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Dulles Metro must go to Dulles Airport

It seems like a no-brainer that the long-planned Dulles Airport Metro line should include a stop at Dulles Airport, but to one key decision-maker, that remains an open question.

Photo by XYZ+T on Flickr.

At yesterday's meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), board member Robert Clarke Brown, a presidential appointee, suggested re-routing Phase 2 of the Silver Line to skip Dulles Airport.

The airport station is expensive, he says, and so MWAA should consider simply not building it. Metro riders hoping to access Dulles would instead transfer to some kind of shuttle or people-mover from the Route 28 station, the next closest.

Skipping the airport and replacing it with a people-mover would reduce the project's overall $2.8 billion price tag by approximately $70 million. That, argues Brown, is reason to take his suggestion seriously. It shouldn't be.

To the MWAA board's credit, they quickly rejected Brown's proposal. As they should have. The main goal of Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro project is to provide service to Dulles Airport. Failing to do so means the project would not meet its main goal.

Cutting so many corners that you don't achieve your goal is not cost savings, it's failure. Far from saving $70 million, by failing to provide Metro service to Dulles Airport Brown's proposal would actually waste billions.

After all, if you're going to force airport riders to transfer onto a shuttle anyway, why not make the transfer at Whiele Avenue, the end station for Phase 1? Why bother building Phase 2 at all? The other Phase 2 stations are all primarily park and rides, and it doesn't make much difference at which station drivers park, so without the connection to Dulles Airport the entire argument for why Phase 2 is necessary in the first place becomes extremely flimsy.

So flimsy that many people would wonder whether the project were worth its $2.8 billion (minus $70 million) price.

The planning history of the Silver Line is replete with compromises. Express tracks to the airport or no express tracks? A subway through Tysons Corner or an elevated line? Airport station at the terminal or a few hundred feet away? At every step of the process, planners have had to weigh the ideal service situation agaist the costs. That's life in the world of transportation planning.

But this is one compromise that absolutely cannot under any circumstances be made. The absolute minimum requirement for a Metro line to Dulles Airport must be that it actually reaches Dulles Airport. Period.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Amen, Dan. It's remarkable that anyone thinks that this is a good idea.

by Matt Glazewski on Jan 19, 2012 10:33 am • linkreport

Best line of the piece: "Cutting so many corners that you don't achieve your goal is not cost savings. It's failure."

Excellent response to a truly idiotic proposal.

by KFS on Jan 19, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

I've got a better idea. Why don't you run an express bus from WFC to Dulles? Call it, I don't know, the Washington Flyer? Guaranteed to save money.

by charlie on Jan 19, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport


Thankfully the MWAA board soundly turned down the idea. It's bad enough that only DCA has direct Metro access and BWI has a shuttle from the rail station. It would be a failure of leadership and planning by MWAA if the Dulles Metro didn't GO to Dulles.

by John Marzabadi on Jan 19, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

Honestly, the station at Dulles is going to be such a huge compromise already, so this wouldn't be too much worse.

It's already going to be 600 feet away from the terminal, above ground, at a parking garage. Riders will already have to take an elevator down to a walkway, walk the 600 feet to the terminal and talk another elevator or escalator up to the ticketing level. With a people mover, passengers probably wouldn't have to walk as much, for one thing.

The moment MWAA decided not to have the station within or very close to the terminal building, this project became a failure.

by Tim on Jan 19, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport




This HAS to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard in my life.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jan 19, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

Why am I not surprised, upon Googling that name, to find out this knucklehead was a Bush appointee?

This type of thinking is a perfect example of why the overground option at Tysons got pushed so hard - people were justifiably concerned that any delays or negative feedback from a study of the underground option would be turned into an excuse by the feds not to provide any funding for the project.

Fortunately, it sounds like his word is nothing like approaching law.

by Silver Line Neighbor on Jan 19, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

If anything, the Silver Line should terminate at the airport. If they want to save money, eliminate the extension into Loudoun County after Dulles. That's the section that doesn't make much sense.

by Juanita de Talmas on Jan 19, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

One wonders what it would save to simply eliminate the outer Loudon county stations instead, allowing the Dulles station to be a terminal station. Probably save enough to allow the dulles station to be underground.

by Egk on Jan 19, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

I wish planners would just stick with the premise that if you're not going to do something right, don't do it at all. Why even spend billions on the silver line if you are going to eliminate express tracks and skip the airport? Save the money and use if for something else. If you build it without the benefits for which it is intended, what is the point?

by Pat on Jan 19, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

If phase two opens before 2018, I will eat my hat.

Very frequently I see people eagerly awaiting the completion of phase I, thinking it will take them to the airport. Much to their chagrin, they will be dumped off in the middle of an 8 lane highway surrounded by 6 lane arterials in Reston at Wiehle Ave. And phase I probably won't even be serving riders until 2014 at best.

by NJF on Jan 19, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

By the way, depending on what kind of people mover they propose (e.g. rail), it might be better to have a people-mover take passengers straight to the terminal from a station at Route 28 vs. passengers being forced to walk 600 feet from the daily garage to the terminal.

