Posts about Silver Line
Soon, Reston is going to have another bridge that crosses over the Dulles Toll Road. Called the Soapstone Connector, the bridge will make it easier to get to the Wiehle Metro station, and will pave the way for new mixed-use developments nearby.
In 2008, Reston and Fairfax County decided there would need to be more ways to access the future station than those that currently exist. The plan is to extend Soapstone Drive across the Toll Road, linking two popular commuter routes: Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road.
Fairfax's transportation department did a feasibility study in 2012, and it's currently collecting data and considering options for exactly how and where they'll build the bridge. A final decision on the design isn't expected until an environmental assessment is finished this time next year, and estimates are that construction could start as early as 2018 depending on funding and other factors.
A Fairfax County DOT project information board used at the Monday 26th feedback meeting. Photo by the author.
A bridge will make Metro more accessible, which will attract development
According to Fairfax's transportation department, the project's purpose is to provide more options for multiple types of transportation to travel north and south around Wiehle Avenue, which should cut Wiehle's and Reston Parkway's congestion.
One specific goal is to make it easy for buses to travel across the Toll Road and to the Wiehle-Reston Metro station without having to travel on Wiehle. The county also hopes to make it easier and safer for people to walk or bike to the Metro station.
A number of developments, both current and planned for the future, benefit from there being a new way to cross over the Toll Road and get to Metro.
On the Sunrise Valley side of the Toll Road, there is the Reston National Golf Course and the association enclave. The golf course owners want to redevelop all or a portion of their land. The developing "Reston Heights" complex is also a short distance to the west.
On the Sunset Hills side, the Soapstone Connector bridge will provide additional transportation options for the burgeoning multi-use development, Reston Station.
The new road may also provide easier access to the Plaza America shopping center to the west. In the future, perhaps there could be a connection to the W&OD bike trail on the other side of Sunset Hills.
Residents have concerns about traffic and bike trails
Fairfax held a public information meeting on the project on Monday night. Attendees voiced concerns about the project's impact on an increasingly busy road network. One gentleman called the project a "necessary enhancement," but also said he was worried the studies did not consider the effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.
A FCDOT contractor replied that community comments would steer the county's approach to mitigating these indirect impacts.
Many voiced worries about traffic as well, asking why the bridge would only have three vehicle lanes. There was also mention of 22,000 planned residential units being built near the area.
A Fairfax County DOT project information board used at the Monday 26th feedback meeting. Photo by the author.
A FCDOT representative informed the group that there is a current Reston Network Analysis underway to "evaluate the conceptual grids of streets and road elements at gateways to the Reston Transit Station Areas."
One Restonian wondered the same thing I'm wondering: will there be any connection to the W&OD trail?
Unfortunately, this project will not be developing another access point to the trail across Sunset Hills Road. However, there is a new crosswalk at the intersection of Metro Center Drive, Sunset Hills, and Issac Newton Square.
Citizens may submit their comments and questions regarding this phase of the project to Audra K. Bandy at firstname.lastname@example.org through November 6th.
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Earlier this week, a fire damaged a Metro power station near Stadium Armory Metro station. Orange and Silver Line trains are going to run less frequently for around the next six months so WMATA can make repairs.
To repair a power substation taken offline after the fire, WMATA is planning to increase the time between Orange and Silver line trains during rush hour service from six to eight minutes. This means your trip will take longer, and the train will hold at stations more. WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel said the change started this morning.
WMATA is doing its repairs in three parts. First, slow restrictions are in place around Stadium Armory, capping train travel in the affected area to under 40 miles per hour.
Second, WMATA is limiting how quickly train operators can accelerate in the affected area. Trains draw the most power when they first start to move, so lowering the acceleration rate helps to decrease the load on WMATA's power system.
The third part will affect customers the most: trains will only service the Orange and Silver lines every eight minutes each during morning and evening rush hours. Blue line service with 12 minute headways is not affected by the change.
Headways for OR/SV expected to stay at 8 minutes until power substation is back online. Expected repair time: six months. #wmata—
Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) September 25, 2015
These actions mean that your trips will take longer and trains will increase the time they spend waiting in stations. Increasing the two lines' headways will decrease the number of trains through Stadium Armory to 20 trains per hour from about 23.5 to help decrease train delays.
The goal of the decrease in service is to limit how long trains wait to pass through the Stadium Armory area. If train flow is not handled well, riders throughout the lines could see longer waits as trains spread out or start to bunch.
Only one transformer caught fire on Monday, but the other two three-megawatt transformers were declared a complete loss as well. WMATA may need to reallocate transformers from other repair jobs if they have any, and likely also needs to order more which takes time.
