service to Dulles Airport and beyond. And as our residents know well, rail to Dulles has been years in the making,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor (and alternate on the Metro Board) Walter Alcorn wrote in a statement to Reston Now. “The progress of this phase of the Silver Line is made possible by Dulles Toll Road users and landowners who funded most of the project and have waited patiently for this day. I look forward to all parties working together to initiate passenger service during the coming months.”

In September, both Alcorn and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay expressed frustration about the project’s constant delays and missed deadlines.

McKay appeared to reiterate his frustration in a statement to Reston Now.

“This is great news from WMATA this week. While the work was still incredibly behind and WMATA has a lot to do to rebuild trust with customers, I’m happy to see that significant [progress] has been made so we can fully open the Silver Line soon,” wrote McKay.

Initially, Silver Line Phase 2 construction was scheduled to be completed in 2018. But contractor issues, design changes, flawed materials, defective panels, and bad concrete all led to the years-long hold up which has tested the patience and viability of local businesses near the stations.

This past week’s good news also comes at a challenging time for Metro, as reduced service continues due to the pulling of 60% of its fleet in response to last month’s derailment.

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