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MWAA considers moving Dulles Airport Metro stop

The Washington Post reported today that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is building the Silver Line, is considering moving the proposed Metro station at Dulles Airport away from the terminal.

Photo by fried lemon pie on Flickr.

While there are not yet any detailed plans, the move would allow the station to be built above-ground. This could shave quite a bit off the project's cost. The initial plans for the Silver Line (from 2002) called for an underground station immediately in front of the iconic terminal building.

This new proposal would place the new station adjacent to Daily Garage 1, between the garage and the north side of Saarinen Circle. It would be connected to the terminal by an existing underground walkway with moving sidewalks. This station location would be about 600 feet further from the terminal—the length of a Metro platform.

Estimated location of the alternatives. Red/orange show the currently proposed station and line. Blue/cyan show the new proposal.

While having the Metro station as close to the terminal as possible is certainly advantageous, I don't think a 600' walk should be a deal-breaker. Especially if it makes the project cheaper - and therefore more likely to get federal funding.

Other advantages cited by MWAA include proximity to airport offices and the potential for development along Autopilot Drive. The loop through the airport would also be shortened slightly, which could provide a marginal decrease in travel times on the corridor. Although that would be at the expense of increasing travel time from the station to the terminal by 2-3 minutes for passengers boarding or alighting Metro at Dulles.

The Airports Authority will consider the proposal this fall. It is currently being studied by consultants.

The stop at Dulles would be part of the second phase of the Silver Line and is expected to open in 2016. The first phase of the project is currently under construction and will bring Metro to Tysons Corner and Wiehle Avenue around the end of 2013.

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. Hes 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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When I first saw the headline I thought "no, this is a bad idea." But upon further review, I agree the extra walk shouldn't be a deal breaker. But it depends on how they facilitate trekking the last 600'. BART does not stop right at the front door of any of the SF terminal buildings, but you can hop on the AirTrain to move between terminals, much like the Dulles AeroTrain. Though MARTA in Atlanta, I think, stops near the baggage claim at Hartsfield-Jackson.

by Mike B on Aug 11, 2010 3:23 pm • linkreport

Im not sure I understand either alignment completely. Why can't the track run up the median of the Dulles Access Road all the way until near the Bridge with Aviation Drive. Its going to be in the median the rest of the way to Tysons, so that alone should cut a bunch of the tunneling cost out. Of course tunneling through the hard diabase rock out there is going to be why tunnel under the hangar and runway? Not sure I get this.

I imagine they are still going to have to tunnel beneath the parking lot and road on the way out of the airport, unless they are going to go aerial over the entrances to all the rental car facilities. Also, they will need to tunnel between the station and the terminal so that older people and people carrying a lot of luggage won't have to walk across that whole parking lot. Not a fan.

by xtr657 on Aug 11, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

I hit post too soon. The underground walkway seems reasonable. I don't see a huge problem with this.

by Mike B on Aug 11, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport

Whoa -- the Reston to Dulles section of the Silver LIne hasn't gotten federal funding?

by charlie on Aug 11, 2010 3:37 pm • linkreport

Have they considered making Dulles a 3-platform station (like the National Airport station)?

The current plans call for a pocket track immediately west of Dulles, and it seems like killing two birds with one stone could allow for different service patterns in the future.

WMATA seem to have learned lessons from the other parts of the system, and there will be 4 possible westbound destinations for the Silver Line (which will also greatly minimize delays due to single-tracking).

by andrew on Aug 11, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

not a deal breaker but I still think it's a bad idea. then again I guess I don't care what they do as long as they get the federal funding and actually build this thing!

by Sam on Aug 11, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

@ charlie They wrote the budget for Phase 2 with no federal funding. That's why the toll increases are so high on the Dulles toll road. The toll road is financing about half the total cost of the project, instead of the quarter originally envisioned, because they realized that Phase 2 was unlikely to meet fed cost requirements.

by jcm on Aug 11, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

This is a good idea. At least, a good tradeoff. The added distance is almost inconsequential. You'll probably be walking more than a mile until you get on your plane once you get through the front door of the terminal, anyway, so what's another 600 feet?

by Jamie on Aug 11, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

600 feet at an average walking/moving walkway speed of 3 mph is a bit over 2 minutes per user. At an average time value of $30/hour that's the equivalent of adding $1 to every fare to and from the terminal. That's a lot. I don't know what the expected usage is, but let's guess 20,000 passengers per day, 365 days per year, 50 year expected useful lifetime, that means the time cost comes to $365 million. I wonder how that compares to the cost of the underground terminal.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 3:58 pm • linkreport

@David, to put a price on a minute of time there has to be an opportunity cost. Most people can't trade an extra minute for an extra dollar anytime they want. Most people have already gotten all the money they can in a given week, and have some minutes leftover.

by Jamie on Aug 11, 2010 4:03 pm • linkreport

I hate the walks to the parking decks at Dulles. But, i guess that it's better than waiting for the bus to the lots at BWI. Metro at National is simple and easy. I realize that it wasn't always that way. MARTA in Atlanta is great for the airport because it goes directly into the terminal.

This is one area where it shouldn't be short-changed because of cost.

by Travis on Aug 11, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

@xtr657: I'm guessing that your idea would result in a very tight turn before the platform. The trains might not be able to turn that tightly, or might not do it very quickly. The other problem I see is that the track can't slope too much and that would a rather sharp 'dive' into a hard turn and then stop at the platform. Rail cars can't turn sharply or climb/decend steep gradients.

by BigG on Aug 11, 2010 4:12 pm • linkreport

@Jamie David is absolutely right about this value of time and such a cost/benefit analysis is often used for projects that might only save 1-2 minutes per passenger (multiplied by 20,000 passengers per day is significant).

The question, however, is whether to use the value of time for surface transportation which is about $12 per hour or to use the value of time for air travel (the blended work/leisure value of time is $28.50 per hour). Since walking is clearly a mode of surface transportation, the former amount should be used. On the other hand, it is one component of the overall trip-- air travel.

by Ben on Aug 11, 2010 4:13 pm • linkreport

Excellent points, all. A few replies:

There already is a pedestrian tunnel between the terminal and the parking garage. With moving sidewalks. Metro patrons would use that. No one would have to lug suitcases through the parking lot.

The MARTA integration into Hartsfield-Jackson International was possible because the Airport was built with the station included. The new terminal was opened in September 1980 and included the MARTA platform and canopy.

However, the aerial guideway wasn't connected to the Airport rail station until 1988, when the South Line was extended from East Point.

by Matt Johnson on Aug 11, 2010 4:15 pm • linkreport

I guess this finally lays to rest the old rumor that a Metro platform was built beneath the main terminal back when it was originally constructed, just sitting there waiting for the Silver Line to arrive decades later.

by Ron on Aug 11, 2010 4:28 pm • linkreport

David, to put a price on a minute of time there has to be an opportunity cost.

If you commute to the airport, and you have to leave for work a minute earlier every single day, and arrive home a minute later every single day, you're losing ~10 hours/year that you could have done something else with. That's a real opportunity cost, even if you don't have some part-time job that could have paid you $0.50 for each idle minute.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

The question, however, is whether to use the value of time for surface transportation which is about $12 per hour

Who chose this value, and with what methodology? It seems pretty low to me, but perhaps just because I value my own time far more. I do think that most people taking Metro to and from Dulles are probably airport workers, and it's reasonable to consider time value the same way you would any other commute destination. I just think transit designers should be using a value substantially higher than $12/hour.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 4:44 pm • linkreport

Just my perspective as a user: Chicago O'Hare is great. I often use the El straight from the airport. National Airport is also great. It's not "right there" but with a walkway it is bearable.

Transit connections at airports like BWI and Boston-Logan are terrible. Taking a shuttle to transit is a deal-breaker when I'm traveling for business.

I really hope the Dulles Metro terminal is a short walk and not reliant on shuttles to the airport terminal.

by Ward 1 Guy on Aug 11, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

David-- it is from a US DOT document from about 2003. I got the amount (an estimate) from Table 4 on page 7.

by Ben on Aug 11, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

This is beating a dead horse, but if MWAA got off their "viewshed" horse and admitted that having hourly and valet parking lots in front of the terminal is NOT attractive, you could just move the rail terminal in a bit closer and move the lots underground.

I suppose some of the pain could be alleviated if they offered curbside check-in at the metro station, so people didn't have to drag their bags to the terminal. However, that is a function of airlines, not of MWAA, and too many people have large carry-ons today.

by charlie on Aug 11, 2010 5:08 pm • linkreport

I don't see why David's making a big issue out of this. If you're cutting that fine of a line about 2 minutes, you're probably leaving too late anyway. 2 minutes is well within the realm of possible to/from the airport delays anyway (whether it be Metro slowdowns or traffic to/from the Dulles access road). I don't see it being an issue and I'd like to point out an example: the Hiawatha LRT line in Minneapolis, where one has to take a tram between the LRT station and the outer edge of the terminal (then about a 300ft or so walk from there to get to baggage claim or upstairs to ticketing), but it hasn't stopped folks from using it out there.

by Froggie on Aug 11, 2010 5:14 pm • linkreport


The light rail station in Minneapolis at MSP isn't all that close to the terminal, but there is a bridge that connects two of the outer concourses with a security checkpoint - so, if you only have carry-on luggage, you can check in there with an automated kiosk and then go right to security.