AirTrain JFK works this way (, and though I haven't been to JFK since it opened, it looks like it works pretty well. Now, AirTrain JFK cost $1.9 billion to build, so there's a good chance even a scaled-down Dulles version would be more expensive than the $70 million MWAA would save by moving the station (unless the $70 million is actually a net savings after building a people mover).

by Tim on Jan 19, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

This really doesn't sound like that bad of an idea to me - if (big if) it is done right. SFO has a train to get to BART. EWR has a train to get to the train. CDG has a train to the RER. In fact, I can't think of a single airport that I've been to other than DCA that directly connects to the city transportation system without an intermediate conveyance. If the people movers run frequently between the metro station and feel like the existing people movers at Dulles (i.e., there are no stairs or annoying luggage racks, you walk straight on) this could be better than the current plan of dumping people 600m from the terminal. Of course, as this is presented as a cost-saving measure rather than a convenience-enhancing measure, I fully expect additional corners to be cut in the process. But really the idea isn't as nuts as this article implies.

by Alison on Jan 19, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport


Re: "the project's $2.8 billion price tag".

Where do you get that number? MWAA has long posted a $5.4 billion cost of building the Silver Line; the Post recently mentioned a $6 billion figure.

I'm all for including an airport station - preferably underground - but let's not be misinformed about the cost of this project.

It's expensive. The most expensive public works project ever built in the region. And the biggest beneficiaries will be property owners and developers along its path. And motorists along the route are being soaked to help pay the cost (that's a topic for another discussion) For that price, we should get more than what we're getting.

by ceefer66 on Jan 19, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

@ Alison

As long as the "shoe leather express" is not an intermediate form of conveyance, try:



by Matt on Jan 19, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

Incredibly dumb idea.

@Alison: the distance from the proposed IAD stop to the terminal is 600 feet, not 600 meters.

And folks, the 600 foot walk from the stop already exists along an existing, underground walkway with moving sidewalks. Hundreds of people pay a premium price every day to park in the IAD Daily Garage (which is the same distance as the Metro stop) every day and take this walk. It is shorter and easier to get from the Daily Garage at IAD to the terminal to check in than it is to get from the DCA Metro stop to Terminal A.

by Arl Fan on Jan 19, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport


I believe Dan is referring to the cost of Phase II, not the cost of the entire line. Given that Phase I is already well underway, the most you could SAVE by cutting phase II is the additional 2.8 billion.

by JS on Jan 19, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

@Alison, Arl Fan,

Let's put 600 feet into perspective. 600 feet is about 0.11 miles. It is this far:

That's not a far distance, by any means. It's night and day when compared to dumping people off in the middle of a highway, no matter how frequently the people mover or shuttle runs.

by JS on Jan 19, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

I'm skeptical of the idea that forgoing a Dulles stop and building a brand new, landside people mover system for IAD would actually save money. The idea that this saves cost doesn't pass the smell test. The only way if can preserve the same functionality is to have the people mover system built at the same time.

If they're claiming that the people mover would go directly to the terminal, wouldn't that people mover face the same cost problems that Metro to the terminal faces?

Granted, a landside people mover might have some independent utility, but it's not a freebie.

The 600 foot walk for the above-ground Metro station isn't ideal, but it's manageable. Airport terminals always involve a great deal of walking anyway. But forcing riders into a transfer at Route 28 is a different thing entirely.

by Alex B. on Jan 19, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

To not build the Dulles Airport station would be monumentally stupid. But you can't possibly believe that "it doesn't make much difference at which station drivers park."

by Ron on Jan 19, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

600' for perspective sake is the length of every metro platform in the system (length of an 8 car train), a distance many readers of GGW walk with ease every day, ro multiple times per day. Not that big of a deal.

by freely on Jan 19, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

North American airports that have direct connections to their rail systems, sorted by year of that connection opening:
  • Cleveland: Hopkins Airport - GCRTA Red Line (1968)
  • Washington: National Airport - WMATA Blue/Yellow Line (1977)
  • Mexico City: MEX - Metro Linea 5 (1981)
  • Chicago: O'Hare Airport - CTA Blue Line (1984)
  • Philadelphia: PHL - SEPTA R1 Regional Rail (1985)
  • Atlanta: Hartsfield-Jackson Airport - MARTA Red/Gold Line (1988)
  • Los Angeles: Bob Hope Airport - Metrolink/Amtrak (1992)
  • South Bend: SBN - South Shore Line (1992)
  • Chicago: Midway Airport - CTA Blue Line (1993)
  • St Louis: Lambert Airport - MetroLink (1994)
  • Baltimore: BWI Airport - MTA Light Rail (1997)
  • Portland: PDX - MAX Red Line (2001)
  • Minneapolis: MSP - Hiawatha Line (2004)
  • Seattle: SeaTac - Link LRT (2009)
  • Vancouver: YVR - SkyTrain (2009)
  • Providence: TF Green Airport - MBTA Commuter Rail (2010)

It's true that you still have to walk, and in some cases take a people mover to get around once you're on the airport campus. That's different than having to make a connection elsewhere.

For example, the Atlanta Airport MARTA station was built into the new terminal in 1980, 8 years before the South Line was constructed. So when MARTA started serving the airport in 1988, there were ticket counters right inside the station, and baggage claim was just outside.

