Metro Officials Discuss Silver Line Fares, Late-Night Hours in Congressional Hearing

Lawmakers discussed bringing back late-night hours and Metro’s safety record with Metro officials at a congressional oversight hearing on the transit agency on Tuesday.

An ethics investigation into former Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board chair Jack Evans was the focus of most of the hearing, which was led by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations.

Connolly and other lawmakers urged Metro’s leadership to continue to combat what Connolly said was a “culture of mediocrity” concerning safety and efficiency in the system.

Additionally,  Metro assumes the authority of phase two of the Silver Line extension project, a number of safety-related issues must be resolved.

“We cannot allow shoddy construction work by cost-cutting contractors to saddle Metro and its ridership with long-term costly maintenance,” Connolly said.

So far, it’s unclear how next year’s opening of phase two of the Silver Line into Loudoun County will impact fares. Currently, Metro’s distance-based fares are capped at $6 at rush hour and at $3.85 at all other times.

Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said WMATA is considering the possibility of fare increases as part of its budget development process. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) said she hopes Metro will maintain affordability for her constituents in Reston, Tysons and surrounding a real.

Metro is focusing on promoting the use of SmarTrip cards — a reloadable card used to pay Metrorail and local bus system fares — in order to boost ridership.

“Our biggest focus is getting people to use the SmarTrip cards and providing discounts for that,” Wiedefeld said. “That’s really the best way to use the system for us operationally and efficiency-wise,” he said.

At the meeting, officials also hinted at the possibility of bringing back late-night hours that Metro cut several years ago.

A recording of the meeting, which also touched on other issues like cybersecurity, Metro’s overall funding goals, is available online.

Photo via YouTube

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Silver Line Phase Two Test Trains Begin Running to Ashburn

Silver Line test trains are now running into Loudoun County.

Trains are making their way into the county from the aerial guideway on the Dulles Airport property through the Loudoun Gateway Station to the Ashburn Station.

Testing is underway using eight rail cars that were supplied by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Metro asked for a pause in testing in mid-September after expressing concerns about the safety of trains when they switch tracks. Recent investigations found that the issue is not linked to possible derailment for test trains.

Although Metro signed off on allowing train testing to continue, a number of concerns with phase two of the project remain, including concrete panel issues.

Photo by Chuck Samuelson/Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Brookfield Breaks Ground on $1.4 Billion Development — “Brookfield Properties celebrated the groundbreaking Monday for Halley Rise, a $1.4B project on the site of a 36-acre Reston office park.  The development’s first phase, scheduled to deliver in 2022, will feature 640 residential units, 450K SF of office and 200K SF of retail. The retail will be anchored by Wegmans, which is bringing its smaller urban grocery store concept to the project, and Pinstripes, a restaurant with a bowling alley and bocce court.” [Bisnow]

Metro Investigates Monday Train Collision — “The investigation into the cause of a low-speed train collision outside Farragut West is ongoing, including analysis of railcar data recorders, control center event logs, and signal system playback.  While Metro has not yet identified the root cause of the incident, investigators have found no evidence of a signal system failure and have ruled out “loss of shunt” as a cause.”  [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Annual Fiscal Year 2019 Report for Town of Herndon — Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton presented findings and progress on different measures at a meeting in late September. The report highlights progress on major initiatives undertaken by the town in the last fiscal year. [Town of Herndon]

Early Bird Ticket Rates for Reston Home Tour Ending Soon — The $25 rate for the Reston Historic Trust & Museum’s annual Reston Home Tour is in effect until Friday (Oct. 11). The tour takes place on Saturday, Oct. 9. Regular price tickets are $30.  [Reston Historic Trust & Museum]

Photo by Dario Pipair/Flickr

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Metro Board Flags Problems with Silver Line Extension Project

Metro board members flagged several concerns with the Silver Line extension that could delay its expected opening date in July 2020.