Dulles could do that, even without 'curbside' baggage - you could check in with a kiosk right at the Metro station and then roll right into the security line - so long as you don't have bags to check.

by Alex B. on Aug 11, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

David-- it is from a US DOT document from about 2003. I got the amount (an estimate) from Table 4 on page 7.

Actually, it says, "Walk access, waiting, and transfer time
should be valued at $21.10 per hour for personal and $21.20 per hour for business travel when actions affect only those
elements of transit time." I don't really understand why they are ever using a lower figure, but they are clearly recommending a higher figure here.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 5:20 pm • linkreport

MARTA in Atlanta does run directly into the terminal, but it's at the far end of the baggage terminal. It's a fairly long walk from that part of baggage terminal to ticketing and the main TSA security gate. There is also no moving sidewalk from the MARTA Airport station to ticketing, so it's all human leg power.

@charlie: I thought the same thing - the 2nd phase of the Silver Line doesn't have federal funding? If they never get the approval for federal funding for the 2nd phase, can the higher tolls cover the entire expense?

@Ward 1 Guy: Is the MARC station at BWI not within walking distance of the airport, or do you have to take a shuttle? I've never been there.

At the Newark, N.J. airport, don't you have to take a second train, the AirTrain monorail, as a shuttle from the NJ Transit station to get to the terminals?

by Andy Peters on Aug 11, 2010 5:22 pm • linkreport

I don't see why David's making a big issue out of this. If you're cutting that fine of a line about 2 minutes, you're probably leaving too late anyway.

It's a big issue because public facilities are often designed as if user's time has no value. But it actually has a lot of value. $365 million is real money. Your logic about the 2 minutes is just wrong. If you don't have the 600 foot walk, there is some time you have to leave at in order to reliably arrive on time. With the extra 600 foot walk, whatever that time was, you now have to leave 1 minute earlier. You lose 1 minute for sure, the variability in travel time has nothing to do with it.

the Hiawatha LRT line in Minneapolis, where one has to take a tram between the LRT station and the outer edge of the terminal (then about a 300ft or so walk from there to get to baggage claim or upstairs to ticketing), but it hasn't stopped folks from using it out there.

Well, of course the extra travel time doesn't keep people from using it. No one said that. What I said is that the extra travel time is a cost to users, that needs to be taken into account when deciding whether the value of spending money to eliminate it is worth the benefit.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 5:24 pm • linkreport

At the Newark, N.J. airport, don't you have to take a second train, the AirTrain monorail, as a shuttle from the NJ Transit station to get to the terminals?

Yes, but that's the same monorail that takes you to your terminal, anyway. The equivalent here would be if they connected the Dulles train to the Metro station. Of course that's not practical, because the Dulles train is inside the security perimeter.

Anyway, there's no possibility of moving the NJ Transit tracks closer to the airport, so it's not like they had any choice.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 5:26 pm • linkreport

P.S. Connecting from MARC or Amtrak to BWI airport requires a shuttle bus. It's a long, indirect connection. The BWI airport also has a truly awful rental car facility that's a long, indirect bus ride from the terminal.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 5:28 pm • linkreport

Eh, there is a moving walkway down there anyways that it would hook into. Climate controlled and happy for all travelers. No biggie if it makes funding easier.

I also agree that the non decked parking lot out front looks stupid. It could easily be triple decked and not block any view of the terminal.

by NikolasM on Aug 11, 2010 5:31 pm • linkreport

"Well, of course the extra travel time doesn't keep people from using it. No one said that. What I said is that the extra travel time is a cost to users,"

I really am struggling to understand how these two notions can exist in the same world.

I can understand putting a value on a minute for planning purposes. But I assumed the real-world translation of that would be that some people choose not to use it.

If the extra minute or two doesn't, at the margin, cause anyone to choose a different form of transit, then how can that cost you calculated possibly be real? Do you personally know anyone who has the potential to earn more money because they have a few minutes of extra time when they travel? Or even every single day? How many people even have jobs that would offer this potential at all?

So, suppose an hour is worth 30 bucks. You know what? I can relate to that. Because I will sometimes choose to fly out of National instead of Dulles for an extra $100, which saves me about 3 hours in transit + nuisance dulles time for a round trip. So I guess that supports your math!

But it supports it not because I earned more money with that extra time - it supports it because I was willing to sacrifice $30 that I already had on more convenient travel. But I didn't spend it on something else. The local economy ended up with the same amount of money from me either way, it didn't disappear.

So what is the purpose of this math? It's not really going to hit the economy to the tune of $365 million in ten years if you build it like this. That design decision would not cause 1/3 of a billion dollars to appear or disappear from the economy. It might cause some people at the margin to use a different airport or get a ride or something instead, but it's very far from real money.

But it might, however, cause (at the margin) people to choose to drive to the airport or use a different airport, I would think.

by Jamie on Aug 11, 2010 5:32 pm • linkreport

I have to say that, in spite of the points about cost-benefit, I think the idea of moving the Dulles Metro station farther away from the terminal makes sense, if it's going to save a significant amount of money. Especially if the station is within walking distance of the terminal and doesn't require a second shuttle bus or monorail.

by Andy Peters on Aug 11, 2010 5:34 pm • linkreport

If the line is built farther out, and either at or above great, then a traveler will have to get off the train, go down a few levels to the underground walkway, take at least two different moving walkways, then go up a few levels just to get to the ticketing counters. That just doesn't seem like a great connection to me, especially with luggage.

by Tim on Aug 11, 2010 5:35 pm • linkreport

Also, if the map is correct, the farther-out station will have a longer platform. Bonus!

(I kid.)

by Tim on Aug 11, 2010 5:36 pm • linkreport

Unless plans have changed I'm pretty sure this section is underground anyways and will thus easily hook into the underground walkway.

by NikolasM on Aug 11, 2010 5:48 pm • linkreport

The Dulles Aerotrain goes to a place where there is NO terminal--it was placed there in anticipation of a new terminal that might be built, in 7 or 10 years or maybe never. In the meantime, MWAA has put in an Aerotrain that goes to NO gates, and requires a half-mile walk from the Aerotrain terminal to gates.

The "new" Dulles security set-up is designed to fail. They did not put enough space in front of the Walk-Through Metal Detectors, so the lines tend to back up into the serpentine line waiting to get to the document checkers. When that happens, and it does on a regular basis, they STOP CHECKING DOCUMENTS until the lines shorten up at the WTMDs (!)

The connection between the screwed-up, designed-to-fail new security set-up and the Aerotrain, is up a small escalator, down a hallway, then a U-turn and down two escalators.

NONE of these are big deals, I suppose. What annoys me is that MWAA has a blank piece of paper and designed a new security set-up AND a new Aerotrain AND a new connection between the security set-up and the Aerotrain each of which is less-than-convenient for passengers. Why?

Now add to this that they've been "planning" this Metro connection for years, but still don't have the Federal funding in place and are proposing to make the Metro less-than-convenient for passengers, and I'm beginning to get the message from MWAA: "We hate you passengers."

And I hate them right back.

by Trulee Pist on Aug 11, 2010 6:19 pm • linkreport

So what is the purpose of this math? It's not really going to hit the economy to the tune of $365 million in ten years if you build it like this. That design decision would not cause 1/3 of a billion dollars to appear or disappear from the economy.

The purpose of the math is to determine whether the expenditure is justified. You're right, it has nothing to do with the economy. It has to do with the purpose of spending tax dollars, which is to benefit the public. If the aggregate public benefit is greater than the cost, then the government should spend the money. If the aggregate public benefit is less than the cost, then the government shouldn't spend the money.

The value of my time doesn't have anything to do with whether I use it to earn money. Being stuck waiting or walking from place to place reduces my enjoyment of life. The cost is how much I would be willing to spend to avoid that inconvenience. My own personal cost function in situations like this is more like $300/hour. But everyone is different, $30/hour is a reasonable average.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 6:19 pm • linkreport

@Ward 1 Guy -- I've never taken the L to O'Hare, but I have to Midway, and it sucks to get from the L Station to the terminal. (The old way for Nat. Airport wasn't quite as bad but it definitely sucked.)

The reason that Nat. Airport has three tracks is because for a long time it was the southernmost terminus of the blue/yellow line.

I guess I understand satisficing and the Silver Line is already seriously satisficed wrt underground vs. aboveground in the Tysons area.

