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Hiccups hamper new railcars, could delay Silver Line

Metro needs new railcars soon, but efforts to order new cars have hit a few bumps. MWAA, which is managing the Silver Line project, is objecting to costs, and Maryland's cuts to capital spending could imperil the needed commissioning facility at Greenbelt. If Metro can't buy and commission new cars, the Silver Line might not be able to open in 2013.

Looking toward Greenbelt Yard.

MWAA balks on railcar costs

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported on objections about railcar costs by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is building the Silver Line.

Before the line can open, WMATA needs 64 railcars to operate the segment. The first 64 railcars of the 7000 series will be paid for by the MWAA, but purchased by WMATA.

Additionally, Metro is purchasing 300 cars to replace the 1000 series. Because of the size of the order, Metro is getting a bulk discount. The cost for Metro's additional railcars will be about $2.5 million per car.

The rub, as far as the Airports Authority is concerned, is that they're being saddled with the design costs. This means that their cars will average $4 million apiece. Unfortunately, they only budgeted for $3 million per car, and they're balking at the higher cost.

MWAA believes that the design costs should be spread evenly across the entire order, since the 7000-series will benefit the entire rail system and not just the Silver Line.

The Airports Authority says spreading the design costs evenly across the 64 railcars for Tysons, the 300 for 1000-series replacement, and the 64 cars for the Dulles/Loudoun extension would bring the average railcar price to $2.7 million. That would increase the cost to Metro by about $60 million, but would decrease the cost to MWAA by about $166 million.

Officials at MWAA say that unless Metro eliminates the $75 million increase in the overall price of the first 64 cars, they won't okay the purchase.

If MWAA decides to go it alone on the purchase, they probably won't end up getting a better deal, and they will certainly delay the arrival of the cars.

Commissioning facility delayed

Another rough patch for the 7000 series are delays to the Railcar Commissioning Facility. Because of the volume of railcars being purchased and the short timeframe, Metro needs to construct a commissioning facility.

This facility is expected to cost $60 million, and will be located at the Greenbelt Rail Yard. It will include a 2.25 mile test track between Greenbelt and College Park. It will allow WMATA to process 16-20 new railcars per month and will eliminate the need to single-track revenue trains while cars are being tested. The test track will run along the west side of the Green Line from Greenbelt Yard to Paint Branch Creek, just north of College Park Station. No new land will be needed for the commissioning facility or the test track.

Unfortunately, due to the inability or unwillingness of Maryland to commit to a new capital funding program, Metro is deferring the Commissioning Facility and other projects. This will severely hamper the ability of Metro to test and accept new railcars, and inconveniences passengers.

Without the facility, Metro will only be able to accept 8-12 railcars per month and riders on the Green Line will face single-tracking for long periods, although not at rush hour. With the facility, Metro said they could accept the full order of 748 7000 series cars in 5 years. Without it, only half as many cars can be accepted per month. That could mean that it would take a decade to commission the new fleet.

Delays due to the lack of a commissioning facility will keep new railcars from riding the rails. It will delay new cars for the Tysons extension and it will delay replacement of the aging 1000 series cars.

Delays could threaten Silver Line

Time is running short to order the new 7000 series cars for the Tysons extension of the Metro. Without fleet expansion, the line may not be able to open.

The railcars take time to manufacture and be tested. The 4 prototype cars are expected to arrive in Greenbelt in December 2012. The remaining 60 cars for Tysons are expected to begin arriving in Summer 2013. Without a commissioning facility, Metro will only be able to process 8-12 cars per month. Best case scenario (12 cars per month) means the 60 cars will be ready in November. Of course, Metro's own schedule doesn't call for the base order of 64 cars to be complete until April 2014.

With the Silver Line expected to open in December 2013, any delays could mean that not enough cars will be ready. The line can probably open with fewer than the full compliment of railcars initially, because it will take time for demand to increase, but the fleet does need to increase to some degree initially in order to keep from cannibalizing service on other lines.

