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Metro Eyes July 28 Start For Silver Line Passenger Service

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Passengers could be riding the Silver Line within the next two months.
William F. Yurasko: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55676959@N00/8563510770/
Passengers could be riding the Silver Line within the next two months.

Metro is targeting July 20 for the start of “simulated service” — trial runs to train rail operators — on the new Silver Line to Reston, Virginia, according to union scheduling records. Passenger service could start one week later on Monday, July 28, pending the outcome of ongoing safety testing and the completion of outstanding construction issues by the contractor Bechtel.

“We were contacted [by WMATA] back in May and we were told that the simulated service would start July 20. So for all of the operators and station managers we are in the process of selecting work,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 president Jackie Jeter, in an exclusive interview with WAMU 88.5 FM. Work shifts are chosen by ATU workers based on seniority.

Barring any further setbacks the long-delayed Silver Line, originally planned for a January opening, will begin carrying passengers by the end of next month, the first new Metro line since the Green Line opened in 1991. The Blue Line was extended to Largo Town Center in 2004.

Metro officials declined to confirm the July 20 target date for simulated service, but did raise new concerns about the quality of Bechtel’s work in a weekly conference call with reporters Monday morning.

“We do have a concern that the airports authority and the contractor are behind schedule on approximately half of the items listed in the memorandum of understanding,” said Metro deputy general manager Rob Troup, referring to an April 23 agreement (.PDF) between Metro and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to move the Silver Line toward a summer opening.

“This is work that has to be completed before we start revenue service and we expected to be further along at this point,” Troup added.

Many of the items awaiting completion on the punch list are relatively minor and do not appear to require complex fixes, but Metro views each as vital for the Silver Line’s successful opening.

“For example, the painting and grounding of the tunnel hand rail. [The contractor] went out and did some grounding and painting of the tunnel hand rail. We were concerned with the work effort that was done on that, and we have asked them to go back and do some testing on that. How those issues get resolved… may take some time to get those out of the way,” said Troup.

Troup also mentioned drainage problems at the new rail stations along the Silver Line among other punch list items that Bechtel has yet to rectify.

Public address and fire alarm speakers that were incorrectly installed in the five rail stations currently are undergoing an audit by the Virginia Department of General Services. If the audit checks out okay, the five rail stations finally may be issued permanent certificates of occupancy.

“We don’t want to start service and then have to be out there re-grading platforms. We don’t want to be pulling up tile and inconvenience our passengers. We want the stations done right,” said Troup, who tried to avoid criticizing Bechtel during the 30-minute conference call.

“The contractors are up to the job. They are able to do the job. It is just a matter of them getting the resources out there to get the work done in a timely fashion,” Troup said.

A spokeswoman for Bechtel wrote in an email, "...we continue to work diligently in collaboration with MWAA and WMATA and good progress is being made every day. Our focus is on safely delivering a world-class rail system to the people of northern Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area."

In another email, an Airports Authority spokeswoman wrote, "We are making good progress working with WMATA and Dulles Transit Partners (DTP) on many issues, including safety, security, training and testing."

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