But this can cause serious reductions in ridership. While I don't think that this proposed change, paired with moving sidewalks (and I hope they have wider faregates and escalators to better accommodate luggage) will be a ridership breaker, it s a slippery slope that needs to be seriously considered. It will already be a long ride to/from Dulles, and things that reduce significantly the quality of the experience will shift people to other modes regardless of the cost.

by Richard Layman on Aug 11, 2010 6:32 pm • linkreport

What Ron on Aug 11, 2010 4:28 pm said.

I guess that urban legend is debunked.

by spookiness on Aug 11, 2010 6:54 pm • linkreport

@Trulee Pist:

The connection between the screwed-up, designed-to-fail new security set-up and the Aerotrain, is up a small escalator, down a hallway, then a U-turn and down two escalators.

Huh? I was just flying out of Dulles two weeks ago - I took one escalator from ticketing to security (no backups there, btw), and then one escalator from security down to the AeroTrain level. I'm not sure what you're talking about.

If the security line backs up, were they using all of the available metal detectors? If not, that's a problem of staffing, not design.

Also, saying they had a blank slate is misleading. They had a blank slate, minus all that existing airport infrastructure they needed to incorporate and work around.

by Alex B. on Aug 11, 2010 6:55 pm • linkreport

Let us not fret. The Reston-Dulles-Ashburn will of course be built, and most likely on schedule. The funds needed will soon be in hand, one way or another, with the feds contributing generously. How can this happen? Because, simply, the project is too important to too many important power brokers in Virginia and elsewhere.

According to MWAA's 2010 budget, construction of Section 2 is slated to begin in 2011.

Now whether the Dulles station should be underground in close proximity to the terminal, or above ground 600 feet further out is open for question. The most important aspect, however, has yet to be discussed: cost savings. Until this is more fully explained, it's impossible to evaluate which option will better serve the traveling public. For instance, if the above ground station is less expensive to build and finance, will that translate into lower fares for airport-bound passengers? There's a whole bunch of considerations to take into account before deciding which option to go with.

As others have noted, an above ground station shouldn't be a deal breaker. Nevertheless, the planning people at MWAA need to tread carefully. The more hassle-free MWAA can make the Dulles traveling experience, the better, not only for the traveling public, but for the commercial success of the airport as well. Wouldn't it be nicer to have the station directly adjacent to the terminal?

by Anon on Aug 11, 2010 7:41 pm • linkreport

@Trulee Pist:

I've done a fair amount of traveling through IAD and also have done some work out there. The master plan for IAD calls for a new mid-field terminal to be built out where the new air traffic control tower was built. This new terminal will actually connect to the control tower and sit directly on top of the AeroTrain station serving Terminal C.

Terminals C and D were always intended to be temporary structures that would be replaced down the road with a new permanent terminal. At this point they are way past their life span and easily show it. I'd much rather fly out of Terminals A or B than C or D.

Going back to the AeroTrain for a moment...the ultimate plan for this train is to form a loop. It will connect to multiple stations directly serving all terminals. It also will include provisions for another ticketing hall on the other side of the airport. Needless to say all this is very very long term but at least they planned for it in advance. What doesn't seem to have been planned for is a better way to handle international arrivals.

You can find the future plans for the AeroTrain system here:

by Craig on Aug 11, 2010 7:46 pm • linkreport

@ Craig

Thanks for the info.

I notice you don't have any more information than I do regarding when the Terminal C that is actually in proximity to the Aerotrain terminal will be built. Given the miserable state of the airline industry, we might soon be asking, "How about never? Does never work for you?"

IIRC, I saw signs touting plans for Aerotrain prior to 9/11. Why in the Sam Hill build the Aerotrain knowing how inconvenient it would be for passengers BEFORE building the new terminals?

I'd much rather fly out of A or B, too, but I fly out of C or D because I fly United, IAD is a United hub, there are lots of other United flyers making the half-mile hike, and few of them take comfort from the fact that there is a Master Plan for building a new terminal right on top of the Terminal C Aerotrain stop in 5 years, or 7 years, or 10 years, or maybe never.

@Alex B., I am hardly alone in experiencing the designed-to-fail aspect of the new security set-up at Dulles. Here are the howls of outrage from about 200 others, dating back to September 2009, and still no effort by MWAA to solve the problems:


by Trulee Pist on Aug 11, 2010 8:32 pm • linkreport

@Trulee Pist

I read those threads and I see complaints about TSA understaffing. No design in the world is going to deal with understaffed checkpoints well. Not one.

by Alex B. on Aug 11, 2010 8:56 pm • linkreport

David desJardins, why did your projection catch the panelists flatfooted? Maybe because the value of time has never entered Metro's thinking before! So, why now?

Where were you when they powered up the slowest escalators on the planet? Where were you when they put the trains on Manual? Where were you when they scheduled track work during traveling hours? Where were you when they designed rail cars full of obstructions? Where were you when they decided to suspend train service for tens of thousands of travelers whenever there is a "sick passenger"? Where were you when they selected form-over-function signage? Where were you when they made every "schedule adjustment" be a slow-down instead a speed-up?

Here's hoping you can find a time-travel phonebooth. We need your assistance deeply in the past.

by Turnip on Aug 11, 2010 9:17 pm • linkreport

@Alex B., you did not read them all. Understaffing by TSA is the main problem, but many commenters note that "the space gets crushed," "the lines back up into divider ropes," and "they have to stop checking IDs" as a result."

Plenty of blame to go around. Why is the basement security room so badly designed for the purpose? And who designed and built that space--TSA, or MWAA? How does the fact that TSA is run by idiots exonerate MWAA for this badly-designed room?

Anyhooo, my main point, regarding the Metro stop, is that every time MWAA makes a choice, it chooses to favor the convenience of MWAA employees and to inconvenience passengers. That extends to this decision--the new location is at a distance from the terminal, but ever-so-much-more convenient to MWAA offices.

by Trulee Pist on Aug 11, 2010 9:38 pm • linkreport

Understaffing by TSA is the main problem, but many commenters note that "the space gets crushed," "the lines back up into divider ropes," and "they have to stop checking IDs" as a result."

This doesn't make sense to me. If the limit on how many people can pass through security is staffing at the TSA checkpoints, then what difference does it make whether they take a break from checking your ids at the entrance and make you wait there? You'd be waiting the same total amount of time in either case.

by David desJardins on Aug 11, 2010 9:45 pm • linkreport

@Trulee Pist

I guess I'm just not seeing where the inherent design flaw is in the security mezzanines. All the problems raised seem to deal with TSA and staffing.

by Alex B. on Aug 11, 2010 10:06 pm • linkreport

@ David desJardins

I think you'd have to see this mess for yourself. I don't think I have the talent to express it to you in a way you'd appreciate how badly designed this basement security room is.

I'll try:

You come down a kinda long escalator (if you can! when things were real bad, TSA took to corralling people in a pen at the top of the escalator and dribbling them down a few at a time). At the bottom of the escalator, you are directed to one or the other end of two serpentine lines trying to get to the ID checker. The front of that long line runs from the middle of the room out to the document checker stations at each end. The passenger gets to the document checker at one end of the room or the other, gets checked, then U-turns back and heads down an aisle alongside the document checker line, between the document checker line and the entrances to Walk-Through-Metal-Detectors are. The aisle leads passengers from one end of the room back toward the middle of the room and the WTMD entrances.

The aisle between the WTMD area and the line to the document checker is 8' wide or so. If more than about 5 people are backed up at each WTMD, they start bumping into the stanchion dividing them from the line for the document checker. At that point, the aisle from the document checker to the WTMD entrances is blocked.

When that happens (as often as 4-5 times per hour at rush times), the TSA person runs to the end of the room and notifies the document checkers to stop for 5 minutes or so, while the lines at the WTMD clear. That, of course, causes the serpentine line to get longer, until it backs up to the bottom of the escalator, causing the TSA person to run upstairs and institute the corralling of passengers at the top of the escalator.

The poor design means that, instead of long lines of passengers standing around but moving along (remember the epic lines at the upstairs Dulles security this mess replaced?), now you have diverted some TSA resources to running around and doing things other than moving people through security, in an effort to accomodate a badly designed room.

The proof is in the pudding. If you read through the comments Alex B. skimmed through, you'll see some very experienced travellers coming to the conclusion that it now takes LONGER to get through security than it did before this "new" security room was designed and put into place.

Again, my main point is that MWAA (and the airlines and TSA) have observed this same mess since September 2009 and done nothing to fix it. It is bad. And it makes me think MWAA is going to find a way to screw up the Metro station, too.

Have you every had the pleasure of trying to get a cab at Dulles?

by Trulee Pist on Aug 11, 2010 10:10 pm • linkreport

@Trulee Pist

The chokepoint is still the capacity through the metal detectors. That's the problem. When they reach their capacity, they cut things off temporarily - but the problem is one of capacity, not design.

In fact, the design has many more scanning stations than I've ever seen in use. The design of the area actually allows for more capacity. TSA is the issue.

If TSA could screen passengers fast enough to keep up with the numbers that enter the queue, then the design would function just fine - which tells me that it's not a design problem at all.