Delays could crop up because of manufacturing or acceptance delays, or especially if WMAA goes it alone on the railcars. And that worst-case scenario could mean that even if the rail line is finished, opening could be delayed until enough railcars are made available.

This happened in Atlanta. The initial MARTA segment was supposed to open in December 1978, but the lack of railcars, which were delayed at the manufacturer, pushed the start of service back to June 1979. Even then, service was limited to only a few hours each day, with no weekend service.

This is the real threat facing the Silver Line. The region cannot afford to defer projects like the Commissioning Facility, nor can it afford squabbling over funding. All three of the jurisdictions need to step up to the plate and fund Metro.

And Metro needs to smooth feathers with MWAA. This hiccup over costs needs to be worked out as soon as possible. While the Silver Line has a contingency fund, this dispute is really about the equity of the bill, not the amount. And Maryland needs to fully fund Metro so that as new cars arrive in the area, they can be put into service with all haste.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Heís a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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whaaa? is there actually room between the metro tracks and csx tracks for a test track? looking on google maps, i suppose most of it looks clear enough, but under 193 and up by the greenbelt marc station looks too tight

by JessMan on Apr 27, 2010 1:17 pm • linkreport

Note to WMATA & WMAA: Stop fighting, go do what you're supposed to do and get those trains, without delay. This is unacceptable.

by Jasper on Apr 27, 2010 1:27 pm • linkreport

More evidence we need direct election of Metro Board members.

by Redline SOS on Apr 27, 2010 1:31 pm • linkreport

Is it me or is a test track really necessary? While it would help avoid single tracking between College Park and Greenbelt, during off hours it isn't the busiest line and it would only interrupt service for two stations. It seems that the money required for this track could be better spent elsewhere. In these tough economic times, this is one line item I wouldn't mind cutting.

by Cassidy on Apr 27, 2010 1:36 pm • linkreport

Both MWAA's and WMATA's positions are logically sound. MWAA should not have to pay for 100% of the fixed cost of the railcar purchase if WMATA is going to be buying some railcars, but MWAA should not benefit wholly from volume pricing if they're not actually buying such a large volume.

Surely there's a middle ground here. And it's not firing Catoe.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 27, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport


Yes, it is necessary. The test track is not just to avoid single-tracking, it also doubles the number of rail cars Metro can accept at one time.

Metro has options to accept a huge number of rail cars over the coming years. The $60 million capital cost is a drop in the bucket, it's an investment that will save money down the line.

by Alex B. on Apr 27, 2010 1:45 pm • linkreport

@Cassidy: Without the facility, Metro would have to single-track AND commission cars very slowly. So the facility allows Metro to avoid both of those, if I understand correctly.

by Tim on Apr 27, 2010 1:45 pm • linkreport

Alex B,

Thanks. I reread the post and I thought the test track was soley for preventing single-tracking. I agree now that the facility and tracks are necessary.

by Cassidy on Apr 27, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

How do rail cars get from the factory to the the Silver line?

by D on Apr 27, 2010 1:58 pm • linkreport

I'd agree this business about the pricing of rail cars is mostly a negotiating strategy. And just eyeballing the numbers, somewhere about $3 million (which MWAA budgeted for) sounds fair in terms of spreading the development costs and a discounted purchase.

Just for comparison, that is about 7 Rolls-Royces with a Ferrari tossed in.

What I don't know is how this plays about in the capital WMATA budget.

Did they price is the discount into their budget projections already?

From what I see, they are:

in fy09: 20 million (including $10 million in stimuus funds?)
in fy10: 30 million
in fy11: 60 milion

I think I read somewhere that at the end of the year WMATA has about 70 million in cash in the capital accounts, but at the end of next year that number is going to bottom out. Throw in the rail car discount and you've got a real problem.