But you still have to walk well over 600 feet inside the terminal just to get to the security checkpoint. And once you've passed through that, you take a train to a concourse.

The airports you mentioned have landside peoplemovers for one of two reasons:

The first reason is that the railroad track predates the airport.

Newark (and BWI) is an example of this. When both of those airports were built, Pennsylvania Railroad trains were already speeding past nearby. It was a lot cheaper later to build a people mover to connect to the existing high-speed line than it was to move the line to serve the airport directly.

The other case comes from airports that have multiple terminals.

JFK Airport in New York has several terminals that were not connected to each other. If a subway line was extended to the airport, for example, it would either need to have a station at each terminal or the airport would need to construct a peoplemover to move people between that station and the other terminals.

Philadelphia and Minneapolis took the former approach. In Philadelphia, the Regional Rail line that serves the airport stops at 4 different stations on the airport campus (A, B, C/D, E/F). Minneapolis's light rail stops twice (Lindbergh, Humphrey).

I can't think of any examples of the latter case.

But remember that the JFK AirTrain was built not only to connect the airport to the subway and LIRR, but also to connect the terminals to each other.

Regardless, these scenarios do not apply to Dulles.

First off, the transit line is being built new, and with the specific purpose of serving the airport. No new project has been built so close to an airport and not served it directly.

Secondly, unlike JFK and LAX, Dulles just has one terminal. So on-campus landside circulation is not a problem that would require a peoplemover.

I have always supported the Dulles Metro stop being directly in front of the terminal underground with a direct connection to the terminal.

But that isn't going to happen, so I'll settle for the 600' walk. 600' is not really that far. It's the length of a Metro platform. And in this case, it's covered with moving walkways.

by Matt Johnson on Jan 19, 2012 12:21 pm • linkreport

The real question is: Can Obama ask Browne to step down?

by Redline SOS on Jan 19, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

It's expensive. The most expensive public works project ever built in the region.

And it will be serving (among others) the area containing residents of the 2 richest counties in the country: Fairfax and Montgomery Cos.

Hmmm....and how much of that project is being funded by taxes culled from those rich folk who live there? wonder Richmond objects often to NOVAs plans.

by LuvDusty on Jan 19, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson:

I'd venture to say that the Green Line in LA does a great job of getting close to the airport before turning in the opposite direction. Even the Crenshaw Corridor that's being planned would not have a station directly serving LAX. The Blue Line is also far enough away from Long Beach Airport to make walking there untenable.

And while 600' is manageable, it becomes less so when you add bags, children, and extreme weather conditions (given the outdoor Dulles station).

I agree with many others, cut the Loudoun stations instead; they will only amount to monuments for sprawl.

by Reza on Jan 19, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport

I totally agree that forgoing an airport stop for a paltry $70M in savings is ridiculous.

BUT, let's remember that the Silver Line's goal is NOT transportation to the airport. For $6B you could probably provide every passenger limo service to the airport.

The economics of the Silver Line, and it's stated primary goal, is based on the transformation of Tysons, adding 100K residents and 200K jobs to Tysons in the coming decades, and increasing property values around the stations by several billion dollars. Shaving a few mins on the trip out to Dulles vs. the Washington Flyer is just a nice little added bonus that has a marginal impact. Also, metro to Dulles is of little benefit to the folks paying for the Silver Line through higher DTR tolls (50% of the construction money), special tax districts, and funds from Virginia governments.

The Silver Line works because that infrastructure (plus another $1.5B in road improvements) will allow Tysons to absorb 50% of all new jobs in Fairfax in the coming decades. You need a lot of new infrastructure no matter how you plan it to absorb all those jobs and residents and the Silver Line is a sound way to do that.

by Falls Church on Jan 19, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

Correction: The diagram on the Dulles Metro site shows it will be a 600-foot walk plus 450 feet of moving walkways. But with the underground option, you would have had a 440-foot walk and 110 feet of moving walkways.

Either way, if having walking 600 feet bothers you--or having to walk an extra 260 feet thanks to a design change--then you'll hate the rest of Dulles. You won't like National either. College Park does have a nice, compact terminal... pity there's no scheduled service to it.

by Rob Pegoraro on Jan 19, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Freely, 600' for perspective sake is the length of every metro platform in the system (length of an 8 car train), a distance many readers of GGW walk with ease every day, ro multiple times per day. Not that big of a deal

Ha! You should tell your fellow commenters that one more time because the last time this came up, there were people making all sorts of excuses what 600 ft was the end of the world.

I'm horrible with math calculations but how long is the distance from dca's [whatever the letter is] to terminal A? I made the mistake of not having the driver take me directly there once and it was hell trying to rush to A w/bags. Hell on wheelz! AND I had to give up a brand new bottle of Zanetti cologne!

by HogWash on Jan 19, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport


Hmmm....and how much of that project is being funded by taxes culled from those rich folk who live there

Here's the breakout of how the Silver Line is being funded:

Dulles Toll Road Tolls: 53%
Federal Govt: 17%
Fairfax County: 16%
Loudoun: 5%
Commonwealth of Virginia Airports Authority: 5%

by Falls Church on Jan 19, 2012 12:49 pm • linkreport

I agree with many others, cut the Loudoun stations instead; they will only amount to monuments for sprawl.