I will say this - the TSA screeners I've had at Dulles haven't exactly been the most efficient that I've encountered in my travels, but that's purely anecdotal.

by Alex B. on Aug 11, 2010 10:36 pm • linkreport

What I think they should do is build the original design - the red line and station on the map. See how much it costs and how many people use it. Then build the new design - the blue line on the map and see how much THAT costs and how many people use it with the station farther away. Then we'll know which option is better.

by David C on Aug 11, 2010 10:47 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

You don't see this as a design problem?

If more than about 5 people are backed up at each WTMD, they start bumping into the stanchion dividing them from the line for the document checker. At that point, the aisle from the document checker to the WTMD entrances is blocked.

Then we'll have to agree to disagree. I think it's two major gaffes in one, sending people from the document checker on a perpendicular path through the WTMD queues, and having those WTMD queues block the aisle from the document checker to other WTMD queues!

by Trulee Pist on Aug 11, 2010 11:59 pm • linkreport

What happens if the entrances weren't blocked? You'd get through the document checker and still end up waiting in the same line to go through the WTMDs.

Last time I was there, they had someone directing people to the WTMD queues with the fewest people in them, no problem.

I just don't see how it's fundamentally different from any other TSA screening facility. You get in a line to get your boarding pass and ID checked, then you get in line for the metal detector. I've been to plenty of other airports where the WTMD line backs up and slows the ID checker down - that's a product of not having enough WTMDs and X Ray machines running - which again, is a TSA problem.

You see backups as a design flaw - I don't see how changing the design gets the TSA folks to do their job any faster. The screening process is the slow part of the equation here.

by Alex B. on Aug 12, 2010 12:21 am • linkreport

With this design change, you'd have to walk 600' underground, then either take an escalator or an elevator to the actual platforms, which will be on an elevated station, so atleast two stories above ground. You're looking at a level change of at least three stories, if not more due to security concerns. With all your luggage (maybe even extra for international travel). And vice versa, if you are departing from IAD, in which case you'd get off the train, travel 3-4 levels down, walk 600' underground, and then travel another 3-4 stories up again to check in.

For that reason, I think this design change will add at least 5 minutes or more to the time it would take to "transfer" from the airport to Metro, or vice versa. It will also make the station a little less usable. It's similar to walking from the Main Terminal to Terminal B, but given the already lengthy commute into DC, I don't think this is something MWAA can afford to shortchange. If your auto curbside pick up is right in front of the terminal, and the metro station is much further and less convenient to get to, what are you really prioritizing?

The MWAA workers (I will assume they won't have much luggage to deal with) can always walk the 600' underground to their offices on Autopilot Drive instead of passengers.

by LA on Aug 12, 2010 1:15 am • linkreport

Very informed and interesting debate, but what about metro riders with disabilities? Our travel time/experience should also be considered and "valued".

by Eliza on Aug 12, 2010 1:28 am • linkreport

So if they are planning on doing Phase II (Dulles extension) with toll money instead of federal money, why is there a need to cost cutting at the airport station -- especially, as Matt Johnson points out -- it is being considered to make federal funding more likely?

Another plus for an underground station is climate control.

by charlie on Aug 12, 2010 7:34 am • linkreport

With respect to user cost--people taking Metro to/from the airport already are showing their time to be less valuable. They are willing to sacrifice the relative speed of a taxi for the less expensive metro ride. So it seems appropriate to use a relatively lower time value.

If this redesign saves significant money that can be used to improve other parts of Metro while requiring an extra two minutes on a moving walkway, I'm all for it.

by ah on Aug 12, 2010 9:48 am • linkreport

I've taken that shuttle from MARC to the BWI terminal several times, and do't find it to be overly long or inconvenient.

I understand your basic premise that, the less convenient the connection is for the passenger, the more it "costs" people to use it. But this is a tempest in a teacup IMO. What this is doing is essentially connecting Metro to the terminal at the same level of convenience as the parking garage, instead of the convenience of the kiss and ride area for departures. I don't think many folks will decide NOT to take metro for a 2 minute walk to the terminal.

All that said - yet again, we see decisions being made about transit for cost reasons, at the expense of convenience. And you can believe that there will be no third track/platform like at National, either. We'd rather build a cheap system now than one with room for growth later - that is the mindset of the Federal bean-counters who drive the bus here.

by Glenn on Aug 12, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

I haven't ready any comments above, but my own 2 cents... 600' in many cases isn't too bad, but when you're carrying luggage (as at an airport you almost certainly are) then that can be a bit daunting. Also, the trek across a surface parking lot is never particularly pleasant or appealing, making even short distances seem rather longer.

However, I can also appreciate a need for cost savings where it makes sense to do so. That said, is there anything being planned to facilitate pedestrian travel between the station & terminal? I just did a quick skim of your write-up and didn't spot any mention, but I could certainly be missing it.

Moving walkways, ideally enclosed or at least covered, would certainly sway my opinion toward supporting such a realignment, but of course cost-savings considerations should also note long-term costs of any additional maintenance / operations of additional infrastructure geared toward moving people between station & terminal.

by Bossi on Aug 12, 2010 10:08 am • linkreport

It seems to me that one minute, two minutes, three minutes is so much on the margin of the overall trip out to Dulles to catch a plane that it's hardly worth talking about. If building the platform above ground and away from the terminal will make it easier to get built in the first place, then do it.
But some people will decide the extra walking and maneuvering is not worth it and will stick with driving. How many? That's the question, it seems to me. How many patrons do you lose, not whether individuals somehow value their time at $1 a minute, or even $5 a minute, as Mr. DesJardins apparently does (which, being so far above the average person as to almost be irrelevant, it seems to me...) The lost revenue from these lost customers threatens the viability of the project itself. It is perhaps a difficult calculation to make.
Do we know just how much cheaper the above ground, further from the terminal station would be?

by Josh S on Aug 12, 2010 10:20 am • linkreport

@ Bossi
There already is a tunnel from the parking garage to the terminal, apparently with stretches of moving walkway. I always use the other parking garage, so I have not experienced the utter convenience of this tunnel, but it's what Metro passengers would use--they would not walk across the surface parking lot, unless they wanted to.

by Trulee Pist on Aug 12, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

This was referenced in a post by Tim but the grade of the new station could be as significant as its distance to the terminal.

If the station near the garage is at the same grade as either the ingress or egress from the terminal and it saves a couple of escalator movements it could net out to a time saver.

I assume the station at the terminal by being underground will necessitate at least two escalator movements - with many riders burdened with bags those could be slow movements. Remember that Washingtonians at least like to keep moving and walking (or running) that 600 feet walkway might not be much slower than negotiating a couple of additional escalators.

With the 600 foot distance could you not design the tracks and station so that the tracks descend below the grade of the platform between the station and the terminal so at least one set of passenger movements can all happen at the same grade? Or maybe with a center track alignment at least one side of the platform would be the same grade as the existing walkway?

by TomQ on Aug 12, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

Sigh. I left Holland because I was tired of them being cheap about everything. Low and behold, America suddenly turns cheap. WTF? Quite frankly, both options are a no go. The metro should be *under* the main terminal. Can that be done? Of course. Schiphol Amsterdam upgraded to an 8 track railway station (from 4 I think, perhaps 2) dead smack under the main terminal, without ever closing the terminal.

The further you put the metro station away from the terminal, the less people will use it. Think of how many people won't take metro to Reagan "because it's so far away". Yes, I know the parking is behind the metro station, but that's not what I hear. People like to be dropped of at the terminal not close to the terminal. Especially, people who are unfamiliar with metro.

We're building a metro station that we'll have to deal with for the coming 50 years. Are we really gonna not want the best of the best to save a few dollars? This is pathetic.

by Jasper on Aug 12, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

@Jasper - aren't you the guy who lives in Springfield because he's too cheap to buy urban real-estate? Fiscal responsibility and tradeoffs are important not only in personal finances. It matters when spending tax payer dollars as well.

by Paul S on Aug 12, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

@ Paul S: No. I don't live in Springfield. I am not too cheap to buy urban real estate. I moved in with someone that intended to move when I came "back". However, there's this little issue with a housing bubble, making it impossible to sell the house. So thanks to the fiscal irresponsibility of others (banks), I not only have a 90 minute commute twice a day, but now I also have to endure cheap jokes (pun intended) from you. Thanks Buddy.

Building the metro station farther away is wasting my our tax-payers dollars because the station will be used less. That station will be there forever. Build it well, or don't. Saving money like this is penny-wise and dollar-foolish.

by Jasper on Aug 12, 2010 1:44 pm • linkreport

@Jasper; think of it this way -- 90 minutes of bus rides means more time to daydream about unicorns.

by charlie on Aug 12, 2010 1:46 pm • linkreport


You actually have heard someone say that they won't take Metro to National because the metro station is "too far" from the terminal? The Metro there is like 200 feet from the terminal!

by MLD on Aug 12, 2010 1:52 pm • linkreport

To be serious (unlike my last pos, there are two ways to view this:

1. Metro is a business. As such, the added cost of moving the station closer will not add much revenue and certainly not enough to cover the bonds needed to pay for it.