Troup says skip-stopping real possibility. Operational simulations will lead to "More consistent service level"—
Max Smith (@amaxsmith) September 25, 2015
WMATA expects to publish a plan of action for returning the power substation to service sometime today.
World-famous architect Eero Saarinen designed the Dulles Airport terminal, meaning the coming Metro station won't be a simple addition to your run-of-the-mill streetscape. What will it look like?
Reader Lee Bristol wants to know:
Are there any current illustrations for the architectural design of the new Metro station at Dulles? Its prominent location opposite the iconic Saarinen Terminal certainly makes this a significant design challenge requiring an exceptional design. Is there is a public source of information documenting the design?Matt Johnson and Edward Russell both pointed out that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which built the first phase of the Silver Line and is building the second as well, has a Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project site with information on all of the current and proposed Metro stations on the Silver Line. The current illustrations for the design of the Dulles Airport station are on the station's information page.
The Dulles Airport station will have a unique design, like Anacostia and a few other stations. The other five new Silver Line stations will have the "gambrel" design like Wiehle Avenue.
Final rendering of Dulles Airport station. Photo by Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
The station will mimic and reflect the iconic Saarinen terminal The platform will be screened by a diagonal glass wall like the terminal. From there, escalators and elevators will descend to the mezzanine one level below grade.
The mezzanine will be to one side of an existing tunnel connecting the north parking garage with the terminal. Metro riders will be able to use the existing tunnel and its moving walkways to get to the terminal.
In 2012, Dan Malouff posted conceptual renderings of the station on his blog. Guidelines for the station had come up in the Silver Line's environmental review phase.
Finally, commenter John R. Cambron recently posted about progress on the second phase of the Silver Line, including construction of the new Dulles Airport station.
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Metro's schedules call for running 25 to 26 trains per hour in each direction through the Blue/Orange/Silver subway, but the actual number running has been closer to the low 20s. What's going on here?
Complaints about long waits and late trains are just anecdotes. I wanted to see if there was anything we could learn from the actual data, so I collected it the same way I did for Glenmont-bound Red line trains during the morning rush hour earlier in the summer.
As with earlier data, I relied on the WMATA trip planner and real time arrivals page.
For the Blue/Orange/Silver lines, I recorded arrivals in both directions during peak morning hours as well as off-peak midday. I also kept track of delays or problems as reported on WMATA's website or on Twitter, including the time the information was sent out.
Over the course of 18 distinct days of morning rush hour observations, the data shows that Metro seldom met its goal of 25-26 trains per hour and instead averaged between three and four fewer trains in each direction. Service was also hampered by numerous instances of train malfunctions and track problems, including the train derailment outside Smithsonian station that severely affected service for two days.
For off-peak midday service, Metro often met or even exceeded its trip planner schedule, even when midday track work and inspections were taking place. However, trains had a tendency to bunch meaning that customer waits for a specific line varied dramatically, from less than five minutes to upwards of 15.
My observations corroborate Metro's own assertion that it is not meeting its on-time performance goals on the BL/OR/SV lines. They also support Stephen Repetski's earlier article that showed a link between deteriorating train reliability and declining on-time performance.
I recorded at least 15 instances of train problems that led to inconveniences for customers during the morning rush hour. The delays resulting from these breakdowns only exacerbated the problems created by routing three lines through the same tunnel. For customers, it meant longer waits for already crowded trains.
As more 7000 series trains are put into service, we should begin to see the number of train problems diminish and a corresponding improvement in on-time performance along the BL/OR/SV lines. Metro is also looking at adjusting its service levels to improve performance along these lines, though it is debatable if there would be a tangible positive benefit for customers.
If you've noticed Metro's performance declining over the past several months, you're not alone. In order to open the Silver Line last year, Metro has had to run more train cars longer, and the extra mileage put onto them has meant their breakdowns may affect your service more often.
To get an idea of the overall picture, the graph above shows the WMATA on-time performance for all rail lines since 2011. Silver Line service started in July 2014 and from that point forward you can see a clear 3% decline in on-time performance systemwide (that doesn't include the big dip on the far right, which is the result of the harsh temperatures of last winter).
The dip in performance relative to before and after the Silver Line opened primarily affected the Blue, Orange, and Green lines. System-wide, on-time performance dropped from 92% to 89%:
Putting more spare trains into service sets the stage
Transit agencies try to keep a spare ratio of around 20-25%. Some cars are going to need to be in the shop for unscheduled repairs, preventative maintenance, or inspections. No transit agency operates 100% of its cars in service at any given time.
