Silver Line extension could begin service before Thanksgiving despite train shortage, officials say

By Grace Yarrow,
Capital News Service

 An extension of the Metro’s Silver Line could be ready to service Washington Dulles International Airport in time for Thanksgiving travel, Metro officials said on Oct. 19.

However, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) executives said there won’t be enough railcars to support the extension opening without removing cars from other already crowded Metro lines.  

Metro is relying on approval by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC), which provides safety oversight for Metro’s operations, to open and operate the new Silver Line stations. The WMSC has been in conflict with Metro for weeks over a plan to add railcars back into service. 

A year ago, Metro sidelined its newest trains, the 7000-series rail cars, after one derailed between the Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery Metro stations because of wheel issues. An investigation into the derailment has still not identified a cause, WMATA said. 

Metro submitted a plan on Sept. 28 to request returning the full fleet, 748 of the 7000-series cars, for service. On Oct. 11, the safety commission rejected this plan, due to a “lack of data,” according to WMATA. 

After another revision by Metro, the plan was denied again, the commission said on Oct. 24, citing “technical objections.” Metro’s Executive Vice President and Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato said she is dismayed by the commission’s rejections.

“We have provided all of the available data and analysis we have after safely running 2.7 million miles, however WMSC has provided confusing direction,” Impastato said in a WMATA release.  “We simply ask for clear guidance on what is required to satisfy them as to the integrity of our process.”

Currently, Metro has permission to use up to 20 of the 7000-series trains on the Red,  Green and Yellow Lines. 

To begin transferring trains to the necessary places, Metro officials need the safety commission’s approval this week, WMATA said.

Sharmila Samarasinghe, deputy CEO and chief operating officer of the safety commission, is calling for a revised plan from Metro based on “all available data.” 

“The WMSC is deeply concerned about Metrorail senior leadership’s incorrect statements that a failure to follow procedures in place to control known hazards such a wheel migration does not lead to unsafe conditions,” Samarasinghe said in a letter on Oct. 24. 

When the Silver Line extension opens, the Metro will service three new stations in Fairfax County and three stations in Loudoun County, including at Washington Dulles International Airport. 

The approval of the railcar introduction plan is needed, WMATA said, for the Silver Line expansion and for increased service frequency across the Metro system. 

“Metro recognizes the important role safety oversight plays and we are absolutely committed to compliance,” said Brian Dwyer, Metro’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Respectfully, after a year-long investigation, we would welcome a directive based on a root cause finding. Meanwhile, we have developed an industry-leading inspection process in which we have high confidence.”

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