The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


How would Dulles's rail compare to European airports?

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board is still trying to decide whether to spend more money to build an underground Silver Line station close to the Dulles terminal, or to instead choose an elevated station near the parking garage. How will this ultimately compare to other major airport rail connections?

Photo by nico h on Flickr.

The elevated station would be 600 feet farther from the terminal. Passengers would have to descend to the underground tunnel, where a moving walkway connects the parking garage to the main terminal.

Local officials in Northern Virginia have been pushing the elevated option to save $240-320 million, but Metro Board members worry that the cheaper option would bring in lower revenue in perpetuity.

How would Dulles with or without the extra moving walkway trip compare to other similar airports? Dulles will surely be compared to major European international airports, like Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, and Frankfurt, which connect to their major urban rail transit systems.

Smaller airports like National serve a different market, and many major US international airports have far worse or no rail connections. JFK, for instance, requires taking a whole separate train to the subway or commuter rail.

Dulles, however, also requires a train, only inside. Sadly, the poor design of Dulles, centralizing everything into a single terminal which forces passengers to take a second long trip after a long security line, makes flying there fairly unpleasant. How many people will be deterred by the extra unpleasantness of the walkway to the parking garage?

Have you used the rail connections at Heathrow, de Gaulle, Frankfurt and other major international airports? What was your experience like? What was good and bad? And how does it compare to Dulles, whether with or without the extra moving walkway?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

Pretty long walk in Heathrow to the Tube, actually. All inside and underground, but I remember a pretty long lug with some hefty luggage when there last spring. definitely more than 600 feet.

by whiteknuckled on Mar 21, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

The connection at Charles de Gaulle also requires a bus transfer if you arrive at certain terminals.

by mch on Mar 21, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

Personally, I don't really care one way or another. Considering all the walking around an airport when traveling, and extra couple hundred feet isn't a big deal. I'd prefer to see it closer, but am not married to the idea.
A bigger downside to me is how long it will take for the metro to get out there. I hope there are some express train options. It's going to be 25+ stops from most Maryland metro stations and will likely take 90+ minutes to get there once you're on the metro. If the concern is convenience for passengers, that needs to be addressed. Does anyone have any information on this?

by Pat on Mar 21, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

Kastrup (Copenhagen) is pretty good.
To me 600 feet is not that far. I did a quick & dirty google earth on DCA and in a shortest/best case scenario you might be lucky to get a trip from an exit gate to the metro faregate in less than 750 ft.

by spookiness on Mar 21, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

Once the internal Dulles train is up and running and new C/D gates are built, I don't see what the problem is with Dulles.

New airports all make use of that same arrangement of midfield concourses where space permits (Atlanta and Denver are examples) because it is far more efficient from an airport operations perspective.

I'd also disagree that with the notion that a fairly long trip is required after security. Any airport of that size with that many gates is going to require some travel on foot to get from security to your gate. In short, I don't think it's poor design at all. If Dulles were exactly the same as it is now but had been built with the AeroTrain from the start instead of the mobile lounges, this wouldn't be a topic of discussion.

by Alex B. on Mar 21, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

Using an elevated platform in the dead of winter would be a terrible experience compared to Heathrow, where one can board an express train to Paddington Station (comparable to Union Station) for $15 pound (comparable to Amtrak from BWI).

Major design fail in terms of lack of third track for express trains to Rosslyn at the very least. Once again, Metro making the worst of a good situation.

by Redline SOS on Mar 21, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

The S Bahn stop for the new Munich Airport (MUC) is located within a commercial zone at the center of the new terminal--a very short walk from the baggage claim areas.

by JP on Mar 21, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

@Pat, the line is being built with only two tracks, so express service that "bypasses" other, slower trains would be nearly impossible.

(It's not totally impossible, because short "pocket track" spurs could be built allowing passing, even with just two tracks, but it would be an operational nightmare.)

I'm surprised many Maryland travellers would head to Dulles anyway, rather than the cheaper (and, for most of them, closer) BWI.

Right now the $6/each-way express 5A bus takes about an hour to get from Dulles to Rosslyn or L'Enfant Plaza. If the projected Metro times aren't competitive, I wonder if they'll keep the express bus.

by Joey on Mar 21, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

Comparing Dulles to major airports like Heathrow, Frankfurt or CDG is silly. It isn't a big airport in terms of traffic.

More like BRU or VIE. CPH is also relevant.

The best option would be a dedicated airport bus to downtown. Oh, wait, we used to have that until the 5A killed the Wash Flyer.

A commuter rail would then be the best second bet.

But again, I'd just stop Phase II right now, don't worry about rail-to-Dulles and keep it at Rail-to-Wiehle. It was never about airport traffic, anyway.

by charlie on Mar 21, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

Dulles has the potential to become like Schiphol

by Kevin Beekman on Mar 21, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

What about SFO? It seems like it takes forever to get to BART, including riding the internal rail system.

by Lou on Mar 21, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

My experiences with trains-to/from-airports:

Gatwick- They have a special direct train from central London to Gatwick. I remember one particular stretch where I had to haul my semester's-worth of clothes and books a hundred feet or so. But it was not that bad.

Vienna- Another direct train. It departed almostly directly next to the luggage carousel. Awesome service. It took a little effort to orient ourselves once we arrived, but the destination is pretty central, even if it's not a full train station.

But I'm surprised you didn't mention O'Hare, which is probably the best conparison to the Silver Line. It's a true subway with about as many stops from airport to city center that the Silver Line will. I recently went there for the first time. The walk from the gate to the CTA stop was brutal. It was at least a mile. But once I got there, it was fine. I believe they always have one train waiting, so you can get in and sit down while you wait to leave. Even with the long walk, and the endless ride, people still recommended to me that I should take the subway. Riding it you can see why. It goes right down the center of the highway (also like the Silver Line) and even at 7:00 in the morning, there was killer traffic, in both directions.

by TM on Mar 21, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

I regularly use the Heathrow Express trains between that airport and Paddington Station in London. It's a fantastic bit of infrastructure, and I wish airports in the United States had anything close to it. You're in the middle of London, with connections to 3-4 Tube lines, in less than 20 minutes, with no stops between Heathrow and the city.

Even Paris doesn't have the same capabilities -- there, you have to take the RER, which, while faster than a Metro connection would be, isn't as fast as an express train.

The key is express trains that serve that single purpose. I don't know of a U.S. city that has anything similar. Chicago's blue line goes to O'Hare (and Midway is similarly connected to the El), but it's pretty slow going with many stops; it's a normal subway line. New York doesn't have anything like it.

by Edward Hoover on Mar 21, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

I'd have to disagree with the comment above that Dulles could become a major airport like Schiphol. I'm not sure that Dulles could ever be as big as JFK or Atlanta or O'Hare, because it isn't as big and flying into Dulles will always be extra difficult because of all the airspace restrictions so close nearby.

This will be way better than SeaTac, which just opened up a light rail link a year ago. That link was actually quite annoying, because you have to walk through parking garages A, B, C, and D to get to the trains and there are no moving walkways. It is well signed but parking garages are such ugly structures that it puts you in a grumpy mood by the time you get to the trains. Thankfully I found this out when I landed and knew to plan for that extra walking time when I flew home. In contrast, Dulles' plans don't sound bad to me at all.

If Metro is really going to save ~$300 million by building the station aerially that sounds like a no-brainer to me.

by Marc on Mar 21, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

My only personal experience is with Paris-CDG. It is connected to central Paris via the RER, which is a commuter rail with subway-type headways, around 10 minutes between trains during the day.

The stop for Terminal 1 (which I used) requires a short monorail type ride to the terminal, maybe 3-4 minutes. The stop for Terminal 2 drops you below a monstrous set of connected concourses, requiring quite a bit of walking. This is probably pretty similar to what passengers at Dulles will experience.

These types of signs are great, because they help set expectations. They would be a great idea for Dulles.

by Ed on Mar 21, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

Not sure why one needs to automatically jump to Europe for comparisons.

SFO is decently connected via BART. It arrives at the International Terminal, but for those of us arriving on Virgin from Dulles, that's just great! Also a long trip from the other side of the urban core, but still better in many ways than driving. Especially with gas over $4 in California.

Although it's been a while, I recall that O'Hare is very well connected to the El. Short walk from the baggage claim. As always, a long trip into town but I can remember passing major traffic jams along the way. And it's cheaper than a cab.