At a Thursday board meeting, the board heard a comprehensive report about critical issues on the stations including cracked concrete an unleveled track.

In some areas, track plates are curved, creating a gap between the plate and tie of track plates. The report also found irregular track cross-levels. The contractor attempted to install pads, create custom guard rail plates and install hardware for all turnouts — a fix that Metro rejected because it is “not a safe and effective longterm solution.”

The report also indicated that the ballast — the gravel around the tracks — was contaminated with materials that could cause drainage issues and pose a potential safety risk.

Metro also rejected the contractor’s application of a sealer to remedy cracked concrete at five at-grade stations. The fix was implemented after a federal investigation confirmed the contractor falsified test results at the concrete plant.

The body is seeking a safe and effective long term solution after tests showed that the sealer did not effectively penetrate cracked concrete in 20 percent of the 25 areas Metro’s Office of Inspector General tested.

According to WAMU, Maryland board representative Michael Goldman said the findings cast a “dark and foreboding cloud” over the expected opening date provided by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority must address concerns highlighted by the report in order for Metro to take over the project.

Photo by Fatimah Waseem

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Ahead of 2020 Opening, Herndon Metro Station Sign Installed

It’s official: the Herndon Metro Station is nearly complete.

This week, a sign marking the station was installed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials.

Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel met with WMATA officials on Monday, August 5 as part of a Silver Line bus tour.

The station is expected to open in July next year.

The town is working with the county to determine new bus routes with the Fairfax Connector once Metro trains are up and running.

Photo via Town of Herndon/Facebook

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Report: Here’s When the Silver Line Extension is Expected to Open

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has finally set a projected opening day for phase two of the Silver Line project.

WTOP reports that the authority hopes to open the six-station second phase from Wiehle-Reston East to Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn on July 16, 2020. Authority officials stressed the opening date was tentative and dependent on numerous factors.

Here’s more from WTOP:

“The current date to open the system to the public is July 16, 2020. That is our goal at this point, and we’re working very hard to meet it,” said Charles Stark, airports authority senior vice president for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

“It could be a few days earlier or a few days later. Nothing in the construction world is that exact, but you gotta have a goal, and that’s ours,” Stark said in an interview.

July 16, 2020, is a Thursday, so it is more likely that if construction sticks to the new schedule projections based on a statistical analysis and discussions with the contractors and Metro, the line would open the weekend before or after that.

Thus far, the opening of phase two has been delayed several times.

Metro will take roughly two months for final testing and employee training before it assumes ownership of the rail line from the authority.

The authority is currently in negotiations with contractors to determine the details of precise safety testing checklists for new stations, tracks and rail yards. The authority hopes to allow certain tests to be done simultaneously instead of sequentially in order to shave a significant amount of time off the schedule, according to the report.

Rail yard testing is expected to begin by the end of this year.

File photo

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Monday Morning Notes

Lane Closures on Sunset Hills Road — Closures are scheduled for eastbound Sunset Hills Road near the future Reston Town Center Metro station from today (Monday) through Wednesday. Crews are completing stormwater management work. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]

Metro Adds More Service Options — The price of four passes — the seven-day unlimited, the seven-day short trip, the seven-day regional bus and the one-day unlimited pass — will be lowered. A new option for a three-day unlimited pass will also be available. The service and affordable pass product changes begin today (Monday). [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Lake Anne Paddle Set for Friday — Registration for the event is $7 for Reston Association members and $9 for all others. Attendees will get a chance to canoe or kayak on Lake Anne with a naturalist. [Reston Association]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Tuesday Morning Notes

On-Demand Transportation for Metro Commuters — Metro just launched a new program to help late-night workers get around between midnight and 4 a.m. Qualified workers will receive a $3 subsidy toward a shared ride on Lyft beginning July 1. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Sallie Mae Moving Northern Virginia Offices — “Sallie Mae moved its headquarters from Reston to Delaware in 2010, and has since reduced its leased space in Northern Virginia from 240,000 square feet to roughly 30,000, according to its most recent annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.” [Washington Business Journal]

Silver Line Delay Baffles MWAA — “The latest delays for Metro’s Silver Line construction have baffled the D.C. region’s airport authority, which is hopeful that the timeline for the commuter rail line’s extension to Dulles International Airport will speed up over the next few months.” [WTOP]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Long-Term Study to Identify Metro’s Future Regional Needs

Metro is launching is a two-year study of the Blue, Orange and Silver Line in order to find long-term options to meet future regional needs.