The Loudoun station is important as a way to bring additional workers to Tysons. Cut the Loudoun station and they you're really jeopardizing the true primary goal of the Silver Line.

by Falls Church on Jan 19, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport

Bad idea, and who knows, a people mover (if its not a bus) might end up costing more to build anyway.

But remember, the majority of riders to and from the airport will not be passengers but airport employees. This has been well established and is accepted by everyone involved in the project.

Thus, putting the train right at the passenger terminal may not actually be the best way to serve the majority of the customers.

In any case, at this point, keep the plan they have and try to get this thing under budget. Allowing competitive (non-union) contracts rather than budget-busting "project labor agreements" would be a good step in that direction.

by dcdriver on Jan 19, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

Here's the breakout of how the Silver Line is being funded:

Dulles Toll Road Tolls: 53%
Federal Govt: 17%
Fairfax County: 16%
Loudoun: 5%
Commonwealth of Virginia Airports Authority: 5%

Wow, so Fairfax Co residents are covering a whoping 16% of this? Meanwhile the Dulles Toll Road (mostly commuters, I suspect mostly work in Dulles area and live elsewhere) are flipping a majority of the bill and the 17% from the Federal Government?

I think it should be more like this:

Fairfax County: 80%
Dulles Toll Roads: 20%

And I'm a Liberal, who believes in Fed Gov funding for lots of stuff---just not this, especially when the average income in Fairfax Co is what? High.

by LuvDusty on Jan 19, 2012 1:13 pm • linkreport


The vast majority of DTR users are Fairfax and Loudoun residents. Nearly everyone else using the DTR (like DC/Arlington residents reverse commuting) would be potential users of the Silver Line who also have very high incomes on average.

by Falls Church on Jan 19, 2012 1:25 pm • linkreport

I can't really imagine how a people mover could cost less than $70 million. The Skytrain at Atlanta connects the main terminal to the GICC and car rental lots 1.5 miles away at a cost of $640 million.

by Scoot on Jan 19, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

The distance from the proposed site of the station to the terminal is 1,150 feet!

by Sage on Jan 19, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport


The majority of Dulles Toll Road users are residents of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, commuting to jobs in Tysons, DC, and Montgomery Co. So, put another way, local revenue is paying for 74% of the costs (53%+16%+5%). Those local residents are also paying Federal taxes, so that's maybe an additional 1% (at most).

Of course, the local contribution may have been greater, if the Virgina government didn't operate under the Dillon rule, preventing localities from leveling taxes that are not explicitly granted by the Va. legislature.

by tdr on Jan 19, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

So depressing how we've become a nation of half-assers. We erect our churches in Quanset Huts, our government buildings like cracker-boxes, and we cut corners on our large public works. And to think, once upon a time we were a great nation. Now we're like that sad guy down the street who fastens a tarp to his roof because he wants to "save money" by not fixing the leaks.

Inconvenience a century of future generations in order to save $70 million. A wise investment right there.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

One other point I would make. Not only does not building a Dulles stop defeat the purpose, but it also vastly reduces the inefficiency of the entire line. With an IAD stop you get lots of passengers both inbound (traditional commuters) and outbound (airport passengers and employees**). Without the IAD stop, those trains are going to be awfully empty outbound.

**Keep in mind this is not just for passengers. At PHL airport, I think they have found that as many or more riders are airport employees as they are passengers (since passengers are more willing to pay a premium to get a taxi ride with guaranteed door to door service, but it would be ridiculously expensive for an airport employee to take a taxi to work every day)

by Marc on Jan 19, 2012 2:08 pm • linkreport

Thank you to tdr and Falls Church for the correct data and for correcting me on my assumption. Sorry about that.

As for the actual stop--it really needs to be at the airport or close by (600 ft is not much and neither is 1150).

My biggest concern is how long it will take (and how much it will cost) to go say, from Metro Center to Dulles station? Could it end up being so time consuming and cost prohibitive that a cab or flyer might still be a smarter option? Especially if you are lugging 2 heavy suitcases (for international travel?)

by LuvDusty on Jan 19, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport


It takes 30 minutes from Metro Center to Vienna on the orange line. The silver line will branch off after east falls church. It will then hit, in order going west: tysons east, tysons central 123, tysons central 7, tysons west, wiehle avenue, reston parkway, herndon-monroe, route 28, then the airport.

That's an additional six (6) stops, not counting the airport, compared to the trip to vienna. east falls church to vienna is about 10 minutes, so you'd probably get to reston in about 12 minutes from EFC. then 4 more stops - probably another 12 minutes. All told, minimum 45 minutes from metro center to dulles (assuming the trip is smooth, which is no guarantee with metro these days).

by NJF on Jan 19, 2012 2:48 pm • linkreport


If you can get from Metro Center to Dulles in under 45 min (heck, under an hour) during Rush Hour without using a helicopter or tank, I will eat my hat.

by Route 7 Warrior on Jan 19, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

From the EIS, the projected travel time between Metro Center and Dulles will be 52 minutes.