I remember visiting DC in '93, before the new terminal at DCA was built. It was quite a walk, outdoors, from the Metro station to the old terminal. Definitely discouraging in the summer heat. (The other thing that sticks out from that memory was how quiet and sleepy I remember the airport being....)
I think this is key. As long as the new Dulles station is connected via an indoor walkway to the terminal, it won't matter much since the marginal change in time is small compared to the total time investment in getting from your home / office / etc to the airport in the first place.

by Josh S on Mar 21, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

I think there's a psychological aspect to what the environment of that 600 feet (or whatever) of walking is like. The walk from the Seattle airport to the new light rail station goes through a parking garage, and is very confusing and unwelcoming as a result -- it can be easy to lose the thread of exactly where you're going. This is a less welcoming walk than one of similar length down a dedicated passageway would be.

by jfruh on Mar 21, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

I took the ICE to Frankfurt and it was quite the hike from the station to terminal. Judging from Google maps the distance from station to terminal is around 600ft. Of course the walk was indoor and covered; don’t remember if it had moving walkways. The regional Ban station was much closer, I say around 200ft from the terminal.

by RJ on Mar 21, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

Copenhagen (CPH) actually has two rail options, the automated metro which one of the posters mentioned and the regional / national / international service that operates a few feet closer to the terminal.

Metro should consider skip-stop service for the silver line in the morning peak toward the airport, bypassing several stations outside of the core. That's what they do for the RER in Paris to CGD and they do it in sections with only two tracks.

For an apples to apples comparison, San Francisco may be a more appropriate airport. BART has to make an unusual turn into the airport but it has similar 2 track limitations.

by Randall M. on Mar 21, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

Amsterdam Schiphol (Europe's 5th airport, 15th in the world, and a major hub) has a 6 track heavy rail train station directly under the arrival and departure terminal. You literally have to walk around the escalators to the trains when not taking them.

From the Schiphol station most Dutch cities can be reached without or with only one change of trains. High-speed service to Amsterdam (useless for the small distance), Rotterdam, Belgium (connecting to London via the Chunnel) and France is being ramped up. There's even an odd train to Berlin. Trains to Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht go all night long.

Trains to Amsterdam leave every couple of minutes. Trains to other places mostly twice an hour.

The railway station was expended about 10 years ago to allow for more tracks, making Schiphol a major hub in the railway system. KLM tickets double as a free railway ticket on the day of flights. This all to alleviate the congestion around Amsterdam.

There are also a dozen or so bus lines to neighboring cities and village, including night buses.

Parking is €6,50 per day, and short-term parking €4/h.

Brussels Zaventem Airport (much smaller than Amsterdam) also has a railway station under the main terminal. Three times a hour a train goes to Brussels, and there are decent connections to other cities in Belgium. There is also local bus service to the immediate surrounding area. Brussels also has a bike lane to the terminal and bike parking. Parking rates are confusing.

Personally, I love Schiphol (like DCA, SFO and DEN). It is a clean, well maintained airport with - I can't believe I am saying this - decent shopping and food. Pricey, but you get value for your money. The only problem is the size: It's f-ing huge, lines can be long and terminals feel like they're in another country, so far away. Luggage also takes forever to arrive.

The railway station is great. Used is many times. Passing through, changing trains and actually getting off or on.

Brussels is old and run down. Brussels suffers from the jurisdictional BS we have here, with local, regional, Flemish, Walloon, national and EU governments all trying to not spend a dime too much on anything. Kinda sad, because it could be a nice easy to navigate medium size airport. Now it's a disorganized permanently under construction medium size airport. I end up there too often because my Dutch home is closer to BRU than AMS :-(

by Jasper on Mar 21, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

I was very impressed with Frankfurt. I hopped on a high speed train near Bonn & was at the Frankfurt airport in 45 minutes (it is a two hour drive by car. When you get off the train, you can immediately check your bags and get your boarding pass, so you don't have to schlepp them through the airport.

by Brett Bobley on Mar 21, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

Brussels offers a very efficient rail connection. You simply need to take an escalator after arriving to enter the train station where you can head to Brussels, Leuven, or (soon) Antwerp. Granted, this is the national rail network, not a subway system. Trains come frequent enough that you generally don't have to wait more than 15 minutes to Brussels.

by Max on Mar 21, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

I used to measure the distance of a typical passenger from where the proposed (further) station will be located, inside to around where the United check-in area is, and back and down to the security checkpoint. Not including escalator/elevator rides it is about 0.4 miles.

From the closer location. It is a 0.25 mile walk. That's about an extra 2-3 minutes walking between the two stations.

by Ed on Mar 21, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

Alex, I agree. Once AeroTrain is complete and the new terminals are all up and running, Dulles will be a fairly typical airport in terms of layout. I don't see any reason to call it "poor."

As for an additional 600 feet on moving walkways, that's pretty much negligible compared to all the walking entailed in most airports. If memory serves correctly, aren't Metro platforms themselves 600 feet? So just think of it as making a transfer at Gallery Place.

As for other airports, I can tell you that the walk to catch the Tube at Heathrow feels eternal. And then the Picadilly line takes 50-60 minutes to get to Central London. Sure, the Heathrow Express is faster, but it's much more expensive (nearly $30 one way from a ticket machine) and drops you in Paddington where you have to transfer to the Tube.

Of course I'd love an underground Dulles station, but I could deal with aboveground if it's designed well. By that I mean I'd like to see some warm waiting rooms for winter and some serious shade in summer. With the cost savings they expect, that shouldn't be too much to ask for.

by Matt on Mar 21, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

Chicago - Takes forever to get to downtown but the rail connection in the airport is not that bad. could be better though. This is probably what Dulles will be like after the silver line is complete.

Frankfut - A total breeze. Ditto Schipol.

Standstead - Probably Dulles' equivalent in Europe/UK, in my opinion. They have a fast commuter train connecting the airport to downtown, with only one or two stops. It is excellent.

Ditto for Kuala Lumpur, which has a fast train connecting the airport to the bus/train station just outside of the downtown core.

by JTS on Mar 21, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

@ several: Dulles will never be like Schiphol. Nobody owns the place, so nobody is willing to pay for it and make it pretty. Just like Brussels.

Schiphol is *The Dutch National Airport*. Until KLM was bought by Air France, KLM was a company of national pride like say Google, IBM and Coca-Cola in the US. The national government used to own the place, now it's shared with Amterdam, I believe.

Locally, Reagan is much more like Schiphol. Our gentle overlords from Congress fly from there and treat it well.

Oh, also: In Heathrow, there's quite a walk to the metro, and the metro takes for freakin'-ever to get to London. I've never taken the direct train to London because I'm cheap. The same goes for O'Hare.

by Jasper on Mar 21, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

To finance the underground station option, a Metro fare airport surcharge for both Reagan National and Dulles (future) should be implemented. A $2 or $3 per trip surcharge will bring in more than $500 million over 20 years.

At 25,000 trips per day (both airports), a $3 surcharge will produce $547,500,000 in revenue over 20 years; a $2 surcharge at the same level of ridership and time period, $365,000,000.

At 20,000 trips per day (both airports), the $3 surcharge will accrue $438,000,000 over 20 years; the $2 surcharge, $292,000,000.

Other options to raise construction funds could include a surcharge on taxi fares. Hikes in bus fares to Dulles need to be evaluated as well. There could also be a modest toll ($1-3) for vehicles accessing the Dulles terminal to drop off and pick-up travelers. Why not? People already pay to park. Why should travelers continue to drive up to the terminal for free? Everyone else is paying to reach the airport, shouldn't those in personal vehicles do likewise?

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

I can't remember how far a walk it is from the terminal to the train in Gatwick, but it was a breeze to get to. Same with Frankfurt. The only connection from DeGaulle, on the other hand, is a one way ticket to kidnapping and sexual servitude at the hands of Alabanian organized crime.

by aaa on Mar 21, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

IAD is #21 in US Traffic just behind LGA, SEA and BOS and just above SLC, HNL and FLL in passenger traffic. 11,045,217passengers/year

IAD is most comparable in terms of traffic to European airports of Málaga Airport (Barcelona, Spain,12,064,616), Geneva (Switzerland 11,785,522) and Cologne Bonn Airport (Germany, 9,849,779)

by RJ on Mar 21, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

I agree that O'Hare makes for a useful comparison, and I think Metro to Dulles would hold up well. At ORD, you've got an exceedingly long walk down multiple corridors; at IAD with the elevated station, it would be one moving walkway without any intermediate stops or turns before arriving at the main terminal. (FWIW, I'd like to see any such moving walkway get an artistic treatment like the animated neon sculpture in the walkway between the two United terminals.)

SFO also has a direct connection to the city's heavy-rail system, but the design there is conceptually flawed. Only one in three BART trains headed south of San Francisco stop at SFO, and those that do deposit you in the International Terminal. It's not a long walk to terminals 3 and 1, but the signage herds everybody onto the airtrain instead.

As for European airports I've been to anytime recently:

* AMS has an intercity rail station in the basement of the main terminal. No beating that.

* Vienna (VIE) and Munich (MUC) place commuter-rail access a short walk away; at the latter, it involved going outside. (This was in 2006; things could have changed since.)