When WMATA opened the Silver Line it had not yet deployed the new 7000 series cars needed, so the agency dipped into its spare pool temporarily until enough new cars were set for service.
With a lower spare ratio, Metro doesn't have enough time to do preventative maintenance or inspections on cars. And when some need maintenance that can't wait, there may not be enough cars to build a train or the train may break down on the mainline, causing delays.
One impact of the lack of cars is that an increased number of scheduled trains do not operate (DNO). The data shown in the graph below are the number of trains that were canceled or otherwise did not operate on the six lines between August 2012 and July 2015.
A train might be marked as DNO for a variety of reasons, but one main cause can be attributed to not having enough cars available to make a full train. For instance if there are too few cars available to make up a train, that train is not able to run. Alternatively, WMATA might only have 1000 series cars available and no others to act as the head and rear of the train; thus, the train would not be able to run.
Before July 2014, the Orange Line averaged 18 DNO trains per month. When the Silver Line opened in July 2014, that number spiked fairly dramatically. Since then the Orange Line has averaged 45 DNO trains per month, and Vienna station itself hit a maximum of 50 DNO trains in the month of June 2015. The overall system average has increased from 40 DNO trains per month to 141.
When a train doesn't operate, it creates a gap in service averaging just over six minutes. So instead of waiting, say, six minutes for a train, customers have to wait up to 12 minutes. During that period the platform gets more crowded, and when the next train shows up, it has to carry a larger load.
The more crowded a train is, the longer it dwells in stations, which exacerbates the delay, and can cause bunching. Crowded trains can be more likely to be offloaded themselves as passengers hold the doors trying to get on and off. With the overall system averaging system averaging 7-8 DNO trains per day in June and July 2015, the delays can really start adding up.
So what's causing the number of DNO trains to spike?
There aren't enough train cars
There are several reasons why performance on the rail system is suffering, but the main item we can draw from this data is that the railcar spare ratio is too low.
WMATA does not currently have enough train cars to run the full system including the Silver Line. The first phase of the Silver Line requires 64 train cars to operate, which were to have been delivered before its opening. Today, only 32 of these cars are in revenue service.
WMATA says that the current system requires 954 train cars to operate at peak service and the agency has approximately 1,140 available for revenue service use. Metro plans for 24% of the total cars to be out of service for maintenance, spare, or unscheduled reasons, leaving 868 available. But with 954 cars required, that means the operating spare ratio is only 16% and sometimes even lower when more are pressed into service.
With fewer cars available to put into service when others break, we are more likely to see a domino effect of breakdowns. Fewer trains may be available to run at peak hours due to equipment constraints (and thus marked DNO, like when the 4000-series cars were taken out of service earlier this summer). In addition, each car is likely to have less available time for preventative maintenance meaning the chance of breakdown increases over time. To take a look at another part of the equation, the reliability of the railcars that Metro runs varies, the topic of discussion in a recent post.
While the data suggest WMATA doesn't yet have all the cars they need, help is slowly arriving. The fourth 7000 series train entered service on the Green line this past week, and more are coming, especially once the test/commissioning track near the Greenbelt station is finished. Once at least 64 of the new 7000 series cars are in service, we should start to see a tapering of car-related issues and on-time performance should start to increase again. For all those having to deal with train delays, we hold our baited breath for relief to come.
A modified version of this post ran earlier on Stephen's website. He tweets online about Metro at @MetroReasons.
Given how much Metrorail can transform a community, it's not surprising a lot of people want it to reach where they live. But planning and building new Metro lines is so politically and technically complex that it takes decades. Consider the Silver Line:
This slide showing a timeline of Silver Line planning and construction comes from a presentation WMATA planners Allison Davis and Kristen Haldeman gave at StreetsCamp this past Saturday.
The timeline begins in 1985, when the idea of a Metro line to Dulles Airport went from vague concept to serious planning initiative following a study that determined it would be feasible.
Planning (yellow on the timeline) and environmental work (green) took the next 21 years, until 2006. It took another 3 years for officials to finalize funding (blue) before construction (purple) could begin in 2009.
By the time the last segments open in 2019, it will have been 34 years.
Worth the wait, no doubt. But there's bad news for other communities:
Silver Ln was the easiest possible line to build. Only in VA, above ground & we already had right-of-way. Still took decades. #streetscamp—
BeyondDC (@beyonddc) June 20, 2015
Plopping a rail line down the middle of a gargantuan suburban highway with a capacious median is easy compared to putting one virtually anywhere else. Almost any other potential Metrorail expansion imaginable will be harder to plan, fund, and build.
That doesn't mean it's not worth doing. But it's definitely going to be hard.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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