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As Silver Line Comes Closer To Rolling, Metro Balances Safety And Budget

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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority continues to prepare for the opening of the Silver Line Metrorail extension to Reston, Va. with one eye on safety testing and the other on its budget.

During a presentation to the transit authority’s board of directors on Thursday, deputy general manager Robert Troup said Metro continues to work with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to complete the first wave of tests for Phase I of the Silver Line, the first half of a $6 billion rail extension that is scheduled to reach Dulles Airport and Loudoun County by 2018. Phase I will end at a station at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

Once MWAA completes construction of the rail infrastructure and signs off on the last of its safety tests, it will hand the project to Metro. Metro will have up to 90 days to achieve safety certification and begin Phase I passenger service. WMATA personnel are present to witness the completion of MWAA procedures in order to speed its own testing process once the project is handed over to the transit authority, Troup said. Officials declined to approximate a date for the hand-over or the start of revenue service.

“Everybody is anxious to open it up. We're anxious to open it up. But we want to make sure it is a good, safe operation and there is nothing to indicate otherwise,” said Metro general manager Richard Sarles.

In the budget Metro adopted earlier this year, it anticipated receiving fare revenues from the Silver Line in January. With a late winter/early spring open date looking more likely, it appears Metro’s revenue projections will not be realized. However, Metro’s Silver Line operating costs will remain on the books, creating an imbalance. The new workforce being trained to operate the Silver Line will have to be paid, among other expenses, even if the trains are not running.

Sarles was asked if expecting fare revenue in January was a mistake.

“I said then and I believe — because I always say it — this is a best guess, but it is really in the testing. As you get closer to the end of a project, you have all this testing going on. Things pop you up, you adjust for it, but the important thing is to ensure you have a good, safe system when it opens up,” he responded.

Troup explained to the board of directors that 42 percent of Silver Line operations positions and 88 percent of maintenance positions are filled. Eighty-eight train operators and 74 station managers currently are being trained. Forty-one transit police officers have been hired; 33 have completed the training and eight are under recruitment.

Metro plans to launch an advertising campaign among other efforts to make the public aware of the largest expansion in the system since it opened decades ago. Metro’s own research has shown significant numbers of residents in the D.C. region are unaware the Silver Line is coming.

Even one member of the board of directors seemed confused during Thursday’s presentation that was open to the public at Metro’s headquarters in Chinatown. Board member Anthony Giancola asked Metro executives if MWAA was pressuring WMATA to take on the Silver Line before it’s ready, unaware that neither agency has announced when the Silver Line will carry its first passengers.

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