* We had a long hike to the train in Rome (FCO) and a short walk from it in Milan (MXP) back in 2003.

- RP

by Rob Pegoraro on Mar 21, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

I can't honestly see this being a huge problem for most people. This added 600 feet isn't enough to convince me to take the unreliable bus or an expensive taxi. As for trying a different airport, I think that airfare is by far the real deciding factor.

by DC Driver on Mar 21, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

@Ed, "These types of signs are great, because they help set expectations. They would be a great idea for Dulles."

Ahhh . . . Frutiger.

@Randall M, "Metro should consider skip-stop service for the silver line in the morning peak toward the airport, bypassing several stations outside of the core."

That's not actually a bad idea in either direction for the stops that are primarily park-and-ride or less trafficked. 3 to 5 minutes could probably be saved by alternate trains skipping 1 station each in the following pairs: Virginia Square/East Falls Church and Wiehle/Herndon-Monroe after Phase II opens.

Of course explaining this in signage might be difficult. And no Frutiger to boot.

by Joey on Mar 21, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

If we're talking London, I'd wager the walk is less, and the ride far more enjoyable, than that brutal Picadilly line trek from London. When I lived on the east side of central London (Mile End Rd), it was something like an hour and a half trip, with transfers. The express is nice, but incredibly pricey, as someone above pointed out. And Dulles isn't a major international hub, so it's probably more in line with Gatwick or Stansted (I'll give it enough credit to be more important than Luton). Both of those airports have rail lines with express trains that are much more expensive (which also takes something like 30 minutes to Gatwick and 45 for Stansted), or slower local trains that eat up most of your day. I'd say Dulles would compare pretty favorably if there was some sort of Express option on the Metro, but as to how that'd ever be possible, I don't know.

by Sebastian Dangerfield on Mar 21, 2011 2:59 pm • linkreport

Osaka Kansai (on an artificial island in the bay there): Fantastic airport with many bus lines in front of it. I remember some nice Japanese tourist aid girl helping me to buy a ticket from the machine to Nara. Don't remember much else, as I was near comatose after 24h or traveling. I believe there are rail connections as well.

Stockholm Arlanda has a fast train straight from Stockholm central station. Nice, clean and fast.

Rome Leonardo da Vince has coach service. Cheap and slow.
London Stansted has coach service. Cheap and slow. There is also rail service, but I did not use that.

by Jasper on Mar 21, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

Stockholm's airport has a rail connection directly underneath the terminal. All you do is take an elevator down directly to the platform. There are ticket machines by the elevator before you descend. Wicked convenient.

by Steve O on Mar 21, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

WMATA higher ups have been strongly pushing for an underground station as near to the terminal as possible. Why? Because of what happened at Reagan National. Initially, when the Metro station was built at Reagan National, it was quite far from the terminal. It was not popular with travelers. When the new terminal was constructed adjacent to the station, ridership boomed. It's a simple as that.

If the Dulles station is built 600 feet from the terminal, there's a good chance it will be underutilized. Consider for a moment travelers for international flights with heavy bags. Are they going to slog those bags up and down escalators and along a 600 moving passageway? Some may. But many others may not. In the long run, Dulles (and travelers) will be much better off with a Metro station close to the terminal.

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

The Gatwick Express (Gatwick-to-London Victoria nonstop train) actually takes about the same length of time as the normal stopping train that runs from Gatwick to London Bridge -- and the latter costs less and takes you to a station that actually has elevators to the Tube, unlike Victoria which is a nightmare to navigate with luggage of any size. There's no real difference between the two. It's an easy way to fleece tourists out of a few extra pounds; the 'nonstop service' is really just a marketing ploy.

by SG on Mar 21, 2011 3:06 pm • linkreport

@ DC driver: This added 600 feet isn't enough to convince me to take the unreliable bus or an expensive taxi.

I assume you won't mind either when the pick-up/drop-off zone gets moved 600 ft to allow the trains straight in front of the terminal where the cars are now?

by Jasper on Mar 21, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

If they decide to build the station above ground at the more distant location, it should include high-speed elevators directly from the platform to the walkway level, larger faregates to accommodate luggage (instead of one larger handicap faregate). If it's further away AND looks like the station at National it will be a disaster.

by MLD on Mar 21, 2011 3:13 pm • linkreport

The Vienna City Airport Train (CAT) is fantastic. Direct train with no stops. Departs every 30 minutes and takes one from the airport to central Vienna (or the reverse) in 16 minutes or so. It really is fantastic.

I realize that the Silver Line is doing double duty. Really, it is providing a transit option for Tysons and Reston rather than an airport train. A direct train makes the trip a hundred times better.

by Eric H. on Mar 21, 2011 3:16 pm • linkreport

O'Hare is not a bad comparison (a bit of a walk, direct downtown connection that takes a while but beats traffic), but O'Hare's stop is entirely underground, which makes the walk air-conditioned or heated all the way, and thus pleasant.

by EJ on Mar 21, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

When looking at airport passenger statistics, both enplanements and deplanements must be taken into account.

In 2010, Dulles had 23,741,603 total passengers. Of these, 6,382,920 were international, 17,358,679 domestic.

The following will provide a sense of the growth at Dulles:

1980 2,624,398 (total passengers)
1990 10,438,089
2000 20,104,693
2010 23,741,603

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

The best comparison with Heathrow and Silver Line to Dulles would be the London Underground's Piccadilly line, which takes about 45 minutes from the airport to Central London. Depending on your location inside Heathrow, the walk to the Piccadilly Line station varies from easy to a bit of at trek.

The Heathrow Express train is more of a commuter rail system that is most comparable to taking Amtrak or MARC service between BWI and Union Station. A similar VRE express from Dulles to Union station would be great, but doesn't seem likely.

by Mark on Mar 21, 2011 3:29 pm • linkreport

At Tokyo's Narita airport, the Keisei line is stationed in the terminal. It's wonderful to collect your bags, then almost immediately jump on the train. With the express Skyliner, passengers can reach central Tokyo (Ueno or Nippori) in 36 minutes. There's also the Cityliner, which has many stops along the way. It takes about an hour to reach Ueno (a major transit hub), but costs only about $20 one-way.

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 3:40 pm • linkreport

Probably in a league of its own but Hong Kong's Airport has an express train service that departs every 12 min. The platform was designed right into the new airport terminal. If memory serves me right the train arrival and departure platforms are on different levels so that they line up with the departures and arrivals hall. Oh and you can check in for your flight at the central station.

by WTH on Mar 21, 2011 3:43 pm • linkreport

Here's a link that provides more info about the Tokyo-Narita Keisei Line:

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper I assume you won't mind either when the pick-up/drop-off zone gets moved 600 ft to allow the trains straight in front of the terminal where the cars are now?

I don't see how that makes the 600 feet for the metro less attractive.

@ Anon If the Dulles station is built 600 feet from the terminal, there's a good chance it will be underutilized. Consider for a moment travelers for international flights with heavy bags. Are they going to slog those bags up and down escalators and along a 600 moving passageway? Some may. But many others may not. In the long run, Dulles (and travelers) will be much better off with a Metro station close to the terminal.

I don't think this is a fair comparison. A cab ride to National is fairly affordable and quick. I know people who still cab anyways when they have a lot of luggage or are late. At Dulles, the alternatives are all equally unpleasant for people with big bags or pretty expensive (not to mention likely slower in all but the best traffic conditions).

by DC Driver on Mar 21, 2011 3:49 pm • linkreport

First, Dulles is actually designed like most contemporary passengers airports - Atlanta, Denver, Heathrow T5, etc - so I would not say it has a "poor design".

That said, I think the biggest deterant to people considering transit to Dulles versus a taxi/driving will be the number of stops a ride between downtown DC and the airport will require (15 from Foggy Bottom) and not the distance between the station and the terminal but. The best airport rail connections offer an express service for a price, such as the Heathrow Express, Hong Kong's Airport Express, the Narita Express, etc. Personally, the extra 600ft with moving walkways wouldn't even factor into my choice of mode.

by Ned on Mar 21, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the info. BWI is a great airport but has practically no international service and limited service to many major US cities (LA, SFran, Miami, Dallas). Then you're faced with the option of transferring somewhere or driving to Dulles for a nonstop flight. Dulles is the truly primary airport for the Greater Washington region. It's great that it will be served by rail but that rail will only really be practical for people already on the Rosslyn/Tysons/Dulles corridor.

by Pat on Mar 21, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

While on a layover at Barajas, we took the Metro into the city and it was a long walk from the international terminal, with numerous corridors, turns, etc. Maybe a quarter mile or more -- much longer than 600 feet.