The travel time from the Tysons 7 station to Dulles will be 22 minutes.

by Alex B. on Jan 19, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

If you can get from Metro Center to Dulles in under 45 min (heck, under an hour) during Rush Hour without using a helicopter or tank, I will eat my hat.

I've done it in less than an hour by metro-ing to West Falls Church and then catching the Washington Flyer bus. The bus gets to use a special entrance that goes directly from the metro station to the Dulles Access Road.

This is why metro to Dulles is of marginal benefit (though still worth plenty more than $70M) and the real benefit of the Silver Line is creating the infrastructure needed to support Fairfax's future growth, a majority of which will occur along the Silver Line.

by Falls Church on Jan 19, 2012 3:26 pm • linkreport

I really thought (hoped, I guess) that the above ground option was going to go through the stupid hourly lot above that elevator shaft at ~800 feet out. Stupid choice as is.

by NikolasM on Jan 19, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

@Route 7 Warrior,

As a fellow (brief, on a bike) daily route 7 warrior, I agree, which is why I said 45 minutes minimum, not under 45 mins. 52 minutes from @Alex B. sounds about right.

by NJF on Jan 19, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

BTW, for reference, one HOV ramp from I-395 to Seminary Road to serve the Mark Center is projected to cost $80MM.

by Joey on Jan 19, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport

Every time someone whines about having to walk 600 feet from Metro to Terminal, God kills a baby.

This is why the country is fat. People think walking is a chore. Fortunately for all you "walking is a chore types," you'll have access to moving walkways (aka, I'm to good to use my legs, so I'll let the floor do the walking for me).

600 feet is two football fields. If you're packing the kitchen sink and can't walk it, have someone give you a ride, or take a cab, like you've done ever since LBJ was POTUS.

by elmothehobo on Jan 19, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

I agree that it would be nonsensical to eliminate a Dulles Silver Line station and I appreciate your survey of rail transit services at other airports. However, you are a little off base with your Dulles specifics. Dulles does have multiple terminals: Main and two midfield terminals with plans for an eventual third; they are connected by the Aerotrain system. Therefore Dulles's need for "on-campus landside circulation ... that would require a peoplemover" does exist, and has already been met.

Maybe instead of looking to truncate the Silver Line and replace it with a people mover connection to the airport, the MWAA should consider extending the existing Aerotrain system to the planned Dulles Metro station, thereby eliminating the arguments over walking whatever the distance is to the terminals and connecting all terminals to the Metro. (Though clearly security would have to be an important part of that discussion.)

by ZZinDC on Jan 19, 2012 4:48 pm • linkreport

Sorry - of course that should have been addressed to Dan, not Matt.

by ZZinDC on Jan 19, 2012 4:49 pm • linkreport

Edit: Too*

Also, the cost savings of building an above ground station vs. an underground station at Dulles is enough to build the entire Columbia Pike light rail system, Dan Maalouf or someone can correct me on that.

BTW, it's a shame that aren't the DMV's transportation planner, Dan (the other shame being that there isn't a DMV transportation planner). You, when you do get around to posting, always have the most insightful things to say about this region's transportation policies.

Thank you, and keep up the great work.

by elmothehobo on Jan 19, 2012 4:52 pm • linkreport


No, Dulles has one terminal (the place where check in, go to baggage claim, go through security, etc) and has several midfield concourses (where you go to your gate, get on your plane, etc).

by Alex B. on Jan 19, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport


The distinction isn't really between "multiple terminals" or not, but multiple separate terminals with separate security. Dulles only has one entry point. The existing Dulles Aerotrain could not be extended to a metro station because it exists inside airport security. At JFK the terminals are all separate and have their own separate security points.

by MLD on Jan 19, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

This is probably a terminology problem.

First off, I apparently need to clarify "landside" (which Alex B also uses). Landside means circulation in the non-secured portion of the airport campus. At Dulles, this would mean transportation between the terminal and on-site parking facilities, the rental car area, and a future Metro stop.

The alternative to landside is "airside". Circulation between the security checkpoint and the plane is airside. The Dulles AeroTrain is entirely airside. It does not provide any transportation resources to people who are not already beyond security.

For the purposes of this discussion, I define "terminal" as an entry point for patrons to the airport. I think this is fairly standard practice, though some airports confuse the issue through naming.

Dulles has just one terminal. It's the sweeping Eero Sarrinen-designed structure that is the subject of so many photographs.

The things you call "midfield terminals" are not terminals. They're "concourses". You cannot enter the airport at Concourse A. You have to enter through the Terminal.

Compare this to an Airport like LAX or JFK, where each concourse has it's own terminal that is not connected to adjacent terminals/concourses. If a transit line were to be constructed to LAX, it would be very difficult for patrons to get from the station to all the other terminals because they're not connected. And you couldn't just walk to the nearest one and go in, unless your flight happened to depart from that one.

That would mean that a transit line would need to stop multiple times (at every terminal) [Philadelphia] or that there would need to be a landside peoplemover that connected the transit hub to the different terminals [San Francisco International].

This is not a problem at Dulles, because all passengers are funneled through one terminal no matter which concourse their flight left from.

