Metro Silver Line 'operationally ready' for passengers by Thanksgiving; safety approvals pending

Metro officials say the long-awaited Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport will be 'operationally ready' for passengers by Thanksgiving and say they are awaiting safety approvals by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission before moving forward.

The announcement Wednesday comes after the transit system completed two weeks of simulated service on the Silver Line.

Metro leaders say the date for opening now rests with the WMSC regarding a data-driven Return to Service Plan for 7000-series railcars, and a safety certification report of the Silver Line extension.

"We committed for the Silver Line extension to being operationally ready for the Silver Line extension in October, and we have met our deadline," said General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke in a statement.

"Since control of the extension was turned over to Metro, we and our partners at the Airports Authority, Fairfax, and Loudoun have worked diligently to complete all of the steps needed for Metro to offer safe and reliable service for rail travel to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County, and we are just awaiting concurrence from our Safety Commission partners."

Metro's senior safety and operations officials expressed safety concerns last month about moving cars from other lines for new service, and said that more trains were needed to support the extension.

In a letter to Metro Monday, WMSC said it objects to Metro's new Return to Service Plan for the 7000-series rail cars, following Metro's submission of additional data analysis Friday.

Metro says the plan was first submitted on September 28 and was not approved citing "lack of data" to support changing multiple variables at once.

Metro officials say the latest rejection letter offers them confusing direction saying:

- WMSC permits Metro to run trains inspected every seven days on any line, with employees operating and onboard. However, trains inspected every four days are only permitted to run with customers on the Red, Green and Yellow lines;

- The letter indicates that there are differences in the track interface with trains on Blue/Orange/Silver lines that require monitoring, then indicates permission to run on those lines temporarily, but offers no metrics for successful completion;

- The letter implies that Metro could swap axles to increase the fleet; however, that is operationally infeasible and would impact Metro's ability to safely and efficiently manage its fleet, as well as changes many variables at once;

- WMSC approved in December 2021 the use of the 7K fleet on all rail lines, and is now using the same data analysis to justify fleet restrictions, with no definitive root cause identified in the NTSB investigation.

"Metro recognizes the important role safety oversight plays and we are absolutely committed to compliance," said EVP and Chief Operating Officer Brian Dwyer in a statement. "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. At the end of the day, all we're asking is for our customers to be able to ride on the same trains as our employees."

Metro says it needs the WMSC's agreement this week to safely transfer trains into the various yards to support the restoration of service for stations south of National Airport, and to ready trains for the start of passenger service at Dulles Rail Yard.

Additionally, Metro says it needs to align real-time communications systems and finalize other details to support passenger service.

"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," read a statement from EVP and Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato. "We simply ask for clear guidance on what is required to satisfy them as to the integrity of our process."