600 feet for a savings of $300 million? Seems like a no-brainer, especially if they can add moving walkways. Right now people willingly pay $17/day to park in Daily Garage 1 at Dulles, which must be about 600 feet away from the terminal and is linked via a moving walkway.

by Eric S. on Mar 21, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

Hey folks, here's a tip: it takes a long time to get from Dulles to D.C. anyway, and it always will, because it actually is a long way from the city.

I've flown into Shanghai's state-of-the-art airport and taken the 380+km/hr maglev train from there. The high speed doesn't change that it drops you off about half an hour from the city.

Heathrow? Give me a break; just getting from the gates to the terminal takes a good 20 minutes on moving walkways.

There's nothing difficult about descending from an elevated platform into the same system that feeds the Daily Garage into the Dulles terminal.

by Jamie on Mar 21, 2011 4:00 pm • linkreport

Paying the interest on $320M, will cost between $40,000 and $50,000 a day by my rough estimate. I'm not sure how many people are planning to take the Metro to Dulles, but total daily ridership is estimated at 75,000. I'd be surprised if half of them are going to/from the airport, but let's say they are. If you wanted to capture the cost you'd have to add ~$1.20 to the cost of a fare. That's a very expensive 600 feet. Would you pay $1.20 to be 600 feet closer?
I'm all for building a world-class metro system, but I have to wonder if we can find a better use of this money?

BTW, if I use the lower estimate and cut the interest in half it comes out to more like $0.60 per trip, which may be worth it.

Regardless, I think whatever the cost, it should be added as an airport surcharge with enough revenue to pay off the bonds in 50 years or so.

by David C on Mar 21, 2011 4:02 pm • linkreport

"Comparing Dulles to major airports like Heathrow, Frankfurt or CDG is silly. It isn't a big airport in terms of traffic. "

What really matters more than the passenger traffic of the airport is whether people are using the system to navigate around the region. If they're primarily using the airport to make connecting flights, then the configuration of the rail connection is not that relevant.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson has much more traffic than any of Heathrow, Frankfurt or CDG and has an above-ground connection to Marta. Getting into central Atlanta takes about 35-45 minutes, which is longer than it takes to drive at a typical non-rush hour. I've used the connection to Marta more times than I can count, but I've also driven to and from the airport. Whether the connection is above-ground or below ground makes no difference to me.

by Scoot on Mar 21, 2011 4:18 pm • linkreport

"IAD is #21 in US Traffic just behind LGA, SEA and BOS and just above SLC, HNL and FLL in passenger traffic. 11,045,217passengers/year "

I have not been able to locate figures that omit transit passengers. If you look at the top airports, most of them are significant hubs (e.g., Atlanta, O'Hare, Frankfurt, Heathrow), which Dulles is not to nearly the same degree. What matters is not total passengers, but those for whom the airport is a starting point or ending point.

by ah on Mar 21, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

My experiences:

Brussels: Ridiculously easy. My friend and I had a 3-hour layover, and were able to spend 1.5 hours of it downtown with zero advance planning.

Zurich: Clean and efficient, just like you'd expect. If I remember right, the station is basically underneath your feet once you clear baggage. We got all the way to Italy on just one transfer.

Rome: The station was ugly, but it's also idiot-proof, since it's at the end of the line, and the city end of the ride is at an isolated part of the main station, so it's very easy to find again on your way back home.

by tom veil on Mar 21, 2011 4:22 pm • linkreport

I concur with the person above that said to scrap Phase 2 altogether. End the line in Reston and run a 5A-like bus or dedicated lane BRT to the airport. Since it is much closer than Rosslyn, you can run them more often.

The only large international airports that I've been to are Heathrow and FCO in Rome. I used the Heathrow Express, as other posters have mentioned, and it was fantastic. But I would never use the Piccadilly line, which is closer to what WMATA is doing. It would take forever.

FCO was worse, IMO. I used the Leonardo Express to get to Rome, but I recall walking a lot to get to it.

Express or nothing is what I say.

by Sam on Mar 21, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

As was mentioned before, 600ft is the length of a standard metrorail platform (75ft length car x 8 = 600ft) In the grand scheme of things, walking your luggage the full length of a metro platform is not much of a disincentive. The larger problem is the number of stops between Dulles and central DC.

by Merarch on Mar 21, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

I forgot about Madrid. They put a lot of money into expanding the subway and improving the airport, but it still takes a long time to get downtown from the airport. If you want to get anywhere in Madrid, you really have to transfer, maybe transfer twice because the airport line ends pretty far out. Perhaps IAD will be a good analogue? That being said, I believe they are building a Cercanias (commuter rail) line to the airport soon, so that should cut down on the commute.

In reference to the comment that Dulles is not a major hub: It actually is a big hub. It certainly isn't Atlanta or O'Hare, but it's United's third largest hub and serves quite a lot of origin and destination passengers. If you only look at origin and destination passengers, Dulles is actually ranked quite high, which means that most of the people using Dulles have to commute to or from the airport. Atlanta, on the other hand, has a lot of connecting passengers, meaning they don't even have to leave the airport while there.

by Max on Mar 21, 2011 4:42 pm • linkreport

The red lines on this map I made would allow for an express ride from Union Station to Dulles (or you could put several intermediary stops if you wish).

by NikolasM on Mar 21, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

I find the number of people who say they wouldn't use the Heathrow Picadilly line interesting. Keep in mind that this line serves a huge and densely populated swath of West London. It might not be where most visitors are going, but for locals, it's extremely useful. We visited my wife's cousin when he lived near the Turnham Green tube station and the Picadilly Line was by far the most useful connection for us -- certainly would have bee faster than taking the Express into the center of town and then switching to the Tube there -- and many London residents are I'm sure in the same boat.

The Silver Line, by contrast, will not be going through such densely populated territory.

by jfruh on Mar 21, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

To provide a brief update, the MWAA board has already eliminated two station options: (1) an above ground station adjacent to the terminal and (2) an underground station directly under the terminal.

The two remaining station placement options are (1) a above ground station located at the rear of the daily parking lot and (2) an underground station placed underneath the daily parking lot near the terminal.

For those who think the above ground option 600 feet from the terminal is the way to proceed, please take a moment to reconsider. Once the Dulles station is built in either of the two locations, it's going to be there for a very, very long time. Most people, in particular frequent flyers, value convenience to ease of unpleasantries of travel. Ease of travel is the key here and is of vital importance.

If the above ground station is built and then underutilized, it will undoubtedly be a hugh waste of money and an opportunity lost. This needs to be done right the first time. What if Smithsonian station was located 600 feet from the Mall? Would it be used to the extent it is now? Hardly. In addition, there is weather to take into account with an outside station. Why risk building a station that may or may not popular with travelers? Ridership statistics from Reagan National clearly showed that station location mattered.

Yes, an additional $300 million for an underground station is considerable, but, then again, for comparison's sake, the reconstruction of the Route 29 and Linton Hall Road intersection in Prince William County, is budgeted at $267 million. And that's just an intersection, albeit a major one.

If Dulles Airport is to be the prized international airport that is managers and officials wish to see, it is imperative the Metro station be built near the station. To do otherwise is risk constructing an underutilized quasi-white elephant that will take a billion or two to undo.

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 4:49 pm • linkreport

How many of the "it's too expensive" crowd here have actually used a train station anywhere in the world that is located under an airport terminal?

My experience is that the convenience counts. Massively. Seeing is knowing. Americans should know that convenience counts. And it works the other way around as well. If you've never experienced the convenience, you do not know what you're missing.

@ DC driver: @ Jasper I assume you won't mind either when the pick-up/drop-off zone gets moved 600 ft to allow the trains straight in front of the terminal where the cars are now?

I don't see how that makes the 600 feet for the metro less attractive.

You did not answer the question, and I take from that that you would mind the extra 600 ft.

by Jasper on Mar 21, 2011 4:53 pm • linkreport

IAD ranked #32 nationally in O&D (origin & destination) traffic in 2009.

The top 5 are:
1. LAX (Los Angeles)
2. LAS (Las Vegas)
3. MCO (Orlando)
4. ORD (Chicago)
5. ATL (Atlanta)

Dulles actually ranks LAST among the DC area airports for O&D traffic. BWI is #17 and DCA is #23.

by orulz on Mar 21, 2011 4:59 pm • linkreport

I recall that the DCA metro station siting was made with the future intent that an eventual new terminal would be adjacent to the metro station. That is what happened.

by spookiness on Mar 21, 2011 4:59 pm • linkreport

Indeed, that's correct. And passengers were thrilled at the convenience.

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

Anon, the point is not that having the terminal closer wouldn't be more convenient. The question I'm asking is how much is that convenience worth?

If the above ground station is built and then underutilized, it will undoubtedly be a hugh waste of money and an opportunity lost.

What is underutilized? How many fewer travelers do you think the station would have per day at the bad location?

You seem willing to pay $300M to move the station closer. Would you pay $350M? How about $600M? How about $1.2B. IN other words, what is the 600 feet worth? And how did you get that number?