Also a talking point for MD: Clearly the silver line cars (120 of them) are going to benefit VA more than anyone else. While MWAA may PAY for them, spreading the development costs across the board will hurt MD more. Making MWAA pay for development is more fair.

by charlie on Apr 27, 2010 2:13 pm • linkreport

Ugh. Could we just order some more 6000 series cars and be done with this messy ordeal?

by andrew on Apr 27, 2010 2:13 pm • linkreport

Budget schmudget - bring on the 7000s! I love the displays showing where you are within the system and it will be so great not to have sticky, smelly carpet underfoot. Plus, they can only operate in 8-car configurations.

Back to the post, however, the testing is certainly an essential component, and I'd had to see more single-tracking than necessary on the Green Line. And the fact that they can only run 8-car trains of the 7000s - which can't connect with the existing cars - makes getting them out quickly essential for meeting the 2014 deadline.

I agree with Charlie that MD might carry a disproportionate amount of the burden to what amounts to increased capacity for Virginia, but the infighting between states, the District, and WMATA does nobody any good.

I really hope we'll be able to see these cars during the testing phase so that we don't have the same awkward issues when the 6000's were rolled out: namely, the "please move to the center of the car" was even more ineffective due to all the standing room around the doors. People still haven't figured out what to do with the extra railing and removed seating.

by Emilyhaha on Apr 27, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport

*hate - I'd hate to see more single-tracking than necessary

by Emilyhaha on Apr 27, 2010 2:45 pm • linkreport

So it will cost $60 million more for WMATA and save $166 million for MWAA? If MWAA gives $60 million to WMATA so that WMATA doesn't have to pay any more than they already planned, they will still save $106 million over going it alone.

by Teo on Apr 27, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

Actually, these new cars can only run in 4- or 8-car configurations. No 6-car configurations. Wanna bet that there will be a lot more 4-car trains replacing the ones that are now 6 cars??

Also, late at night on the Beltway I have seen a Metro rail car on an enormous flatbed truck. It doesn't happen often, though, and it's quite jarring to see. (Not that I'm scared or anything ... it just looks odd, like the proverbial fish riding a bicycle.)

by Greenbelt Gal on Apr 27, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

Two questions:

1. Regarding the 748 new cars - does Metro even have the kind of money to execute the contract on the replacement of the 300 1000-series cars, leave alone the other 384? (I'm assuming 64 cars will be paid for entirely by MWAA?)

2. (Devil's Advocate) Given the timeline to replace the 2000/3000 series cars begins around 2023, does Metro need the extra processing capability that they've budgeted $60million for? Even assuming they place the order for all 748 cars, and handle only eight a month starting in June 2013, that's 94 months, or just over seven years, nine months. By mid-2021, all the cars would be in service, ahead of the retirement schedule for the 2000/3000 cars. If they can handle 12 cars a month starting in June 2013, then all the 748 would be in service by 62 months, or five years (fall 2018, if you're counting). Then the $60 million could be spent on an extra 20 new cars or some other capital requirement.

by varun on Apr 27, 2010 3:30 pm • linkreport

Why are we diverting money from Metro to put toward the streetcars when that money is so clearly needed by Metro?

by Lance on Apr 27, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

Are you suggesting DC should pay for Maryland's share of things?

by NikolasM on Apr 27, 2010 5:01 pm • linkreport

Carrying Metro cars on flatbed trucks reminds me of the accident in Atlanta several years ago involving a flatbed carrying a MARTA car on the Stone Mountain Freeway. MARTA stops well short of the Stone Mountain Freeway, so it was really interesting to hear afternoon news/traffic reports about the MARTARail accident on the Stone Mountain Freeway.

by ksu499 on Apr 27, 2010 6:37 pm • linkreport

Re: "The Airports Authority says spreading the design costs evenly across the 64 railcars for Tysons, the 300 for 1000-series replacement, and the 64 cars for the Dulles/Loudoun extension would bring the average railcar price to $2.7 million. That would increase the cost to Metro by about $60 million, but would decrease the cost to MWAA by about $166 million."

Maybe I'm missing something, but this doesn't make sense.