Part of the problem lies with airports that misuse the term "terminal".

Atlanta is certainly guilty of that. They have one structure that serves as the terminal. But to handle the enormous traffic volume the airport experiences, the airport roadways deliver vehicles to either side of the terminal building. And signage defines either side as "Terminal North" and "Terminal South". So people think of Atlanta as having two terminals, but it doesn't really. If you're flying American (Terminal North), and your friend accidentally drops you off at Terminal South, all you have to do is walk about 600' across the lobby, and you're in Terminal North.

Washington National is also guilty. DCA doesn't have any midfield concourses, and the geography of the airport means that each "pier" has its own security checkpoint. National really has one really long terminal that serves all 4 piers. But each pier is called a terminal, as in "Terminal A".

This is in contrast to places like LAX and JFK, whose terminals are not connected to each other. Unlike DCA and BWI, where you can walk from A to C (you do have to leave security to do this) at LAX or JFK, you'd need to take a bus or train between terminals (also outside of security).

At Dulles, there's just one terminal.

by Matt Johnson on Jan 19, 2012 5:13 pm • linkreport

@ZZinDC: "Maybe instead of looking to truncate the Silver Line and replace it with a people mover connection to the airport, the MWAA should consider extending the existing Aerotrain system to the planned Dulles Metro station,"

The Dulles Aerotrain system cost around $1.4 BILLION dollars. Besides the total show-stopper that the Aerotrain only operates beyond the security screening checkpoint, how much would it cost to extend it under the terminal building to the Metro station? $500 million? $800 million? For all the complaints of the cost of Phase II of the Silver Line, the now projected cost of $2.8 Billion is only twice that of the Aerotrain system. Which only moves people between the main terminal and the concourses.

by AlanF on Jan 19, 2012 5:36 pm • linkreport

Falls Church seems to be one of the few who really understands Dulles Rail, what it is, and what it is not. It is about adding massive density to Tysons. It is not about transportation to the airport.
The transit mode splits at Tysons will be less than Bethesda, much less than the RB Corridor and very much less than Downtown D.C. Most of these 100,000 residents and 200,000 workers will commute by SOV. All of this information is documented in Fairfax County's 527 Traffic Impact Analysis submitted to VDOT as required by law.
Tonight, the Fairfax County Planning Commission will receive new cost estimates for the road improvements needed by Tysons set forth in Table 7 to the revised Comp Plan. The cost is expected to be substantially higher than the current estimate of $1.5 billion ($1.7 billion if you toss in the added bus service that's needed.)
Moreover, the head of Fairfax County DOT has testified that all of those Table 7 improvements are necessary and, unless the pace of redevelopment slows, necessary by the dates listed in Table 7.

by tmtfairfax on Jan 19, 2012 5:43 pm • linkreport

The Dulles Aerotrain system cost around $1.4 BILLION dollars.

What now?! Can someone explain why the Aerotrain cost a ridiculous sum of money? Let me was managed by MWAA.

by Falls Church on Jan 19, 2012 5:49 pm • linkreport

The transit mode splits at Tysons will be less than Bethesda, much less than the RB Corridor and very much less than Downtown D.C. Most of these 100,000 residents and 200,000 workers will commute by SOV.

While the mode split will still favor cars, the key is that most of the GROWTH in person trips will be from transit. And, it's the growth that allows the density which creates the value in this whole plan. It's just that this transit growth is still small in comparison to the existing number of vehicle trips.

From the 527 Assessment:

Section 5.3.2
Trips Generated; Mode Share

Supplemental material forwarded by County staff (Supplement IV) indicated that, compared to
2005 year, total motorized person trips for the study area shows a 20% growth in the current
Comprehensive Plan and 45% growth in the proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment (GMU
High). When converted to vehicle trips, the growth compared to 2005 is only 6% under the
current Comprehensive Plan and 24% under the proposed Comprehensive Plan; the rest will be
diverted to transit trips (a majority percentage of growth). The assumed addition of high quality
transit services over 2005 is one of the main reasons for this low vehicular trip growth.

Also, it's worth noting that half the cost of the road improvements will be paid by the private sector:

The submittal explains that the estimated costs of implementing the grid (approximately half of
the total $1.48 billion cost estimate, including right-of-way and construction), is anticipated to be
funded mostly by the private sector as development occurs. Tax district, Tysons Transportation Fund (TTF), Community Development
Authorities (CDAs) are all mentioned as potential partial elements of innovative public-private
financing options for improvements within Tysons. However, it is clear that significant public
sector funding would also be necessary to achieve phases of the vision for the future of Tysons.

by Falls Church on Jan 19, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

The AeroTrain is an impressive piece of technology. It's a fully automated, rubber tired light metro system. It's completely underground, and the tunneling had to occur beneath an existing and operating airport.

Likewise, the system includes a maintenance facility and the potential to expand the system to more than double the size of the existing airport.