I'm not sure I know, but it seems like a lot of money for 600 feet.

To boil it all down, I'd want to know three things:

1)how many additional riders will that $300M buy you
2)how much is an additional rider worth?
3)and is there a cheaper way to buy that many elsewhere?

If $300M divided by the answer to 1 is more than 2, then we shouldn't do it. If the answer to 3 is "yes" then we shouldn't build it. If neither of those of true, then we should build it. For me, it's that simple.

by David C on Mar 21, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport


Thanks for busting the myth that Dulles Airport was well designed. Try standing in front of the terminal upper level in mid winter when a 40 mph wind is blowing from northern Canada. Maybe Eero Saarinen wanted to remind us of Finland.

Phase 2 Dulles Rail will not be economically or financially feasible for another 10 to 20 years at least. Until then, bus service will be far more cost effective. If Maryland, DC, Alexandria and Arlington residents want rail to Dulles, they should pay for it: $500 million Maryland, $500 million DC, $500 million Alexandria and $500 million Arlington.

A new southside terminal is planned for when total annual passenger volume at Dulles exceeds 35+ million. MWAA has not yet considered the plans, design or added cost for rail connection to the new terminal except via the AeroTrain.

Blame Congressman Connolly for four stops in Tysons. When he was Fairfax County Board Chairman, he insisted on adding a stop for the benefit of his then private employer SAIC.

Express bus service takes under 1 hour from Downtown DC. By contrast, trains with 17 or more stops from Downtown to Dulles will take 1.25 hours. Bus costs are less than one tenth the heavy rail costs and routing is far more flexible.

WMATA's financial mismanagement is the reason that the rail project is being built by MWAA. MWAA doesn't care a hill of beans about cost overruns as they will turn the project over to WMATA at completion. Their plan is to soak Dulles Toll Road users for eternity. How about a $5 toll on the Dulles Access Road and increased parking charges at Reagan and Dulles if MWAA truly wants to promote rail usage?

by Bus Transit Fan on Mar 21, 2011 5:49 pm • linkreport

From recent travels

Brussesl: The easiest I've used. I think the ride was about 45 minutes to the central train station.

Munich: a walk outside approx. 200 feet to a UBahn entrance. No problem except that it's outdoors which could be bad. We had to deal with lots of snow. But we lived. The train ride into town was about an hour. No problems.

Barcelona: A fairly long walk. Also outdoors though covered. It wasn't a problem. Can't remember how long that took.

I think too much is being made of the distance. Especially if there are moving sidewalks. The very ability to ride Metro to Dulles will make the walk easily worth it. And all this talk of "lugging" bags? Doesn't basically everyone have wheeled bags (especially for large bags)? I literally cannot remember the last time I saw someone carry a even a carry-on bag.

by rdhd on Mar 21, 2011 6:02 pm • linkreport

@Bus Transit Fan

Thanks for busting the myth that Dulles Airport was well designed. Try standing in front of the terminal upper level in mid winter when a 40 mph wind is blowing from northern Canada. Maybe Eero Saarinen wanted to remind us of Finland.

What myth? Are you talking architecture, or the physical layout of the airfield itself?

I won't comment on the architecture - we all have our tastes.

On the actual layout of the airport itself, Dulles actually set the bar in many ways. The airport has tons of space to expand. If it hadn't gone with the mobile lounges and instead went with an AeroTrain type system from the beginning, the overall layout of multiple, redundant runways with midfield concourses and plenty of space for expansion is a general concept that set the bar for airport layout.

by Alex B. on Mar 21, 2011 6:23 pm • linkreport

I do not believe Phase II should be built. Too expensive to build, too expensive to operate. They should build BRT from Dulles to both Manassas and Reston. Manassas is actually the key. With VRE/Amtrak, you can get lots of places pretty easily. Taking Metro would be too slow for anything past Rosslyn.

by movement on Mar 21, 2011 6:30 pm • linkreport

I did a study abroad stint in Madrid and frequently took Madrid's metro out to Bajaras airport. It is actually a pretty good example of how the Silver Line would work because they have a number of stops between the airport and the station with connections to the rest of the system. Its a nuisance, but people still use it. Also, depending on which terminal you are flying out of you might have quite a hike to the check-in counter for your airline. Much longer than the 600ft we are talking about here. Either way, people will use the Silver Line to connect to Dulles.

Ultimately, I think there should be more Express Busses running to both BWI and Dulles. If they were easier to use and ran more frequently, I believe a whole lot more people would use them. Right now, figuring out the schedule is a nightmare.

by NewGuy on Mar 21, 2011 6:42 pm • linkreport

@David C: If you wanted to capture the cost you'd have to add ~$1.20 to the cost of a fare. That's a very expensive 600 feet. Would you pay $1.20 to be 600 feet closer?

Well, of course. At an average walking speed of 3 mph, 600 feet is 2.3 minutes. You only have to value your time at $32/hour to make the time worth more than the fare.

The last time this came up, there were a bunch of specious replies along the lines of, supposedly if you are delayed for an hour then the time value matters but if it's only 2 minutes then the delay has no cost at all. That just seems crazy to me.

by David desJardins on Mar 21, 2011 7:53 pm • linkreport

Berlin: Train station at SXF is a decent walk from the terminal under a covered outdoor walkway. No train at TXL.

by alexandrian on Mar 21, 2011 7:58 pm • linkreport

I have taken trains from Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Newark, O'Hare and others.

I also regularly use the tunnel at Dulles that connects the parking with the main terminal (very under utilized, I'm always alone down there).

Sure, it would be nice if the train stops right underneath the main terminal but 600ft really isn't that much in the grander scheme of things. And even though some of the train stations in the airports mentioned above are significantly closer to the terminal than Dulles would be, most of them are also significantly larger than Dulles, which means (as many have stated above) that you have already walked a few miles more than at Dulles.

The 600ft will not discourage me, I would take the train every time. I don't know what the deal is on the parking but maybe it is even better to have the train closer to the parking if it is possible with park&ride for those who live near by.

I think the $300M can be used elsewhere, for example in designing the train station itself. Hopefully they can make a nice station at the airport and not one of those horrible above ground designs they have throughout the system.

by Niklas M on Mar 21, 2011 8:02 pm • linkreport

@ Bus Transit Fan: Phase 2 Dulles Rail will not be economically or financially feasible for another 10 to 20 years at least. Until then, bus service will be far more cost effective.

Sure. Because that toll road there is not feasible either, is it? And all those new buildings and roads are not feasible either. The upgrades of the Fairfax County Parkway near Fair Lakes, Rt-28 and Rt-50 are an utter waste of money. Nobody lives and drives there. There is never a traffic jam on the Greenway to Leesburg because people are completely unwilling to pay for the tolls. Farms are not selling out to (McMansion) developers at all out there.

Or not. Have you ever been there?

The reason for building transit to a region that's booming is the exact same as the reason for building, widening and updgrading roads in that same area: To move people. Also, retrofitting transit into a built area is exceedingly difficult: See Tyson's, see south Fairfax, see Gaithersburg. It is way more efficient to build it ahead of time.

Speaking of that: Why is there no metroline from the Mall to Middleburg along of Rt-50 yet?

by Jasper on Mar 21, 2011 8:37 pm • linkreport

I would think a blog that extols the virtues of bicycling and walking would naturally favor placing the Metro stop two football fields farther from the terminal.

And, considering that some of those bicyclists have been seen pedaling around in snowstorms, they might be less concerned about weather issues surrounding an above ground station.

But I'm not sure I'd want to walk two football fields to stand outdoors in the winter cold or summer heat to wait for a train. For a one or two day trip, I'd drive and park in the covered daily lot.

Flying has become a royal pain in the ass. It seems to me that convenience means more to the average traveler than it does to the generally hearty and civic minded folks on this blog.

If you're going to spend the money to get Metro to Dulles, spend enough to do it right. Make sure the station is enclosed and out of the weather. And make it as easy, pleasant, and convenient to get from the terminal to the train.

by Mike S. on Mar 21, 2011 8:39 pm • linkreport

I really think this argument is ridiculous. A 600 feet walk will deter masses of people? The alternatives are walking at least just as far to the daily garage, riding a bus to the long term lots, paying at least $50 for a taxi fare, or flying to BWI and ride the MARC if possible (very few long distance flights at Reagan). What will deter masses of people is the train ride to downtown that will take like 45 minutes just to Foggy Bottom.

Has anyone been to Crystal City? people walk miles underground to get to VRE & METRO.

by Vance U on Mar 21, 2011 8:40 pm • linkreport

No doubt about it, transportation infrastructure is expensive. The goal of infrastructure is, of course, to facilitate to movement of people and goods from one place to another. But if this movement is hindered for whatever reason, or proves too time consuming or expensive, other options then become more appealing. Therefore, the logical first step when developing infrastructure is to build something that is utilized, and utilized to its optimized level, or near it.