As I see it, MWAA has budgeted $192,000,000 (64 x $3,000,000) for the Silver Line's 64 railcars. But under WMATA's updated purchase plan for 364 cars, the cost of MWAA's 64 cars increases to $256,000,000, or $64 million more than budgeted, as full railcar design costs are being dumped in solely as part of 64-car order. This $64 million additional cost seems to be what MWAA is objecting to.

When WMATA and MWAA made the deal that MWAA would build and finance the Silver Line, surely WMATA knew what was budgeted for railcars, and signed off on it. Now they appear to be trying to fob off the entire cost for railcar design on MWAA, while saving themselves millions due to the larger bulk purchase. No wonder MWAA is upset, and rightly so.

Although the price per car drops to $2.7 million when design costs are evenly spread out over the entire 364-car order, MWAA's 64 Silver Line cars will still cost $172,800,000, or $19,200,000 less than budgeted. So how does the spreading out of design cost decrease MWAA costs by $166 million? This figure is mystifying.

Surely a compromise is in order, and one that favors MWAA. WMATA wants to save millions with the bulk railcar purchase, but shouldn't MWAA benefit as well? At the very least, MWAA should be paying no more $192,000,000 for its 64 cars, as was originally planned and budgeted.

by Zac on Apr 27, 2010 6:52 pm • linkreport

Err ... in the above post, I based one of my figures on the assumption that MWAA's 64 cars, with design costs included, would cost $4 million apiece. This is slightly incorrect.

The actual cost per Silver Line railcar, design included, is about $4.17 million, or $75 million more than what was originally planned and budgeted. It is this $75 million additional cost (not $64 million, as I wrote in my above post) that MWAA disapproves of.

by Zac on Apr 27, 2010 7:19 pm • linkreport

Why don't they use the Silver Line as the test track?

by Turnip on Apr 27, 2010 8:28 pm • linkreport

Why is Jim Graham taking money away from Metro to pay for the streetcars? After what I'm reading here that just doesn't make sense. Yes, we need streetcars, but we shouldn't be taking it away from Metro funding. Are we abandoning Metro? I don't see how the streetcars can replace Metro. Does anyone know why Jim Graham would think they could?

by Lance on Apr 27, 2010 9:53 pm • linkreport

I know it's just me, but a week ago, I was thinking somebody ought to find a way to punish MWAA for the clusterf* that is Dulles:

(1.) New security lines built without adequate space for lines backed up waiting for the walk-through metal detectors, causing back-ups at document checking stations, leading to the need to hold passengers at the top of the escalator to the new security lines....leading to a WORSE security back-up at the new security lines than Dulles users faced at the old lines, which were no day at the beach.

(2.) New Aerotrain to replace clunky, slow, crowded old people-movers is actually clunkier, slower and more crowded and does not go the gates. You think I'm kidding. Walks MWAA has designed from the train to the gates are interminably long, Kafka-esque trudges in their stupid, dreary length. They built the stations to connect to gates at terminals that won't be built for another 10 years.

(3.) Reliably, taxi service at Dulles (overseen by MWAA) could screw up a a two-car motorcade to a birthday party....but that's been true for at least 25 years!

So, stick it to MWAA, Metro. Dulles is the worst airport in America--they have it coming.

by Trulee Pist on Apr 27, 2010 10:34 pm • linkreport

Re: Trulee Pist ^^^

This is a grossly unfair depiction of Dulles Airport and its Aerotrain system. Instead of wasting time to more fully rebut your misguided and negative observations, I'll simply say that if Dulles is so bad and stressful, stop whining and go elsewhere. Simple as that. There's only three airports in the Metro region, you know. If not like you don't have a choice. No one's coercing you to utilize Dulles, right?