The study is intended to improve reliability, meet future ridership demands, and improve service for customers, according to a statement released yesterday (June 17).

Because all three Metro lines share a single set of tracks between the Rosslyn tunnel and the Anacostia River, Metro says that bottlenecks are inevitable and disruptions on one line have a “ripple effect” on all three lines.

The study will explore infrastructure improvements and service alternatives to address the above issues.

Here’s more from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority:

The first phase of the study will assess key issues and trends and document why improvements to the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines are necessary. Subsequent phases will include the development and evaluation of alternatives, as well as a thorough analysis of costs and benefits, with recommendation of a preferred alternative expected to occur by the fall of 2020.

Ultimately, the study will identify and analyze a range of potential alternatives before recommending a “locally preferred alternative” to move forward with federal environmental review, full design, and competition for federal funding. Over the next two years, Metro plans extensive outreach to engage the community, stakeholders, and transit experts to gather feedback and make recommendations.

More information about the study is available online.

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Friday Morning Notes

Six Metro Stations to Close from Memorial Day through September 8 — Fairfax County commuters should plan to travel ahead and avoid gridlock as six Metrorail Blue and Yellow line stations close for major reconstruction and station improvements. County officials are urging commuters to use online tools to travel via transit, ride sharing, and alternate connections.  [Fairfax County Government]

Reston Association Board of Directors Meets to Discuss Boats, Docks, and Other Issues — At the board’s meeting last night, a new at-large director was appointed. Board members also heard findings from the lakes, docks and boats working group, among other issues. [Reston Association]

Ravel Dance Studio Presents “Sleeping Beauty and the Street Scene” — Young dancers will perform a variety of dance genres at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage today at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. [Reston Community Center]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Amazon will bring $15 billion and 62,000 jobs by 2030 A study by the Virginia Chamber Foundation predicts that Amazon’s second headquarters in Crystal City will bring a huge economic impact to Northern Virginia and D.C. [Reston Patch]

Design & Wine — Head to ArtSpace Herndon to sketch and paint unique winter villages with artist Melanie Z Stanley from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. tonight. [ArtSpace Herndon]

New MetroAlerts and real-time parking unveiled– Metro introduced yesterday a new MetroAlerts system to allow Metrorail and Metrobus riders to customize the alerts they receive by day and time, along with adding multiple email addresses or phone numbers on one account. In a separate improvement, real-time parking status is now shown on wmata.com. [WMATA]

Reston Association’s Design Review Board meets tonight — The Wendy’s at 1701 Bracknell Drive is on the agenda for the meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. [Reston Association]

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Private Contractors Likely to Operate Silver Line’s Second Phase

Private contractors are likely to operate and maintain the six new stations that are part of the Silver Line extension project that runs from Wiehle-Reston East into Loudoun County

In an announcement on Tuesday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said it has issued a request for proposals in order to seek private contractors who can operate and maintain the new stations, trains, and facilities.

WMATA said the move was necessary in order to control operating and maintenance costs, including future pension costs, which it says have “grown to unsustainable levels.”

“We are leaving no stone unturned as we look for opportunities to maintain transit service for the region and protect jobs, all while living within our means in light of what our funding jurisdictions can afford,” said Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld. 

Bids are due on Jan. 15 and a contract will be awarded in the spring.