Infrastructure cost is an important factor, as always. Phase I of the Silver Line is budgeted at $2.6 billion, with Phase II coming in at around $3-$3.5 billion, depending on the Dulles station placement and other engineering factors. The Dulles station was originally slated to be positioned underneath the main terminal building, but the additional $600+ million in cost was prohibitive, and the option was axed. The underground station proposal now under consideration is a compromise of sorts, neither being the most expensive option nor the least.

The development of the Silver Line already has seen major cost cutting. The proposed Tysons tunnel and underground stations were dropped, and the route was not brought up into Reston Town Center, where the compact development is ideal for heavy rail transit. (There is to be a Reston Parkway station, to be sure, but it's a good quarter-mile away from RTC.) Now the latest cost saving measure is to place the Dulles station at its least desirable location, far from the terminal. Of the four station placement options (two now discarded), three situated the station near the terminal. There's a very good reason why that was so--to enhance optimal transit usage to and from the airport.

For perspective, let's look back at the decision by WMATA and Arlington officials in the 1970s to run Metro underground along Wilson Blvd. and Fairfax Drive instead of in the median of I-66. What a difference it made. Arlington would be nothing like it is today if the stations were in the middle of I-66. Did it cost more to tunnel and build underground stations? You bet. And a lot more too. But today few would say it wasn't worth it.

So here we are with the Silver Line doing things sort of on the cheap. Compromises have been necessary, to be sure, but they've always been centered around getting the thing built rather than building a transit line that is optimized to serve residents and businesses. Stations in the median of the Toll Road are not ideal. On the plus side, however, dense development in Tysons will eventually sprout up near stations, with the real estate manta being "the closer, the better."

With the Dulles station, though, the manta of some seems to be, the cheaper the better. But a station located a considerable distance from the terminal is not going to be better, for neither the airport nor for travelers. And if the cheaper option is built, there's a good chance it may never meet its optimal service levels as planned. Worse yet, it could morph into a vastly underutilized quasi-white elephant.

Some say 600 feet isn't so far. Well, it isn't really if you're just out for a stroll. But with heavy bags and tight schedules, it's another story. Picture two football fields placed end to end. Then think about lugging two heavy roller bags that distance. There will be a movable walkway, to be sure, but still, a station at that distance is an inconvenience. Inconvenient! Indeed, that's what it will be. Why build airport infrastructure that is, at its core, inconvenient for travelers. That's nothing less than foolish folly. Of sure, some college students and young professionals traveling on the cheap won't mind the trek, but the highly paid, first-class flying businessmen and women of Tysons and RTC may, as may many families with young children in tow.

In today's dollars, $300 doesn't buy a lot of infrastructure. Dulles' own Aerotrain cost $1.2 billion, and the Silver Line may run close to $6 billion. In Maryland, the ICC cost is projected at $2.6 billion. And, as mentioned above in an earlier post, the Gainsville intersection improvement at Route 29 and Linton Hall Road is budgeted at $267 million. Are any of these projects worthy of the money expended to build them? Well, that depends. There's no pat answer. It depends on where you reside and what kind of transportation you use to get around, as well as a myriad of other factors. The region's population continues to steadily grow, however, and people do need to go places as they normally have. Maintaining the region's transportation status quo is not acceptable.

It all comes down to getting from one place to another, as efficiently as possible at reasonable cost. For MWAA and the public, the Dulles outlook needs to stretch to 2040, 2050 and beyond, not just five or ten years out. In 2050, Northern Virginia will be a very different place than it is today. Passenger traffic at Dulles could very well more than double. With this in mind, it behooves MWAA to build the station underground and as near to the terminal as possible. A distant station that's inconvenient in 2020 will only be more problematic in 2050.

Transportation cost benefit analysis is a specialty that I claim no expertise whatsoever. Common sense, however, informs me, as it should the MWAA, that a convenient airport station will, in the long run, be of great benefit to passengers and the airport alike.

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 9:35 pm • linkreport

Anon, you've completely ignored the question of how much less will the Silver line be used with this station farther away. What is the new ridership projection? Until you answer that question, one can't decide if this is the optimized design or not.

by David C on Mar 21, 2011 9:49 pm • linkreport

As I'm neither a cost benefit specialist nor am I privy to ridership projections, it's impossible for me to address your questions to any specificity.

But let's consider for a moment airline passengers in general: they run the whole gamut of society. Many are young but many are not; some have families, some do not; most are healthy, but a few less so; many are fit, yet a good number are, um, large. A lot of travelers, particularly the more robust, won't think twice at a 600 foot jaunt. Others, however, will pause. Consider the old folks and those with young children.

Doesn't common sense inform that a station near the terminal will produce greater ridership numbers than one that's a shuttle-bus ride away? Visit any shopping center and watch people park their vehicles. They almost always park as close to the store and entrance as possible, sometimes circling or waiting for someone to pull out. For whatever reason, a great number of people in this country do not like to walk ... at all.

by Anon on Mar 21, 2011 10:24 pm • linkreport

Doesn't common sense inform that a station near the terminal will produce greater ridership numbers than one that's a shuttle-bus ride away?

Yes it does, but this terminal isn't that far away. And it may only be 10 more people. Is it worth $40000 a day to add 10 riders?

We know the cost, but we don't know the benefit. Total ridership projections for the Silver line is 75,000, so we have a ceiling, and we know the floor is 0. How can you argue one way or the other if you don't know the benefit.

It's like saying I will sell you a house for $200,000 but I won't tell you where the house is or what it looks like. You need a house, so you should buy it right?

by David C on Mar 21, 2011 10:32 pm • linkreport

The post proceeds from a flawed set of comparisons. Although IAD is meant to be the "international gateway", it has become a largely domestic airport. In terms of location, the best domestic comparison would be DFW, which is much larger but was built in the middle of nowhere and recently received light rail.

Airports near existing rail lines have much less awkward set-ups. Cleveland was the first US airport to have rapid transit and it was possible because it was near existing rail (the airport had been around for decades). Newark Airport has similar advantages. The rail service from most retrofits don't have that option--O'Hare's L stop is inconvenient from the United terminals. BART at SFO is inconvenient as noted above. Atlanta's Marta (which takes far less than 30 minutes to downtown; I took it often when I lived there) is an exception. It's very convenient to baggage claim, unfortunately most locals don't use it and many airport workers have no idea where it is.

by Rich on Mar 21, 2011 10:34 pm • linkreport

Anon, just to give an example. Which do you think would add more riders - moving the station 600 feet closer or running the late night service for 100 years? Because that's what it will cost. [Actually, since late night service costs $3M a year, you could put the $300M in T-Bills and pay for the late night service forever with money left over].

For $40,000 a day you could hire 100 large men to carry every passenger piggy back style the 600 feet, and still have money left over.

by David C on Mar 21, 2011 10:43 pm • linkreport

Just flew into Shanghai the other week and took the maglev into town. The walk to the maglev station is fairly long, but that didn't deter me from using it. The Frankfurt Airport ICE station is also a bit of a walk, Heathrow Express is quite convenient though.

by Phil on Mar 21, 2011 11:00 pm • linkreport

@Rich; not sure if I would characterize Dulles so quickly as a "domestic" airport. It is certainly in the top 5 for international arrivals and departures (kennedy,o'hare, newark, and maybe LA). USG traffic and international embassy/IO traffic is probably a larger driver, so it might be more about planes than passengers.

And I won't point out that the flights to California might as well be international!

International travel is different: more expensive, more bags, longer lead times, etc. And a significant part of the international travel is based locally.

Cleveland's RTA to the airport is a well-known failure; when I was there it was a great way to get robbed.

This entire discussion is a bit silly, because a large component of future Dulles station traffic is going to be airport workers. I've said before MWAA has already said an aboveground station is closer to airport officers and other workers -- not people who work in the Terminal building.

by charlie on Mar 21, 2011 11:03 pm • linkreport

@charlie: It is certainly in the top 5 for international arrivals and departures (kennedy,o'hare, newark, and maybe LA).

That sure doesn't sound right to me. This is somewhat old, but it shows Dulles as #11 in the US:

I've said before MWAA has already said an aboveground station is closer to airport officers and other workers -- not people who work in the Terminal building.

Yeah, the problem is that I don't believe your claim that there are more workers for whom it's convenient than who either work in the terminal building or need to go there to get to their work location.

by David desJardins on Mar 21, 2011 11:32 pm • linkreport

I found a better source, in 2007 IAD was #9 in the country for international passengers (and far behind any of the top 8).

by David desJardins on Mar 21, 2011 11:46 pm • linkreport

I like Stuttgart the most.