I also believe that cost includes some other aspects of the recent improvements to Dulles, such as the excavations for the new security screening areas and so on.

by Alex B. on Jan 19, 2012 6:19 pm • linkreport

I realize this is closing the barn doors after the horses have not only bolted but are about six counties away by now but...I feel like it would have made much more sense to put in a commuter rail (like VRE or MARC) that went out as far as the silver line is going. In many cities the Metro (or equivalent) is for a more immediate area around the city center. It just doesn't feel practical or reasonable to have the Metro run that far out. It's just too slow and seems to have been made for shorter trips.

Using Chicago for comparison, you have the El for downtown and just barely into a couple of the burbs, and then you take the Metra (which runs alongside in many cases and then WELL past) the El for the long haul trips into the suburbs.

I live on the Hill and having the Silver Line go to Dulles makes me no more likely to fly out of it. If anything, it would take me longer to get to Dulles than it already does with Super Shuttle or the Washington Flyer bus. And I think you'd have to be certifiably crazy to use it to commute from Loudon county to DC. I know people will (and already do a similar commute), but I guess maybe I'm just unclear on proposed usage of the silver line. If it's just to help folks in NoVa move around easier then it probably makes sense, getting to Tysons Corner from further out. Is that the case?

For me I think this is just part of a larger disapppointment in the fact that the MARC and VRE are so inadequate. They've got so few lines and run such limited hours they're just not an effective transportation option for commuting. There are so many places I would love to go and would if those two lines ran more hours so they could be used by normal people, and I think that would be a much better option not just for the trip to Dulles, but anywhere deep into Fairfax and then Loudon and Prince William. Pity we just ended up with Metro instead. I assume that all but kills chances of having a decent commuter rail system out that way.

by Joe on Jan 19, 2012 6:28 pm • linkreport

@ Falls Church

"The Loudoun station is important as a way to bring additional workers to Tysons. Cut the Loudoun station and they you're really jeopardizing the true primary goal of the Silver Line."

Oh? And no workers commuting to Tysons come from Arlington County and DC? Much of the potential of the Silver Line lies in enabling the reverse peak commute to jobs along the Dulles Corridor using transit. It's not all about building massive park and rides for those living in Ashburn and Broadlands to commute to Tysons and DC.

And I'll pose a question I have asked before: what is the big deal about having all Loudoun commuters parking at the Route 28 station? If they want to take Metro, they will be getting in their cars to drive to the park and ride anyway. Why is an extra 2-3 miles (in a CAR) so bad but an extra 600+ feet walking (plus baggage, etc.) is so acceptable?

by Reza on Jan 19, 2012 6:58 pm • linkreport

check out Falls Church's posts for some info on why the silver line makes sense, Joe. Loudoun to DC is a long commute, but Loudoun to Tyson's won't be, and Tyson's is the focal point for increasing density in this scenario. You are right about the metro being useful for shorter trips. The silver line is about creating a context for development in fairfax and loudoun county that is much more transit focused.

If the goal was just to get people to the airport, commuter rail might make more sense, or just increasing bus service as others have suggested. The DC metro has always existed as a type of dual local and commuter system, an intermediate between the two chicago systems, which has its pluses and minuses.

by David on Jan 19, 2012 7:07 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

AeroTrain, as many know, is an automated train system designed to bring passengers and airport workers from the terminal to the outlying concourses, and vice versa. It is an elaborate system, comprising four underground stations, dozens of high-tech, cutting-edge vehicles, and a large maintenance complex.

The system was built with the future in mind. It will link into the new C/D Concourse once that is constructed, as well as all future concourses and an envisioned new western terminal. The Mobile Lounges that AeroTrain replaced were no longer capable of handling Dulles's growing passenger traffic, which is now almost 24,000,000 a year. Moreover, there were significant safety issues with the Lounges regularly crossing active taxiways.

MWAA is a well run organization. They have deftly expanded both Reagan National and Dulles at no expense to tax payers. Dozens of projects have been completed, some major and some less so. MWAA rightfully deserves credit for the acclaimed B/C Concourse at Reagan National and the easy connection to Metro. The AeroTrain project was indeed pricey, but in the long run, will be worth every cent. It's been operating as planned and is well received by passengers.

Yes, it is disappointing the planned Dulles Metrorail station will be located 1,150 feet from the terminal. But in these peculiar times when almost all large transportation projects in the country are facing severe funding challenges, it's the best we can ask for. The train must go to Dulles. Indeed. Not building the station as planned would be an act of stupidity. In less than 10 years, thousands of riders will be taking Metro to Dulles, just like they do now at Reagan National. They will come from Tysons, from Reston and Herndon, and from Arlington and DC, as well as elsewhere.

At some point in the future, oh, let's say around 2050, when Dulles is seeing yearly passengers numbers upwards of 50,000,000, common sense will prevail and a push will ensue to put the Metrorail station underneath the main terminal.

by Sage on Jan 19, 2012 7:19 pm • linkreport

Just a small pointer to the people who say "what's an extra 600 feet to a pedestrian" - The time needed to walk 600 feet is about 100 seconds. That's a traffic signal cycle in Montgomery County, which is a long cycle. An intersection where drivers have to wait one extra cycle - 100 seconds - to get through during the worst hour of rush hour is considered "failing" by traffic engineers. Under the rules of Montgomery and many other suburbs, new development nearby is severely curtailed when this happens.