Officials said the move will not result in job losses for Metro’s current workforce. They also noted that transit agencies in Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, and Beijing have had success in contracting some or all rail services through public-private partnerships, resulting in “improved on-time performance, reliability, operating efficiencies and cost savings.’

The Silver Line extension project is tentatively scheduled to open in 2020.

Photo by Fatimah Waseem

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A First Look at Metro’s Next Generation of Rail Cars

Metro is offering a glimpse into its next generation of rail cars, which are similar to the stainless steel 7000-series launched three years ago.

On Tuesday (September 5), Metro announced it has begun the procurement process for the 8000-series, which will replace the 2000- and 3000-series cars, which went into service more than 10 years ago. Trains are needed to meet expanding service, especially as the expansion of the Silver Line to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County comes closer to fruition.

Departing from previous ideas, which included open, raised platforms to reduce overcrowding, heated floors and onboard WiFi, the latest plans are similar to the 7,000-series currently in operating. New features include new digital advertising screens, support for remote PA announcements, digital system mats, 110-volt power outlets to charge electronic devices and more lighting, floor markings and signage for ADA areas.

“Today Metro is beginning the multi-year process of acquiring our next railcar fleet, which will take everything our customers love about 7000-series trains and build upon that success,” Wiedefeld said in a statement. “I would take this opportunity to again thank our local jurisdictions — Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia — for creating a dedicated capital funding source for Metro that has made this possible,” according to a statement by Metro.

Metro has issued a formal request for proposals, which will close in late January. A contract will be awarded sometime next year. The contract calls for purchasing up to 800 cars, including options to run more trains during rush hour, and retiring the 6000-series fleet. The new trains are expected to be in service in 2024.

Photos via Washington Metropolitan Area Authority

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Over Two Days, Metro Trains Travel on Wrong Tracks

Twice in the last two days, Metro trains ended up on the wrong line, with a Blue line train coming onto the Orange Line and a Silver Line train coming onto the Blue Line.

On Monday, a Silver Line train diverted to the Arlington Cemetery station on the Blue Line, a routing issue that Metro officials said was called by signal problems. The next day, a Blue line train bound for Franconia-Springfield was misdirected to the Court House station on the Orange and Silver lines.

Metro is attempting to take corrective action to prevent similar issues in the future.

Over the weekend, an eight-car Silver Line train bound for McLean completely separated into segments of five and three cars. The incident happened on Saturday at around 10:45 a.m. Roughly 70 passengers were on the train when the issue occurred. No injuries were reported.

More from social media:

File photo

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Metro Officials: “Only Use Metro If You Have No Other Option”

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials are encouraging riders of the Orange, Blue and Silver Lines to use Metro “only if you have no other option.” A partial Blue Line shutdown and major delays on two other Lines are planned this weekend.

Beginning tomorrow (Saturday) until August 26, Orange and Silver Line trains will run every 20 minutes and Blue Line trains will run between Franconia-Springfield and Arlington Cemetery. No Blue Line services will be available in DC or Maryland.

WMATA urges commuters to brace for major delays and crowding. Metro’s rush hour promise will not be in effect for trips on the Orange, Blue or Silver Lines.

Crews are scheduled to rebuild track infrastructure, install new rail, new fasteners and repair concrete pads that support rails. Each track will be worked on one week at a time so that single-track service can be maintained, according to WMATA.

In a statement posted to their website, WMATA posted the following information about travel alternatives:

  • Commuters between Virginia and the district should use the yellow line.
  • Use the Yellow Line and transfer to and from the Orange or Silver Lines at L’Enfant Plaza.
  • Use the Red, Yellow or Green Line stations if they’re within walking distance of your destination.
  • Consider riding select trains on the VRE Manassas Line or VRE Fredericksburg line to Crystal City, L’Enfant Plaza or Union Station
  • Take the MARC Penn Line (via New Carrollton) or the MARC Camden Line (via Greenbelt) downtown.
  • Consider bus alternatives. See breakdown online.
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