The Stuttgart airport S-Bahn station is directly beside the main terminal. To get to the train you go down this escalator, turn left (or right) and go down another escalator to the train. All told from baggage claim carousel or check in counter to train seat? Maybe 300 feet. The train runs every 10-20 minutes and takes 25 minutes. Most convenient airport train ever.

Note that MetroRail and the Stuttgart S-bahn were built in the same era, and have similar networks (Stuttgart's S-bahn network is about 120 miles long - the airport ("Flughafen") is on the S2/S3).

by egk on Mar 22, 2011 12:01 am • linkreport

Just a quick update to alexandrian on Berlin: the city is building an entirely new airport out at the Schoenfeld site (they're reusing the same runways but building a new series of terminal buildings on the opposite side of the current terminal) that will replace the three old aiports. Since the new terminal building was built from scratch, they were able to put in a brand new train station directly underneath it.

by jfruh on Mar 22, 2011 6:14 am • linkreport

I fly frequently from Dulles to Brussels. In Brussels, the train stop is in the basement. I just take an elevator down a couple of floors. In Munich, there is also a train that goes directly from the terminal to the central train station. Rome Fumincino has a walk to the train station but it is all indoors and doesn't seem that long. I agree with another comment that if there is not an express train, all the stops are a big disincentive. I would do it because I don't have a choice but it won't be much different than the hassle of taking the bus.

by Jane on Mar 22, 2011 8:17 am • linkreport

No one has mentioned it, but what about Atlanta Hartsfield? I travel there frequently. The MARTA station is connected directly to the terminal (in fact you can go directly from the station to a Delta baggage check/checkin counter) and it seems like there is almost always a train at the station when I fly in from DCA.

by ksu499 on Mar 22, 2011 8:28 am • linkreport

the worst mistake that WMATA is making is not the 600 feet from the airport terminal controversy- it is that WMATA stupidly decided to build ONLY 2 tracks out to Dulles instead of 3 or even 4 tracks. Additional tracks should be the POLICY of all new DC area Metro construction- as it will allow for redundancy- fast express service, and also extra breathing room in times of emergencies. Just yesterday I was held up for 45 minutes on the orange-blue line because they had to "single track"- this is what happens when you commission a company [ Bechtel ] from California to build an east coast subway system- they forget to put in covers for the stations, they try to "socially engineer" where people are going to get on & off the trains, and they only put in 2 tracks for the second busiest Metro system on the continent .

My experience overseas is mostly with Frankfurt, Copenhagen,Berlin, Budapest, and Munich.
The old French airport in NW Berlin had a bus that took passengers to a nearby U-bahn station.
Frankfurt- yes-it is fairly long to walk to the trains but it was not hard to do even for my elderly dad- and it has moving walkways. The connections are superb in Frankfurt. High speed ICE trains take you to Koln in an hour- it is a beautiful train experience. Frankfurt's national rail station is a cool modern design. It is lighted well and there is , of course, plenty of great German bier easily accessable in the station. The rail ticket vending machines are fairly easy to use, and if you want to set up an itinerary Frankfurt has a well staffed English speaking BD office - they are very nice and well managed.
Dulles should try to do as good as Frankfurt and have national rail connections[ actually Frankfurt has INTERNATIONAL rail connections]. Munich is very new & up to date- it looks easy to navigate. Budapest sucks- it is as bad as any sprawl-port in the USA. You have to take a long ride to get into the city. It is nowhere near as large a city as DC- so it doesn't take as long to get into the center of Budapest. Copenhagen has great little trains that take you to the main center city station. They have very ergonomically designed cars- high ceilings and low floors for elderly and handicapped riders as well as accomodating moms with strollers.
Why can't the USA put in place a policy to make all airports with a certain capacity link to national rail? The Germans seem to have done this pretty well.

by w on Mar 22, 2011 8:47 am • linkreport

Actually the AirTrain at JFK Airport is a very well designed system. The superfast AirTrain connects travelers to a somewhat remote A train subway line near the airport and to the E and J trains at Jamaica Station. It is about a 6 to 8 minute ride from the airport to Jamaica Station. Equally as important, AirTrain connects at Jamaica Station to the entire Long Island Railroad with the exception of one line that does not operate through Jamaica. Airport passengers have multiple transit options depending on their destinations. Since less than 40% of JFK Airport passengers have a Manhattan destination, the various connections provided by AirTrain making traveling to JFK Airport by public transportation more convenient. The transfers at Jamaica Station are short with elevators, escalators and stairs.

by Steve Strauss on Mar 22, 2011 8:50 am • linkreport

w: WMATA decided nothing. WMATA was not responsible for scoping, designing, planning, funding, or building the line. Virginia and MWAA did.

There's a lot to criticize WMATA about, but any Silver Line decisions are not among them. They're just going to get handed a completed train line and told, "ok, run this."

by David Alpert on Mar 22, 2011 8:53 am • linkreport

@DesJardins; good catch, and quite correct.

But that same link says 11 million passengers in 2006, and somewhere between 4 and 5 international passengers. So my larger point still stands: Dulles gets a lot of international traffic, which will play a role in how the Dulles Metro station gets used.

In terms of the numbers of employees using the station, MWAA is the one saying it is closer to workers. IF you look at existing employee parking lots and offices, the proposed station is basically on top of it. The primary employee lot is near long term parking and served via shuttle. We are talking about 30,000 people who work at Dulles.

I doubt many of them will be taking metro as long as parking remains free. In addition, you have the benefit of a toll-free ride if you're coming from DC/Tysons/Beltway.

So my position is Dulles Metro traffic projections are already overinflated, but that employee use is going to be a some large percentage of that traffic.

by charlie on Mar 22, 2011 9:18 am • linkreport

I seem to recall the mantra "deeper is cheaper" when folks asked why the orginal Metro was built so deep and was so dependent on those long escalators.

And now I believe they may have saved some money by purchasing less than the best escalators....and leaving them out in the elements...another money saver.

How's that workin' out for you thirty-five years later?

Anon is right. Spend the money. Do it right.

by Mike S. on Mar 22, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

@charlie: In terms of the numbers of employees using the station, MWAA is the one saying it is closer to workers.

Well, you haven't posted any links or references or evidence, so it seems we just have to guess (1) whether they are actually saying exactly this, and (2) whether it is true. My guess is no, but as usual I would consider actual evidence to the contrary.

by David desJardins on Mar 22, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

The example cited by anon doesn't hold water. Yes, usage of the National Airport station spiked after the new terminals were opened, but you can't automatically assume the location of the station is the reason. The DESTINATION changed. All of a sudden, it was a much more attractive DESTINATION. I submit that ridership would have spiked even if the station was 600 feet away from the terminal. Metro to National is extraordinarily easy partly because the airport itself is so close to downtown. Rail to Dulles is at a disadvantage because of the 30 miles in between, etc.

As a regular traveler to the west coast, I always use Dulles only because that's where the nonstops are. If I was willing to have a layover in Chicago or elsewhere, I'd probably take National.

In general, while a rail line to Dulles sounds good, I think the money is better invested elsewhere until or unless an express train can be accommodated.

by Josh S on Mar 22, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport


In terms of "true", yes, MWAA is putting out a lot of spin for the cheaper, above-ground location. So I don't think they are uninterested party.

Anecdote warming: When I do take the 5A, which stops by the airport offices near the proposed location, I do see dulles employees getting off. (badges and everything!). In fact, that is about the only time I see them on the 5A. I do see flight crews use the WashFlyer bus, which stops at the terminal, but far fewer airport employees.

by charlie on Mar 22, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

Your link says "proximity to airport offices" is one possible advantage of the alternate location. This is pretty much *nothing* like your claim that that location is more convenient for most people who work at the airport. I believe the location has proximity to airport offices. But I also believe that those offices host only a small fraction of people who work at the airport. (Note that "airport employees", i.e., people actually employed by the airport, are also only a small fraction of people who work at the airport.)

by David desJardins on Mar 22, 2011 11:26 am • linkreport

I think the redesign of the terminal and adding the Aerotrain has been great for IAD.

I don't care where the Silver Line station goes. Would I rather have it closer and underground? Of course. Not a huge deal, though. Why? Because I probably wouldn't take it. Too many stops. How long would it take for me to get from say, Eastern Market to IAD via Metro? Over an hour, I imagine, probably more like 1:15?

Too bad there was no ROW available for a dedicated IAD to downtown train. That would be something. In the meantime, I can hop on the Amtrak or MARC and get from Union Station to the gate at BWI in less time than I can get to Dulles. Silver Line probably won't change that.

by Dave Stroup on Mar 22, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

Copy Atlanta. The station is above ground, but immediately adjacent to the main terminal. It takes about 45 seconds to walk from baggage claim to to the fare gates of MARTA.