2. Metro is a public service. As such, the overall gain should be considered and all of those minutes of walking (or rolling) versus doing something else need to be accounted for and balanced against the cost, along with whatever negative externalities arise out of a few people driving/busing etc... instead of riding metro. David has tried to account for this and it's at least reasonable to think that when all of that is accounted for the unitary cost of the station farther away will be higher.

If you see Metro as more #1, then you probably think the farther station is better. If you see it as #2, then you probably think the closer station is better.

Metro IMO, is not a business.

by David C on Aug 12, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

What ah said on Aug 12, 2010 9:48 am

by Andy Peters on Aug 12, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

Haven't I read somewhere that it's expected that the primary users of the Silver Line all the way to Dulles are going to be airport workers?

by Andy Peters on Aug 12, 2010 3:01 pm • linkreport

Other advantages cited by MWAA include...the potential for development along Autopilot Drive.

This is ridiculous.

by Aaronius Dies on Aug 12, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

Andy -
I think that goes without saying. And the workers, of course, will be using the metro in either location.

The whole thing is just a tempest in a teapot. Of COURSE it would be better if the station were closer. But it costs a lot more. (How much more? We don't know, apparently.) You can put on your green eye shade and try to crunch numbers about whether it's "worth it" to build the damn thing 600 feet closer, but if that jeopardizes it being built in the first place, it's NOT worth it.

(Predicated on an assumption that it costs hundreds of millions of dollars more. If we're talking ten, twenty, thirty million dollars, that's a horse of a different color. Which raises the question - can we have a meaningful discussion about this issue without knowing what the cost difference is? I don't think so.)

by Josh S on Aug 12, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

You can put on your green eye shade and try to crunch numbers about whether it's "worth it" to build the damn thing 600 feet closer, but if that jeopardizes it being built in the first place, it's NOT worth it.

This is the attitude that gets us so many crappy transit projects and so much wasted money. That the goal is to manipulate the system into getting what we want, rather than optimizing the results. I understand why people do that, but I don't have to condone it.

by David desJardins on Aug 12, 2010 3:57 pm • linkreport

It would be interesting to know, how much would you pay to be dropped off at the closer station? That's what it's worth to you and theoretically Metro could add a surcharge that large to try and capture the added cost. Usually a better product comes with a higher price.

by David C on Aug 12, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

The point I meant to make in the post mentioning that airport workers will be the primary users of the Silver Line all the way to Dulles is this: Airport workers don't have a choice to fly out of a different airport. They're going to Dulles regardless of whether the Metro station is under the main terminal, or 600 feet away. If airport workers will be the primary users of the Silver Line, then build the Metro station 5,000 feet farther from the terminal, if that makes it more affordable and/or more likely to be built.

by Andy Peters on Aug 12, 2010 4:23 pm • linkreport

Just to throw it out there (not saying where I stand on the issue)... if Washington Flyer is $10, then an upper limit for such a surcharge would be:

Max Surcharge = Fare to West Falls - Fare to Dulles + $10

by Bossi on Aug 12, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

It would be interesting to know, how much would you pay to be dropped off at the closer station?

Of course, it varies a HUGE amount from one person to another. That's part of the problem. You can't just raise fares by the amount that is equal to the average time value, because that will reduce ridership among the people who are the most price sensitive, and therefore reduce the value of the whole project. The better connection is a public benefit and it has to be supported with public funds.

by David desJardins on Aug 12, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

@Andy Peters-

I'm skeptical workers will be the primary users... though I'll admit I'm not the most knowledgable on the Silver Line or its ridership forecasts.

My skepticism stems from my understanding is that the Silver Line is intended to make IAD more competitive to DCA and BWI... and giving their workers an easier commute is unlikely to be a significant driving force; whereas improving customer accessibility probably is. I'd also wager there are considerably more customers / passengers than there are workers. I know I'd definitely use the Silver Line as a passenger... even if the station is 600' ft away, I wouldn't *like* it; but I'm sure I'd still use it.

Also, it's not quite as easy for passengers just to choose to use a different airport. In the local area, BWI generally does well at domestic but is very lacking in international service. DCA's location creates its own set of problems and political finnaglings aren't necessarily the most helpful, ultimately leaving DCA with a limited number of destinations. IAD is where I often end up traveling to/from, even though I absolutely hate getting to/from there.

Increasing accessibility for passengers increases the customer potential for the airlines, enabling IAD to demand higher rates without necessarily losing market share (airlines) to BWI or DCA. Airport retail also gets a boost from increased passengers, but that's chump change compared to the income from the gates.

by Bossi on Aug 12, 2010 4:31 pm • linkreport

Sound like short term gain for long term pain.

by ET on Aug 12, 2010 7:41 pm • linkreport

Why don't we go further and just keep the line along the Dulles Greenway median and have shuttle buses take people between the station and airport? Why don't we just delete the Airport station and the buses can pick people up from the Route 28 station? Why not just delete the second phase altogether and have the line terminate at Wiehle Ave? All three of those would save us EVEN MORE money!

We are already getting a cut-rate project here (no tunnel in Tysons, no diversion to Reston Town Center, etc). Now we need to skimp even more? Really?!

I am SICK of the cost-cutting that is being done to this line. How about this...let's cut the Route 606 and Route 772 stations out in the middle of nowhere. People are going to be driving to these stations anyway (they don't have much else of a choice). Why not just build a super lot at the Route 28 station and every Loudoun County commuter can drive an extra 2-3 miles to get that stop. We do NOT need those extra stations.

What we do need is a premier airport station that drops people off directly underneath the terminal in an underground, CLIMATE-CONTROLLED environment. People with heavy bags should not be subject to the elements (at least not right at the airport terminal). If such a station is built at the new location underground that's one thing, but if it's aboveground and you're forcing people to go get off at the station, take an elevator down several floors to the underground walkway, walk 600 feet, and then have to come back up two floors to the departures level then that is just ridiculous. It's stupid. It's eerily reminiscent of building National Airport station aboveground a half-mile away from the old terminal. For those of you who weren't here before 1997, let me tell you, it sucked big time.

Do NOT screw this up, MWAA.

by Reza on Aug 12, 2010 7:52 pm • linkreport

Why not just delete the second phase altogether and have the line terminate at Wiehle Ave?

Sounds like a good idea to me.

by jim on Aug 12, 2010 8:10 pm • linkreport

The Dulles Metro stop needs to be in a place close to Arrivals and Departures, and inside away from rain and snow, so that travelers with heavy, multiple bags can navigate easily. 600 extra feet can be excruciating when carrying 80 pounds of luggage, as international flyers might be doing.

by ohj on Aug 12, 2010 10:07 pm • linkreport

If airport workers will be the primary users of the Silver Line, then build the Metro station 5,000 feet farther from the terminal, if that makes it more affordable and/or more likely to be built.

Wow. I thought you were going for exactly the opposite conclusion. Airport workers are paying the taxes that support the construction of the line, the value of their time and convenience should be especially relevant.

by David desJardins on Aug 12, 2010 10:10 pm • linkreport

I agree with @ohj. 600 extra feet may be a short distance on paper but that's a long walk if you're burdened with luggage. Traveler (and airport workers) convenience should be priority, otherwise what's the point? Considering that they've built an Aerotrain stop where there's no terminal and people have to walk back, I wouldn't put it past them to build something like this, in the name of cost-saving.

by Dan @ Dulles Airport Parking on Aug 13, 2010 12:12 am • linkreport

While I'm not opposed to the above ground station, the "leave two minutes earlier" argument is not quite accurate when you have to factor in headways, transfers, and delays. Imagine the scenario where a person (such as myself) relies on a bus at the beginning of the trip which comes every 30 minutes to connect to Metro. People in this situation could be faced with planning a trip which either cuts it *too close* or which leaves *too much* time waiting at the airport. On the other hand airport waiting time can be productive time with a book, iPhone, laptop, or shopping among other activities.

Regarding the Aerotrain; after the security checkpoint, there is only one up and one down escalator at each end of the station, potentially creating a bottleneck. Additional escalators should be added to ease congestion, perhaps a third "switch flow" escalator would suffice. Denver's airport train has 4 escalators at each end, leading to much better congestion control (though travelers have to cover more vertical distance from the train station to the terminals in Denver).

by Fabian on Aug 13, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

I cannot imagine an airport siting its automobile passenger drop-off 600 feet from the terminal entrance. It's the accumulation of these little "compromises" that eventually add up to a system that is inconvenient, as Reza rants about above. Where do we stop? If 600 feet is no big deal, then what about 700? or 800? The mindset is just wrong.

It's no different than making 10-minute headways into 14-minute headways on a train line (average waiting time goes up 2 minutes). Hey, it saves some money and is only a *minor* inconvenience, why not? Well, if it's already 14 minutes, then make it a round 15 for simplicity's sake. And you know the rest.