At Dulles, in contrast, pedestrians have to travel an extra 100 seconds 24 hours a day. Probably a compromise worth making to save the entire project - but don't tell me it's a big deal until drivers agree that not being able to get through an intersection until the second green is no big deal.

by Ben Ross on Jan 19, 2012 7:48 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the clarification David, I'll check out those additional posts.

by Joe on Jan 19, 2012 9:10 pm • linkreport

To anyone talking about the 600 feet walk; each Metro station platform is 600 feet; making people walk the equivalent of a station length is not too much to ask if it saves money in the end (even though it should have been built with the original system anyway...) Also, skipping the Loudoun stations and ending at the airport could save a ton of money if they make a seamless road connection from the north into the subway area; both Loudoun stations will not take that many more cars off the road compared to building past Dulles

by John T on Jan 19, 2012 9:47 pm • linkreport

Falls Church - Tonight the Tysons landowners are proposing that only one-third of the road improvement costs be assigned to the private sector. Where the County ends up is, of course, unknown. I read a draft of the proposal.
I hope the transit mode split is higher, but most of the trips in and out will still be SOV. That's from Dan Rathbone, FC DOT. A parkting tax would help reduce SOV trips.

by tmtfairfax on Jan 19, 2012 11:11 pm • linkreport

maybe it's been brought up already, but aren't a majority of the Dulles Airport station passengers likely to be airport employees (direct airport employees, tsa, retail, airline employees, maintenance facility workers, rental car employees, hotels, etc) rather than passengers (even if by only a slight margin)? The airport itself is a work destination just as Reston and Tysons are. So even if the efficiency in the Silver line is a method to get commuters to and from work, it would seem getting employees to the airport would be part of this.

by stevek_fairfax on Jan 20, 2012 1:05 am • linkreport

From the EIS, the projected travel time between Metro Center and Dulles will be 52 minutes.

And let's not even talk about the cost? $10? more? Honestly folks, I really don't see it being used much to go to Dulles, at least not by folks in midtown DC.

I live in Clarendon, and have used public transport to get to Dulles many line to Rosslyn and then 5A bus. Each time it took me about 1hr total and cost less than $5. I can't see folks choosing the Silver line over that..especially if you have to get out and walk to a terminal far away or get on yet another form of transportation (aero train? people mover?) and drag your suitcases all over the place, etc...

But I guess the point made earlier about the rail being more about developing the Tysons and West areas makes sense, the Dulles station does really just seem like an after thought at this point--and considering most of us will be dead or elderly by the time they finish it, who really cares at this point? (kidding..somewhat..) :)

by LuvDusty on Jan 20, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

@ LuvDusty; you must not have taken the orange line and the 5a recently. Combined, it will far more than $5 now.

And once the Silver Line is built, I doubt WMATA will keep the 5a open -- although it is profitable.

by charlie on Jan 20, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

Charlie: I just looked it up on Metro's site. The trip right now costs $7.10 total. Ok, so it's $2.10 more than I remembered from the last time I took it.

Still, it's not much more than the rail will be when complete is it? Honestly? At some point people decide to fork over the extra 2 bucks to save time.

In order to be worth it, at least for me, the Silver line will have to a) get me there faster and b) cost less and c)be more comfortable/less of a hassle. If those 3 things don't happen, it's useless for me...and I suspect for most travellers. Daily commuters who work in Dulles area or at the airport, may be a different story.

by LuvDusty on Jan 20, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport


Welcome to the frustrated ranks of cities with metro systems that go almost-but-not-quite to their airport. Our support group meets on Wednesdays.



by Los Angeles on Jan 20, 2012 6:50 pm • linkreport

How much money would be saved if some stations were never built instead of just deleting the Loudon County portion.

Why does Tyson's need 4 station and Herndon 2 stations?

There could have been one or two stations in Tysons and one in Herndon then let Metrobus & Fairfax Connector deal with areas not served by the station.

by kk on Jan 21, 2012 1:09 am • linkreport

W.T.F. ... The airport station is the entire reason I'm excited about the Silver Line. I groaned at the above-ground station decision, but I'll take it for what it is - an easier way to get to Dulles, and 600 feet is not so bad (even with my heavy international travel bags, it would be faster than the loooooooong flyer taxi ride I took home yesterday). Granted, I am a big traveler, so for me, the transit to the airport is HUGE, but I can't begin to tell you how many people complain about how inaccessible Dulles is to DC...PEOPLE WHO DON'T LIVE IN DC! Much as I moan about tourists, they are good for the city, and we shouldn't be cutting the tourist trade off at the knees. I'll admit that part of my vacation calculus includes transit (on both ends), but it shouldn't be so hard and expensive to get from our MAJOR airport to the city and reverse (it also shouldn't be so hard to get around our major airport...if we want to talk about half-baked, we should talk about the barely-functional air train and the lack of people-movers at Dulles...but I digress). So, glad this proposal was shot down. It's not even comparable to taking the air train to the BART terminal at San Francisco or taking the Silver Line in Boston. The proposal is a travesty, and is getting the treatment it deserves.

by Ms. D on Jan 26, 2012 1:09 am • linkreport

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