Also, shout out for Atlanta: it's only 18 minutes (7 stops) by train from the airport station to five points.

by George Lincoln on Mar 22, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

Agreed with regard to Atlanta. The MARTA is a breeze.

by Dave Stroup on Mar 22, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

Personally, I don't think the above-ground option is that terrible but I know a lot of older people who already think of Dulles as this terrible airport where you have to walk miles and miles. Whether that's true is not really the point, but it's interesting psychologically, so I'd vote for the underground option.

As for comparisons, though Dulles certainly is much smaller, than say, Shiphol, it still is the capital city's main international gateway, and thus certainly has more cache than Geneva or Cologne-Bonn Airports. Even if our friends in Loudoun County don't much care about that.

Even if it does go aboveground, I'm hoping it'll be more similar to Zurich than Munich. Though both of those go into shopping centres, Zurich is just so much easier and simple to understand.

by Sustainable Cities Collective on Mar 22, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

Anybody thought about the energy costs of powering those massive 600-foot people movers, or the maintenance costs of keeping them running? If it costs $1M a month to power and maintain them, in 30 years that's your $360M right there. I doubt it will cost that much, but if the MWAA is looking at costs, it needs to consider Maintenance and Power costs as well as Construction costs for the location alternatives. I haven't seen any discussion on that point.

by Glenn on Mar 22, 2011 1:31 pm • linkreport

Glenn: The moving walkways are already there, connecting the parking garage to the terminal.

Anyway, $1M a month for power and maintenance? That seems really high. They're just conveyor belts. Sure, they'll need some periodic repair, but it can't be nearly that much.

by David Alpert on Mar 22, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport

@ David:

Didn't realize that. Changes the calculus a bit. I suspect MWAA will get its way on this as the walkways are already there...

by Glenn on Mar 22, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

Just read the entire discussion thread. The two smartest things written were:

What will deter masses of people is the train ride to downtown that will take like 45 minutes just to Foggy Bottom.

Amen. Nobody has been able to answer yet HOW LONG will it take for a traveler to go from say, Metro Center to the Dulles Terminal on the new "silver line" once it's completed? If it takes 45m from FB, it's gonna take at least 1hr no?

the worst not the 600 feet from the airport terminal controversy- it is that WMATA stupidly decided to build ONLY 2 tracks out to Dulles instead of 3 or even 4 tracks.

Regardless of whether or not this was WMATA's idea--it is still a STUPID ONE. The new line from WFC west should have at least 3 tracks.

by LuvDusty on Mar 22, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

"What will deter masses of people is the train ride to downtown that will take like 45 minutes just to Foggy Bottom."

I don't really think it will be that much of a deterrent. Leisure travelers already pack the 5A bus to crush capacity and it is far less convenient and reliable than the future Metro line will be. Business travelers will most likely continue to take taxis, although some may take Metro if they are worried about rush hour traffic on the roads.

by Phil on Mar 22, 2011 10:15 pm • linkreport

I've taken the 5A bus to Dulles. It's fast and reliable problems here.

I doubt the Silver line will be the same..the bottleneck in Rosslyn alone will add 15 min to the trip at least.

And then all the endless stops in Tysons and Reston and Herndon cause nobody thought about making an Express track.

LOL. "Next stop..Wiehle Ave!" (GROAN!)

by LuvDusty on Mar 23, 2011 8:57 am • linkreport

I always found Charles de Gaulle to be a real pain the butt.
And the airport named after him is no better.

by Mike on Mar 23, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

As some have pointed out, there are excellent transit options for travel between BWI and Washington. For example, MARC rail and Amtrak to Union Station, or the B30 Metrobus to the Greenbelt station on the Metro Green Line.

There's a new transit option from Metro's Red Line, too. The MTA's new ICC bus runs between BWI and the Shady Grove Metro station, the Gaithersburg Park and Ride lot, and other stops.

For information, see--

Thank you for flying BWI!

by Jonathan Dean / BWI on Mar 24, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

"I've taken the 5A bus to Dulles. It's fast and reliable problems here."

It's great that you had a good experience with the 5A one time, but I am a frequent flyer and I refuse to rely on it. Been burned too many times by buses that are 60-90 minutes late, buses that fill up and leave passengers at the curb, hour-long standing rides at crush capacity, etc.

The transport options to Dulles from downtown DC are terrible. You have the unreliable and inadequate 5A bus, the overpriced and inconvenient Washington Flyer from WFC, overpriced and unreliable SuperShuttle service, and prohibitively expensive cab service. Metro is better than all of these, even taking into account the travel time.

It's gotten to the point where I will pay a substantial premium to fly out of DCA, even if it means giving up a direct flight. The only time I will fly out of IAD is for international travel, and even then I often choose DCA.

by Phil on Mar 24, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

It's great that you had a good experience with the 5A one time.

I've actually used it about 30x in the last 2 years. I also fly out of Dulles frequently.

As for late buses, I know. When I lived further from a train station, I used to take a Metrobus 2x a day, every day for 5 years. Sometimes they are indeed late--mostly due to traffic issues. You live in one of the most congested areas in the World, my friend.

There is no perfect public transportation system, but I honestly don't see how the Metro train is going to get you to Dulles any faster or more conveniently? Metro trains get delayed too, as we all know, often more frequently than the buses.

My main problem is the lack of a 3rd track out to Dulles. Absolutely insane not to have one.

by LuvDusty on Mar 24, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

@LuvDusty: Metro trains get delayed too, as we all know, often more frequently than the buses.

I don't know that. I think there's no way that trains, with their dedicated right of way, get delayed more often than buses that are frequently affected by traffic.

by David desJardins on Mar 24, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

Think about Madrid... the walk to the metro there takes forever through moving walkways and such and the number of stops is comparable to the Silver Line. Definitely a better option than driving or anything so I still think it's worth it. Though, everything is underground without any interruptions (weather). In Berlin you have to walk probably around 600ft outside to get to the metro which runs above ground, and it wasn't bad at all. As long as there's a station anywhere walking distance from the terminals, it would be fine with me.

by JNB on Mar 25, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

Save the money. 600ft is tolerable (though hardly optimal) if adjustments are made to make the walk 'pleasant' and 'transparent'.

"An industry rule of thumb concerning maximum walking distance has been that, if the distance traveled exceeds 1,000 feet, then some sort of mechanical people-mover assistance should be added.
in reference to data coming from studies of walking trips in downtown central business districts relating to bus terminals, that "Sometimes this data is used to justify moving-sidewalk installations for longer walking-trip distances, say 1,000 feet"
"The maximum curb-to-plane walking distances represents a normal five- to seven-minute walk for most persons, but the anxiety connected with meeting schedules, making the trip, and negotiating an unfamiliar buiding, tend to make these distances appear to be much longer. The tolerable walking distance for a given situation is related to such factors as the trip purpose of the individual available time and the walking environment, rather than energy consumption.""

From "Airport Passenger Terminal Planning and Design: Guidebook"

But if you build a new one like in Berlin then the station should be placed directly under the terminal:

by Pistonium on Mar 25, 2011 6:41 pm • linkreport

The Silver Line will most resemble taking the Metropolitan Line from Heathrow, limiting itself to leisure travelers and cheapskates like me. ;-) A Heathrow Express-like line would run along the Access Road and I-66 with stops at Tysons Corner and Rosslyn before entering DC. I don't know how it could work at a reasonable expense, given the tunneling needed: at a minimum a tunnel is needed from Rosslyn to the 14th St. railroad bridge.

by Chuck Coleman on Mar 26, 2011 6:13 pm • linkreport

Whether the merged United makes IAD a bigger hub or abandons it as a hub will determine a lot. Certainly making IAD as attractive to get to as possible will take some future traffic that DCA can't handle. Both population and business growth is in the Dulles corridor. BWI isn't in a growth area and hence is now 90% Southwest.

Most major European airports have had rail, even dedicated express rail, for many years. I remember Brussels had it long ago.

If there were a way to build a dedicated Dulles express rail in the highway center up to a close-in metro, it might just command high enough fares to pay for itself and save VA even more money. I remember the tube from Heathrow isn't cheap.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 28, 2011 1:19 am • linkreport

Munich and Zurich are the best of Europe's airports. Trains to the city are great with immediate, all weather access. Vienna's terminal is old and funky like JFK but it too has direct train service from inside. And here SFO and ORD have great urban access. Get with it DC! I'm so tired of this embarrassing Dulles moment, 'excuse me sir, we just arrived from overseas, where does one catch the train to downtown?' For DC, aka "the Capital of the Free World" the answer, 'well, its 16 miles from here' is a terrible reflection of our nation's shortsighted approach to infrastructure investment. I'm glad Metro's Board is focused on the long term cash flow, the annuity, the ROI that will be lost from building an inconvenient station. Lot's of travelers with means (like a corporate expense account) will simply take a cab; not green but easy to understand. Unsuck Metro!

by WD on Dec 11, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us