Design and architecture send signals. The signal being sent by this design will be--for the decades it is in existence--that Metro is the second-class mode people ought to use to travel to the airport. On the other hand, imagine that the station for the Silver Line were actually MORE convenient than being dropped at the curb. Imagine that! A station located and designed so that every airport user says, "Wow! Look how convenient and cool that is." As it is with this new proposal, it will be essentially completely out of sight, and many people probably won't even know it exists. Then what signal is being sent? That, in my opinion, is the much bigger value.

by Steve O on Aug 13, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

Those are good points, Steve - but they miss the point that you're adding a Metro station to an already operational airport. You're right that no airport would ever site their auto drop off location 600' from the terminal, but no airport would be in a position to add their first auto-drop off to the design 40 years after the airport opened, either.

DCA is the example. Metro was inconvenient to the old terminal. The new terminal was then designed with Metro in mind, and it's incredibly convenient.

The slippery slope argument about 600 feet is fine if you're designing the whole thing from scratch, but a project like this has to deal with certain constraints - in this case, both existing design and cost are significant constraints.

Anyway, it's all rather moot to be discussing the nitty gritty of the designs without having some actual designs to react to.

by Alex B. on Aug 13, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

I'd previously just been tossing out some thought fodder, but now that I've taken a bit of time to think it over and now I have my opinion (because, of course, my opinion is so overwhelmingly relevant to the world).

Without more detail on design or financing, my current opinion is that I'm not a particular fan of the proposed realignment.

I could potentially be a fan if there's a quick, covered, and well-maintained connection (I'm picturing a moving walkway), keeping in mind that many users will be loaded with heavy luggage.

It was previously noted that there's an existing ped tunnel to the garage (can't say I ever used it), so if that's true: it might be easy to add in a moving walkway... in which case while I'd still *prefer* a closer alignment; I would certainly use a realigned route & moving walkway.

Barring that, the scale of the terminal and the nature of parking lots is such that a 600' walk there seems longer than a 600' walk within the terminal itself; and if the pedestrian walkway between the two points is raised: the human factors effects of parallax can further the illusion of a longer walk. If in a tunnel, the visual impacts are reduced... but it's still a distance on the upper end of generally accepted thresholds for how far an *unencumbered* person will travel.

But as noted, it is difficult to offer a definitive opinion with both design plans as well as better details of just how much $$$, exactly, is being saved; and those savings are relevant -- be it rendering the project eligible for federal funding, a stronger candidate for federal funding, or how the savings are being otherwise utilised.

Furthermore, when I measure it, I get the distance as about 700' rather than 600'; but again: I'm not 100% sure of the current design or the proposed design; so perhaps that's just error on my part. But then there's still another 200' beyond that to the terminal itself. So the new proposal would be ~900' distant.

Again, give me a moving walkway & I'm good to go; but no moving walkway and I'd have to side with those opposing.

by Bossi on Aug 13, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

While I'm not opposed to the above ground station, the "leave two minutes earlier" argument is not quite accurate when you have to factor in headways, transfers, and delays. Imagine the scenario where a person (such as myself) relies on a bus at the beginning of the trip which comes every 30 minutes to connect to Metro.

You're still missing the basic mathematics of the situation. Regardless of what variable delays or fixed schedules exist between you and the airport, if you want to arrive with probability X by time Y, and we introduce an extra 3-minute delay between the station and the terminal, then that means you have to leave home 3 minutes earlier, on average. For some people, it might not mean any extra time, because their bus schedule already gave them extra time at the airport, but that's exactly offset by the 10% of people who have to leave a full 30 minutes earlier.

by David desJardins on Aug 13, 2010 12:13 pm • linkreport

In all seriousness, after reading all of the posts, I have changed my mind. The Dulles station needs to be as close as possible to arrivals/departures, preferably under the airport in a climate-controlled space.

by Andy Peters on Aug 13, 2010 12:50 pm • linkreport

Not under the airport, but an underground station immediately in front of the main terminal.

by Andy Peters on Aug 13, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

There already is a climate-controlled tunnel with moving walkways that connects Daily Garage I with the Terminal.

You're talking about a trip from the Metro station that's shorter than the trip from one of the daily parking garages.

by Alex B. on Aug 13, 2010 12:59 pm • linkreport

The closer the Metro station is to the terminal, the more people will use it (look at National as an example). If I remember correctly I saw that when Dulles was constructed there is an underground Metro station already built waiting to be used. Have the walkway go to the new development when people have time to visit it. Let airport travelers benefit from the convenience of proximity to the terminal.

by Anonymous on Aug 13, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport

@ Anonynous at 1pm

Urban legend. No such station exists.

@ Alex B.

Sure there's already an underground moving walkway but my take from the article is that an aboveground station is still very much a possibility.

@ Steve O

I might have been a little heated when I wrote that post but my "rant" was from anger building up inside of me for the past 4 years. Seriously, when does this stop? Especially coming right on the heels of the Tysons decision to go with an elevated alignment. You might think that decision was merely the cost of doing business. I think it's a mistake that will haunt Tysons Corner stakeholders for a lifetime.

by Reza on Aug 13, 2010 1:29 pm • linkreport

Now is the prefect time to discuss this, before the Silver line is built/designed. Obviously some comparative cost estimates are a critical missing piece, but imagine discussing O'Hare and the placement of the El train station *after* the station is in place. The discussion about the Dulles Airport rail here is a healthy part of the planning process; in the end hopefully we'll be left with a better project for it.

Yes, IAD is dealing with 40 year old infrastructure, but it *can* be done as well as National, it's just a question of priorities. DCA has just about the best access to transit of any airport in the Nation, that means people use it. Therefore less congestion on the airport roads and a host of other benefits. To truly plan for the long term the MWAA should think creatively about closing the funding gap. Heck, put a $1 surcharge on all flights to and from IAD.

by Fabian on Aug 13, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

Several people have mentioned the legendary existing Dulles subway station. As others have mentioned, it's a myth. But even if it existed, it would be unsuitable. The stories about it contend that it was built as a single-track platform on a loop, similar in overall concept to the old South Ferry station in New York (but with a longer platform able to hold a full train) or the original IRT City Hall station (the track layout of which you can see on the wall at any Subway sandwich shop) but with a straight platform that wouldn't require gap fillers. A station of that design would be unusable under the present design for the system because the line is no longer planned to end at Dulles but is instead supposed to continue out to Flynn's Crossing (the Route 772 overpass over the Greenway). A loop station is viable only at the end of a line, if then, and as you may know New York recently abandoned the last loop platform when the new South Ferry stop opened last year.

The point being--forget about the stories about an existing station at Dulles. Even if they were true, they'd be irrelevant.

by Rich on Aug 13, 2010 1:56 pm • linkreport


Whether the re-aligned station is aboveground or underground is largely irrelevant to the passenger experience. Either way, you'll need to travel up (or down) to a station mezzanine, go through the faregates, and then move on to the terminal.

It's worth noting that the original alignment would have put passengers into the exact same pedestrian tunnel in order to access the terminal.

by Alex B. on Aug 13, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport


You could charge $18 like BART does for all passengers to SFO. That could close any funding gap in a hurry.

For the propagators of the "station box already built at Dulles" theory, consider that in the 1977 K Route Alternatives Analysis (which was to choose the Orange line alignment west of Ballston), there were several options discussed. One included the Vienna alignment from the 1968 ARS (that we ended getting). Another alignment had the line following the Dulles Toll Road to a station at Spring Hill Road in Tysons. Another alignment continued this route past Tysons to Dulles Airport with a station at Wolf Trap, a station at Reston Pkwy and finally Dulles right in front of the main terminal. Now, only the Vienna and Tysons terminus options were seriously considered but that might be where the legend comes from about a preexisting Dulles station.

On a side note, despite our Tysons Silver Line alignment being suboptimal it still beats the pants off what they proposed in 1977. We just had to wait 40 years for it to get built.

by Reza on Aug 13, 2010 2:22 pm • linkreport

@ AlexB

"Whether the re-aligned station is aboveground or underground is largely irrelevant to the passenger experience."

You take many trips to Dulles during January? There's a huge difference between carrying your bags in a 72 degree environment, and a 22 degree environment.

You might say that if you drove there you'd face the elements regardless, but don't we want to provide a better experience than someone who drives there? Not to mention a station canopy wouldn't necessarily cover the entire platform, so there's rain and snow to deal with as well.

"It's worth noting that the original alignment would have put passengers into the exact same pedestrian tunnel in order to access the terminal."

The difference is an extra 600 feet.