In regards to taking a stick to MWAA as you suggest, ponder this for a minute. If MWAA hadn't stepped up to the plate to finance and build Metro's new Dulles Corridor expansion, the now under construction Silver Line would, in all likelihood, be still on the drawing boards. Yup, would have remained a pie-in-the-sky dream. There was no way whatsoever WMATA would have been able to get this project underway, barring massive state and federal funding. And that, as most everyone can agree, just wasn't going to happen in these challenging economic times, stimulus spending or not. Hell, WMATA's having a dickens of a time just trying to fund daily operations.

MWAA is not a perfect organization, true, but in almost every regard, its doing quite well running Dulles and Reagan National, and is held is high esteem by the aviation community. There have been numerous worthwhile airport improvements made in recent years, of which Aerotrain is perhaps the most significant. Yes, the station for the C gates currently involves a walk of moderate distance, but this is only a temporary situation of a few years. The other two midfield Aerotrain stations, however, are directly connected to the concourses that house the A and B gates. Those gates total 79 in mumber, which is not insignificant by any measure.

by Zac on Apr 28, 2010 1:49 am • linkreport

Why don't they use the Silver Line as the test track?

Because all of WMATA's commissioning and testing facilities are in Greenbelt Yard. There is no room in the Falls Church Yard to a accommodate testing and commissioning program. During the time prototype cars will be evaluated and production of the first cars, there will be construction taking place on the Silver line and in Falls Church Yard.

by Sand Box John on Apr 28, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

There is plenty of room at Route 193 and everywhere else for a third track. I agree that it looks very tight at the Greenbelt MARC station, but Metro seems to believe they have the room.

Single-tracking on the Green Line between College Park would mean that there was only one track available at both College Park and Greenbelt for service. Because of the placement of interlockings, it would back trains up as far as Prince George's Plaza, at least.

And again, we could potentially be talking single-tracking almost every weekday (off-peak) for 10 years. Ten. A decade. Longer than Bush was in Office. That's not conducive to convenient transit access.

Railcars will likely be trucked from the assembly plant in Lincoln, Nebraska to Greenbelt Yard. They would undergo testing and commissioning there. The would likely spend some time on the Green Line in service first.

To get from Greenbelt Yard to the Silver Line, there are two options:

One a train would travel south on the Green Line to just north of Fort Totten, and use the B&E connector to switch to the Red Line. The train would continue along the Red Line to Farragut North. At Farragut North, the train would change direction (reverse) onto A&C connector, which would take the train up to the Blue/Orange Line near McPherson Square. From there, the train could just travel out the Orange Line to the new Silver Line.

Or, two, the train could travel south on the Green Line to L'Enfant Plaza and then continue on the Yellow Line to Pentagon. Reversing there, the train could travel up the Blue Line to Rosslyn and meet the Orange Line there.

No, we can't just order more 6000-cars. Metro entered into a contract with the manufacturer for a certain amount of cars. Alstom has probably already moved on to another car order by now anyway.

And they did bid on the 7000-series. They did not price as competitively as Kawasaki.

@Greenbelt Gal:
The railcars you've seen on the Beltway are new cars being delivered to the system. There aren't any being delivered now, but the 6000-series cars were trucked in fairly recently.

Cars already in the system are moved around on the rails, including use of inter-line connectors, as described above.

Metro is exploring financing for the replacement of the 1000-series (300 new cars). It is discussed here:

by Matt Johnson on Apr 28, 2010 11:54 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson
The Kawasaki Rail Car's plant in Lincoln, Nebraska will fabricate the car shells. Final assembly will be done at their Yonkers New York facility.

Transportation of shell and finished cars as you stated will likely be done by truck.

by Sand Box John on Apr 29, 2010 12:00 am • linkreport

@Sand Box John
Not that it really matters, but according to WMATA, final assembly of the 7000-series, should Kawasaki be chosen, will occur at Lincoln, Nebraska. (page 6).

by Matt Johnson on Apr 29, 2010 12:11 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson

That was likely deleted from my mind because I have heard noises from elsewhere that stated the Yonkers facility might be utilized for final assembly.

by Sand Box John on Apr 29, 2010 9:06 am • linkreport

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