Metro opens $3B Silver Line extension
After 8 years, rail line reaches Loudoun County
As a cold rain fell around noon Tuesday, leaders from Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority cut the ribbon on the $3 billion second phase of Metro’s Silver Line, extending rail service 11.4 miles to six stations and stretching into Loudoun County.
Minutes later, they crowded onto a 7000-series train waiting alongside a slippery platform at Washington Dulles International Airport with hundreds of others, applauding when an operator welcomed them on an inaugural ride to Ashburn. The service’s first public passenger train officially left Ashburn around 2 p.m. Tuesday.
The opening bookends decades of planning, and Tuesday’s launch was delayed by four years as well as $250 million in cost overruns, totaling $3 billion over the past eight years. While those problems led to years of griping, that appeared to be in the rear view, at least temporarily, at the opening as leaders celebrated an expansion that is expected to spur more growth along the Dulles corridor. New stops include Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Dulles, Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn, and as many as 420,000 people live within five miles of those stations.
“We are here at last,” said U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, recounting an uphill battle to keep the Silver Line project alive at times, including during President George W. Bush’s administration, which was hostile to it.
“The return on this investment will be, I believe, incalculable as we go forward in the future as we improve the quality of life and the environment for everybody,” Connolly said.
The Silver Line’s first phase opened in 2014 but stopped at the Wiehle-Reston East station, in Fairfax County. Metro took control of the line’s second phase in June, when it was formally transferred from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversaw its construction, to WMATA.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said Metro’s extension through Reston had resulted in $3 billion in development, and he forecast continued “smart growth” that will help the region while providing a gateway for international travel to Washington, D.C., about 28 miles east.
Smart growth and opportunities were continued refrains Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat whose district includes Arlington County, Alexandria, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County, called the line a “silver lining,” and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall noted the increased diversity and job opportunities it could bring.
“We’re here for one reason,” Randall said. “We’re here to make a better quality of life for the people that we serve.”
But the opening also comes at a trying time for the commuter rail and bus service.
Metro’s top leadership turned over earlier than planned this year when the service announced it was removing 72 operators after discovering that more than half of its 500 rail operators’ recertifications had lapsed.
It has also struggled to recover ridership numbers following the pandemic and other problems that dramatically scaled back service. Weekday ridership in August reached 240,000, as compared to 601,000 weekday riders in August 2019, according to a WMATA report. In January, Metro suspended 60% of its fleet while it investigated a wheel problem among its 7000-series rail cars following a derailment in October 2021, causing massive delays for riders. The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, Metro’s oversight and enforcement agency, in October gave the service the go-ahead to begin returning the 7000-series cars to service, which Metro has said hastened the opening of the extension while also reducing crowing.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine said before the ceremony that development around stations, including Ashburn and stations that have been open for much longer, like Clarendon and Ballston, are signs that the system will continue seeing success. “You see the power of these investments.”
While those investments may be apparent in construction around many of the new stations, riders in Virginia will likely continue to experience impacts elsewhere, at least temporarily. A project to rehabilitate a Yellow Line tunnel and bridge has suspended service on the line, including six stations south of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, until May 2023; a new “Blue Line Plus” service is operating every 15 minutes between Huntington and New Carrollton, in Maryland. Those closures follow others earlier made in the fall to tie Metro’s new Potomac Yard station in Alexandria into the system. While those stations have reopened, soil problems caused structural issues at the new station, and its opening was delayed until at least 2023.