Look, Metro is a world-class system. We should be providing world-class train-to-plane connections (like National Airport does today, not thirty years ago). An aboveground station plus a 600 foot walk doesn't cut it.

by Reza on Aug 13, 2010 2:35 pm • linkreport

Reza, the information about the mythical existing stop was a bit more developed than what you say in the last sentence of your second paragraph. I did a Google search for the site where I remembered seeing some information and found that while the site seems to be gone, Google still has a cached version of it. See truncated URL below (the full one is quite long). Unfortunately, Google didn't cache the images. What makes it interesting is that while the Dulles station is a myth, most of the other information on this guy's site is accurate. There ARE bellmouths in the Blue/Yellow Line tunnels just south of Pentagon that would have led to a Columbia Pike line (which was part of the Proposed System at one point). There IS a track connecting McPherson Square to Farragut North. There WAS a plan for a spur out to Backlick Road and Burke along the existing railroad tracks, but it flunked several environmental requirements. I find it rather interesting that he has so much information that's accurate and then this item about a Dulles stop that's a myth--although, to be fair, he was very careful to note that the information he offers is all "according to the engineering study."

But anyway, I'm sure that the fact that an engineering study apparently mentioned this legend no doubt added to its weight over the years. If one guy with a website knew of it, you can be sure other people did as well.

by Rich on Aug 13, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

OK looking at Google Maps, it looks like the canopy at National Airport station does cover the entire length of the platform there so I would presume they would do so at a Dulles aboveground station as well.

by Reza on Aug 13, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport


Yes, an above-ground platform would be outdoors, but as soon as you'd hit the mezzanine you'd be inside and have a climate controlled walk all the way to the terminal.

All I'm saying is that platitudes about having a world class system are great - but without a realistic discussion of the design options at hand, as well as the costs involved with each, they're not that useful.

Personally, whenever I visit an airport, I end up walking a lot. 600' more is nothing.

by Alex B. on Aug 13, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport


That website belonged to John Cambron, AKA "Sand Box John" who posts here occasionally. He is a WMATA historian in every sense of the word, probably the first of his kind.

Anyway, I know that planners were considering a Dulles line at some point in Metro's early history and I'm sure there's multiple documents out there that mention it (the 1977 AA was just the one that I have seen, and it actually had pretty detailed drawings of each of the alternatives considered). It's interesting to note that the line they were planning was much more of an "express" route than the one we're getting -- I and probably any potential airport patron would certainly prefer the former.

by Reza on Aug 13, 2010 2:50 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

Here's an option I offered above: cut one of the Loudoun County stations. Or cut both. Why can't they drive to the Route 28 station and park there? They will all be driving to the station regardless.

And when you're at an airport, you're usually walking after you've checked your bags (so the load is much lighter). I'm not afraid of walking in the slightest, but then again I pack light and am not tending to restless children when I'm at an airport.

by Alex B. on Aug 13, 2010 2:55 pm • linkreport


Apologies for that last comment, I had a brai nfart and put your name in the "Name" box.

That's from me, thanks

by Reza on Aug 13, 2010 2:56 pm • linkreport


I knew some of the information on that site came from John Cambron and I know who he is (don't know him personally, I just know OF him) and I know how much he knows about the Metro system. I've referred to his track schematics many times over the years. I don't think the site I linked actually belonged to Mr. Cambron, though, because in several instances it refers to information coming from Mr. Cambron. If it were his site, I doubt he would have credited himself.

I could be wrong, of course.

For what it's worth, regarding your final point about an express route, I think the lack of an express route is one of the major failings of the Dulles line's design. What I think they really ought to be building is something more along the lines of the Heathrow Express in London, which is a high-speed train (100 mph) that provides a non-stop ride from Paddington to Heathrow. It takes about 15 minutes to Terminals 1, 2, and 3 and 20 minutes to Terminal 5. If you take the Tube via the Piccadilly Line it takes about an hour from Central London (and it's not air-conditioned). While the Express costs more (£13 when I last rode it versus around £6 on the Tube or £50 by taxi), obviously to many people it's well worth it to save the time. A train of that sort to Dulles is never going to happen here because of the impossibility of acquiring the land to do it, among many other reasons, but if they were serious about building something that would attract BOTH airport users AND commuters, that would have been the way to go if they could have done it. Let's be realistic--many American business travellers scorn the idea of using mass transit from the airport to their destinations. But if you had an option of a train that would get you to Union Station in 15 minutes, I daresay only the truly hard-core snobs out there would still opt for a cab to downtown.

Even setting aside the impossibility of a "Dulles Express" resembling the Heathrow model, one thing that would put me off as a rider from out there is that you have to make all those piddly little stops through Arlington. Ballston is legit, but it would frustrate the heck out of me to be riding from Dulles and to have to stop at Virginia Square, Clarendon, and Court House. Of course I also know it's impossible and cost-prohibitive to bore another tunnel to make a four-track line, and the right-of-way along I-66 east of Exit 71 doesn't exist to allow for an express train to run at ground level or on elevated track to bypass the Wilson Boulevard subway. I also thought consideration should have been given to the concept of a three-track line out to Dulles, similar in theory to the Flushing Line in New York but different in execution in that third track might have been used to allow for a dedicated airport express train that would skip the stops at Tysons, Wiehle Avenue, and Herndon (MAYBE it might stop at Reston Town Center). It might have been possible to have had a separate faregate for this train's platform to allow it to be a premium service like the old JFK Express.

But of course, I recognize in all these cases that the fundamental problem is that we're constrained by WMATA's foolish decision in the 1960s to design the existing system as a two-track railway. Anything new that ties into the existing routes is, practically speaking, similarly limited. An express train out on the Dulles Access Road doesn't help you all that much if it has to slow down to mix with the two-track K Route.

What I really think should have been done is a Metro extension to Tysons on a loop through the area coupled with some sort of light-rail system to allow Metro riders to connect throughout the area (consider all the businesses on Greensboro Drive) and a separate line that would run from Tysons out to Dulles. Of course, I also recognize that they want to provide a "one-seat" ride to downtown lest they hit the same fate as the JFK Express.

There's no ideal answer in the end. We're trying to graft mass transit onto an existing largely low-density area instead of building mass transit as the area grows up. Thus, everything's always going to be a compromise.

by Rich on Aug 13, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

In my last comment I'm not sure where the little A with the accent mark over it came from, as I simply used the keyboard to type in the symbol for the British pound (which I see is still there). Oh well, no big deal. I assume it was clear enough what I meant, given that I was clearly referring to London.

by Rich on Aug 13, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

Just a quick note about Metro at DCA. Several people have stated that it was "very inconvenient until they built the new terminals." This gives the wrong impression. It's not as if they located the new terminals to be convenient to Metro. They located the Metro to be convenient to where the new terminals soon would be.

I remember my first Metro to National. I was angry when I got off the Metro and saw what a long hike it would be to the terminal, of which there was just one in those days (plus the nasty US Air temporary terminal around back of the administrative offices at National). Then I looked up and saw the new terminals B and C already under construction, and I realized how very, very convenient that would be once the new terminals opened. I was immediately over my anger about the inconvenience.

So the National Metro stop was not immediately convenient, but you could already see it soon would be, and how!

This mess at Dulles is a very different situation. The first Metro customers will get off the Metro, see that they have 600' or 700' ahead of them, not to mention several escalators up and down, and they'd be angry and many would vow never to be fooled into trying the Metro to Dulles again.

by Trulee Pist on Aug 13, 2010 3:40 pm • linkreport

If those customers get off, see a fare gate and a tunneled moving walkway that brings them straight to the terminal without having to go out in the snow/rain/massive heat and humidity, and then refuse to take Metro to Dulles ever again, then they deserve to spend $150 on taxis every time for the rest of their lives. In fact, I suspect that if they refuse to use metro after that they will refuse to use Dulles at all, because they will soon confront much the same after they go through security and head to their gate.

by ah on Aug 13, 2010 4:02 pm • linkreport

@Rich; MWAA projects 5% of travelers at Dulles will use Metrorail. I think the figure for DCA is 15%.(could be off on that, warning) Almost nobody from DC will use it for some of the reasons you have identified.

However, travelers from Reston and Tysons (and perhaps Arlington) might find it a decent option -- especially when parking costs are figured in.

by charlie on Aug 13, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

I assume most of the riders will be out-of-towners, those people that stand on the left. If you fly in to Dulles, there will be lots of signs leading you to the Metro station. The farecard machines will be much more daunting than the 600 ft.

Local people will continue to do what they do now -- drive.

by jim on Aug 13, 2010 4:33 pm • linkreport

@Reza: You could charge $18 like BART does for all passengers to SFO. That could close any funding gap in a hurry.

What are you talking about? The BART fare from downtown SF to SFO is $8.10. The "surcharge" over other comparable routes is something like $4. $18 would be ridiculous.

by David desJardins on Aug 13, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

Charlie said:

"MWAA projects 5% of travelers at Dulles will use Metrorail. I think the figure for DCA is 15%.(could be off on that, warning) Almost nobody from DC will use it for some of the reasons you have identified."

