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A railroad with no trains?

One agency is building the Metrorail extension to Dulles and another agency will have to operate it. Have they been talking much to each other?

That's a key issue raised through an article today by Post staffer Lisa Rein. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is building the railroad with scheduled completion in 2013. The project pays for the first round of rail cars, the new 7000 Series, to run on those new rails. But then it hands the keys to Metro, to run the trains.

So Metro, while it doesn't build the railroad, negotiates a contract and orders the new rail cars that it eventually will have to operate and maintain. What could go wrong, eh?

As Rein's article shows, the two agencies -- builder and operator -- are already into issues about how much the cars will cost. And the Metro board, as I said in a previous posting, held up approving the staff's request to proceed with buying the cars because it didn't know enough about the basic elements of a deal with Kawasaki that already was pretty far along.

Today, during a House hearing on Metro safety and governance issues, Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri got curious about the Dulles Metrorail extension. How will Metro's financial problems affect that operation?

Metro Board Chairman Peter Benjamin said the project -- at least the first phase through Tysons Corner -- is being funded without help from Metro, so the transit authority isn't involved.

Clay asked about projected ridership.

Benjamin said he is "not really extremely familiar with that project. It's not a project that the board has been intimately involved in."

He added that "at some point, the built system will be turned over to Metro and Metro will operate it."

The board, which is dealing with tall orders concerning its next operating and capital budget as well as the hiring of a permanent general manager, can't possibly be focused intently on the Metrorail extension it's not building. But things are getting a bit tight now. The rail extension is scheduled to open in three years. We're not just talking about picking carpet colors here.

Among the many unresolved issues -- along with the delivery of the new cars -- is how to get the trains from the new line through the Rosslyn tunnel bottleneck along with the trains from the Orange and Blue lines.

This is the first time Metro has not been in charge of building part of the rail system. This state of uncertainty about basic issues is not inspiring confidence. Metro and the airports authority need to demonstrate that they're on the same page about how the new line is getting built and how it will operate.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 21, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  Dulles , Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, metrorail  
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Theoretically, if the MWAA are paying for the cars, they could redesign the interiors if they so chose as long as the exterior dimensions and such remained consistent with what's needed to operate them on the WMATA system, right?

Posted by: 1995hoo | April 21, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Doubtful...there is a specification detailing all aspects of the train and MWAA will have to meet those specifications. Besides do you honestly think that those cars are going to stay just on the Silver Line? As soon as it is all turned over to WMATA they will be running wherever they are needed. Just like you don't see only 6000 series trains on the Red Line or Orange Line.

As for the finances I have to side with WMATA on this one. MWAA wrongfully assumed that WMATA would go ahead and order all the additional trains achieving the cost savings. If WMATA exercises all those options and the cost of the trains goes down then I think MWAA deserves a credit but otherwise it is their own fault for not accounting for the higher price.

Posted by: Razor04 | April 21, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

This has all the makings of a huge SNAFU.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | April 21, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Oh that's guaranteed WashingtonDame...we're involving both MWAA and WMATA.

Posted by: Razor04 | April 21, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

The real travesty here is that this quasi-government entity is allowed to go and tax and hold hostage residents and governments for building something that is entirely outside of their mission statement.

MWAA has no place building metro - if they wanted express trains to the airport, they should have built an express train to the airport. If they wanted metro, they should have contracted metro to build it.

The enormous additional strain that this shameful special interest metro line will have on Metro will further bring it down and cost taxpayers many millions due to their cheap decisions now.

After all, why would MWAA spend more money to save millions / billions of dollars for Metro / taxpayers?

Posted by: ssolomo | April 23, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Gee, It'd be great to say this news is shocking, but it's not at all. Over at, we'd been saying this all along. Stay tuned for more news to come. Not on time and over budget - Dulles Rail.

Posted by: TatyanaSchum | April 23, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

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