This is part of the problem with the idea of building a Metro line out to there. As I said, I recognize why a "Dulles Express" along the lines of the Heathrow train will never happen. But think about if it could. I daresay many of the commuters from that area, and even from closer-in spots like Reston and Herndon, might well choose to drive to the airport and take this train instead of taking a bus in to West Falls Church and then changing to the Orange Line. I know I would if I lived out there and there were a high-speed rail line that got me downtown in 15 to 20 minutes, as long as the fare weren't too outlandish. Of course I recognize it's impossible to build.

The big thing as I see it is that if you can build a public transit option to the airport that is substantially faster than a cab or other such options, people will use it, though there will always be some who say, "My client will pay for a cab, so why should I take the train?" (I went to a meeting in Chicago and took the El from O'Hare. My colleagues all thought I was nuts since the firm would pay for a cab. I asked them why I should sit in traffic for 90 minutes when I could take the train in 30, regardless of who was paying. They didn't seem to understand, though.) I suppose Dulles rail has a problem in this respect due to the dedicated Access Road linking to the HOV-restricted I-66, such that people arriving in the morning rush hour can be downtown by car within half an hour. You'd need something exceptional to better that, and the money and real estate to do something exceptional doesn't exist.

As I said, Metrorail to Tysons is exactly the right idea (though it should have been in the tunnel). Metrorail to the airport is of lesser value. It occurs to me that part of the issue with either airport, Dulles or Reagan, is that so many people have to drive to the Metro and you can't leave your car overnight at most Metro car parks.

I guess ultimately viewing this project as "Metrorail to Dulles" probably does it a disservice because it's not really about serving the airport. It's more about Metro's strange inability to decide whether it's a subway or a commuter-rail system.

by Rich on Aug 13, 2010 5:08 pm • linkreport

Those drawing of the urban legend Dulles Airport metrorail station are at:

Metrorail Track and Structures
Part of the D.C. Underground
Cached at

During the early scooping meetings (1999) for what was then called the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project I asked one of the engineers about the alleged station at Dulles Airport. He told me no such station existed.

@Rich Does no belong to me.

My only connection to that site is I am quoted as a source in a couple of the articles.

As to the relocated station, I am somewhat indifferent as to where the station ends up being built. One must consider that this project has come close to being rejected multiple times sense it's inception. A hell of a lot support infrastructure that would enhance operational flexibility of the branch has been deleted from the original plans to cut costs. The only reason the project is being built at all is because MWAA came to the rescue. MWAA revenue stream will pay the federal share of capital costs of phase II and will not be effected by what political party happen to be in power. And most importantly this is a MWAA project, the station will serve a MWAA facility, MWAA has the say on where the station will be built on their property and how to do it in the most cost effective way.

If I had it my way the airport station would have been on the surface directly in front of the terminal. The platform for entering the airport terminal (outbound track N2) would have been on the same level as the departure level. the platform for exiting the airport terminal (inbound track N1) would be on the arrival level. Distance between the metrorail platforms and front door to airport terminal less then 100'. My plan would have been very low profile so as to have little effect to the overall appearance of the Eero Saarinen designed main terminal building.


The reason why I am late jumping in, Verizon lost conductivity to and other Washington DC area web sites Thursday and Friday.

by Sand Box John on Aug 14, 2010 5:39 pm • linkreport

There is some brief discussion in the Dulles Rail EIS about the potential for a future landside people mover at Dulles, presumably to connect the terminal with hotels, rental car facilities, outer parking lots, and so on. I believe the EIS kept the location in a very similar place to the image on

I think my ideal location would be very similar to John's - an above-ground platform with a low vertical profile, but not with a split-level station. I'd build the platform level with the current arrival level, so passengers departing the platform would go down (to the current Commercial level), with access to the Ground Transportation level of the terminal. The commercial level would be relocated slightly to the north.

by Alex B. on Aug 14, 2010 6:04 pm • linkreport

The weather consideration for an outdoor platform is a valid one. While extreme weather will close the entire line, there is a comfort factor for people coming from downtown. The consideration of local or express will at some point be secondary to the fact that I-66 is perpetually clogged, even with HOV restrictions.

by Omar on Aug 14, 2010 6:19 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.
The reasoning behind my split level platforms configuration is to completely eliminate the need for elevators escalators and stairs between the fare collection area and the trains. One discharges the trains, passes through the faregates, crosses the vehicle roadway and enters the main terminal building. The opposite would be done one level down for those boarding the trains heading to points east. Fare vending along with a location for a station managers kiosk would be located in the terminal building adjacent to the door directly opposite platform entrance(s). There would also be kiosks on the platforms adjacent to the exit/add fare vendors.

Section drawing of my design of the metrorail station at Dulles Airport.

In the FEIS the future land side AiroTrain station is located between the terminal building and the metrorail station, see FEIS, Volume V, Chapter 4 Dulles Airport page 6 (3.29 MB PDF file). It is at a deeper elevation and several feet north of the metrorail station in the drawing at

by Sand Box John on Aug 15, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

@Sand Box John

I understand the logic behind the split platforms, but I see two problems - one is that this assumes directionality - i.e. that most departing passengers (that is, metro riders looking for departing flights) will be coming to the airport from DC. With the fact that the line extends further into Loudoun County, I'm not sure that's a great assumption.

The other is that your design requires passengers to walk across several lanes of traffic for the pickup and dropoff areas. You'd need some serious traffic calming to make that work, as those kinds of airport drop-off lanes are usually quite anarchic. Most airports I'm aware of look to eliminate those kinds of grade crossings whenever they can, in order to speed the dropping off of passengers.

by Alex B. on Aug 15, 2010 4:30 pm • linkreport

The reasoning behind my split level platforms configuration is to completely eliminate the need for elevators escalators and stairs between the fare collection area and the trains. One discharges the trains, passes through the faregates, crosses the vehicle roadway and enters the main terminal building.

I agree with Alex. I think a split-level design could be great, but you can't have all of the users walking across the roadway. Both weather and traffic concerns make this a bad idea.

by David desJardins on Aug 15, 2010 5:06 pm • linkreport

@Alex B. and David desJardins:
I donÂ’t see the elements as being that big of an issue. The folks arriving and departing the airport using those roadways are subject to same elements. We all have to go out into the elements to conduct are daily lives every day.

As to crossing the roadway. The traffic on roadways in front of the terminal are not moving at that great a speed. The crossings for the platform entrances would be no different then a signal controlled crossings at any downtown DC intersection and traffic is coming from only one direction.

My concept would cheaper and closer then any of the stations in subway proposals. Reduction of tunnel length compared to FEIS is roughly 3,100'. FEIS tunnel length is roughly 17,730'. Assuming MWAA locates the tunnel portal for the new station location in the same location as in the FEIS plans the total length of the tunnels would be roughly 15,080'. My plan uses no deep bored tunnels.

by Sand Box John on Aug 15, 2010 10:56 pm • linkreport

On one of the documents linked to on the plans for the Dulles AeroTrain, the date of completion was listed as July 2009.

Umm, I assume they are way behind schedule? Does anyone know when the new projected completion date for the Aerotrains is?

by Stefan Sittig on Aug 16, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

I assume "completion of the Aerotrain" depends on building a new Terminal C above the current location of the Aerotrain Terminal C station stop.

As for the completion of the new Terminal C, how about never? Does never work for you?

by Trulee Pist on Aug 16, 2010 2:43 pm • linkreport

@Stefan Sittig:
The Aerotrain is already open.

by Matt Johnson on Aug 16, 2010 2:43 pm • linkreport

Ooo I didn't realise that finally finished... that ought to be a welcome alternative to riding the Sharkbus.

by Bossi on Aug 16, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B. "You're right that no airport would ever site their auto drop off location 600' from the terminal, but no airport would be in a position to add their first auto-drop off to the design 40 years after the airport opened, either. "

This is precisely why the terminal should be placed underground and adjacent to the terminal. Consider it an "infill" of sorts.

@Reza and @Steve O have is righto n the money. Don't short-change another metro project. Do it right the first time -- even if it costs more now!

by John on Mar 22, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

The Loudoun County Supervisors' objection is actually bogus.

One very confusing part of this debacle was inadvertently clarified on WAMU's "Metro Connection" programme.

The obvious question was why the above-ground station cannot be adjacent the terminal, as at PHL and DCA (okay, DCA was by accident). The reason is that the Loudoun County
Supervisors want to say they oppose the underground funding but still support the underground option.

By pretending to agree that the above-ground station must be placed at a less convenient place, the Loudoun County Supervisors can claim to support the above-ground alternative but promote an unreasonable alternative. Then they can tell taxpayers that they made a "sincere" effort.

This is bovine scatology.

The realistic alternatives are:

The underground alignment built above-ground
A direct connection with the Dulles "Aerotrain" at the Metro station.
~~ or better yet...
An above-ground alignment built closer to the terminal than the proposed underground alignment.

One problem I am not addressing - a rail station close to the terminal will harm the overwhelming breathtaking beauty of the Dulles.

by Stan P. on Apr 30, 2011 8:22 am • linkreport

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