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Posts about Silver Line


The West Falls Church station got far less use after the Silver Line opened

When the Silver Line opened in July of 2014, the West Falls Church Metro station took a huge ridership hit. But overall, the Silver Line meant more people riding Metro.

Graph by the author. Click for a larger version.

The chart above is based on the ridership data released by Metro in March. The stations noted here are West Falls Church and the five new Silver Line stations, with data coming from AM peak entries during typical weekdays.

In the span of two months, from a peak in June 2014 to a low in August 2014, West Falls Church station saw its average ridership drop by almost 70% with the opening of the Silver Line! While this appears to be bad news for West Falls Church and Metro, that isn't the case if you look at all six stations.

It looks like when the Silver Line opened, West Falls Church riders immediately switched to stations closer to their homes. That, or rather than driving to West Falls Church, they started driving to Wiehle, the only new station with parking (it could be a combination of both, of course).

Changes to bus routes in the corridor probably had a lot to do with the drop in entries at West Falls. When the Silver Line opened, 62 bus routes got modifications. 11 were eliminated altogether, and major feeder routes operated by Fairfax Connector, Loundon County, and Washington Flyer moved their terminus from West Falls to Wiehle Avenue.

Overall, the Silver Line and the bus service changes that accompanied it attracted new riders to Metro. This is evidenced in the the uptick in the grand total entries among these six stations. It's likely that a lot of new riders are commuters from Fairfax and Loudoun County, where Metro was previously unaccessible.

A goal of public transit is to offer people better access to transportation. The opening of the Silver Line made travel for existing Metro customers easier by putting stations closer to their homes, and also attracted new riders by offering an alternative to driving and carpooling.


Changes in Metro ridership, in five charts

Between 2011 and 2015, the average number of riders that entered a Metro station dropped from 8,500 per station to 7,400. During the same time, the only Metro station to see a big jump in ridership was NoMa-Gallaudet. I graphed these numbers, and more, after Metro recently released five years' worth of data.

Ridership at Union Station in 2011 vs 2015. All graphics by the author.

Comparing ridership from 2011 to 2015, I see five main ways to categorize changes at individual stations:

  1. No change, or only a subtle change in ridership
  2. Pronounced decline in ridership
  3. Pronounced increase in ridership
  4. Silver Line-related ridership changes
  5. Seasonal or weather-related ridership changes
In order to help illustrate these patterns, I graphed the data and pulled out some of the most interesting stations. For all plots below, monthly ridership in 2011 is shown as red squares, and ridership for 2015 as blue crosses.

1. No change, or only a subtle change in ridership

Average weekday ridership at Branch Avenue, Glenmont, and Largo Town Center stations in 2011 vs 2015.

Many of the stations in the system appeared to show either no decrease in ridership, or only a slight one. Around 55-60 stations fit into this category, or around 60 percent of the Metrorail system.

2. Pronounced decline in ridership

Average weekday ridership at Metro Center, L'Enfant Plaza, and Gallery Place-Chinatown stations in 2011 vs 2015.

The combined effect of all the subtle declines near the edges gets sharper when you look at bigger drop offs at the system's core stations, including Metro Center, L'Enfant Plaza, and Gallery Place. In total, around 20 of the 91 total Metro stations fit into this category.

Average weekday ridership at Pentagon, Pentagon City, and Crystal City stations in 2011 vs 2015.

All stations in south Arlington saw declines in ridership. What is it about that area that has changed in the last four years? Perhaps this is an area that WMATA should focus efforts to boost ridership? Or perhaps success of the Metroway bus service between Alexandria and Arlington has shifted passengers away from the rail system?

3. Pronounced increase in ridership

Average weekday ridership at NoMa - Gallaudet University station in 2011 vs 2015.

The only station to see substantial increases in ridership over this time period was NoMa. The station saw ridership increase from an average of 7,400 riders per weekday to over 9,000/weekday over the period of this data, an increase of over 20 percent. This is not surprising given the amount of development that has occurred in this area around the station.

In this context, a "substantial increase" in ridership is based on an increase of 1,000 average weekday riders over the course of the entire year of data. This helps show that the ridership change isn't temporary or a short seasonal change, but one that will affect the station long-term.

4. Silver Line related ridership changes

Average weekday ridership at West Falls Church, Vienna, and Wiehle-Reston East stations in 2011 vs 2015.

The opening of the Silver Line, as you might guess, greatly impacted the end of the Orange Line stations. You can see Wiehle picking up some of those declines.

Average weekday ridership at West Falls Church declined by almost 75 percent when the Silver Line opened. This shift is due in part to people using the five new stations that opened, as well as the bus route changes that shifted many away from departing/arriving West Falls Church. The five new Silver Line stations carried an average weekday ridership of just under 3,000 people across all of 2015.

5. Seasonal or temporal related ridership changes

Average weekday ridership at Navy Yard-Ballpark, Smithsonian, and Arlington Cemetery stations in 2011 vs 2015.

You can always tell when it's baseball season by looking at ridership at Navy Yard-Ballpark station. 2015 was a better season for the Nats than 2011, which might be why the former had higher ridership.

Smithsonian station always shows when it's cherry blossom time (noted by the sharp increase in average ridership in April), tourist season (increased ridership during the summer months), and the 4th of July (sharp increase in average ridership for the month of July). Arlington Cemetery similarly shows average ridership increases over the summer when the weather is nice, and decreases to under 400 average riders per weekday during the cold season (also when the station closes earlier), although to a lesser extent.

The stations selected are only representatives from across the whole system. You can find plots showing the entire system and other more granular data here. What else have you found in the data that's interesting?


A new bridge over the Dulles Toll Road will mean more Metro access and development in Reston

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.

Image from Google Maps.

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 through November 6th.


Orange and Silver line trains are about to get slower

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.

Photo by Photographer on Flickr.

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.

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.

WMATA expects to publish a plan of action for returning the power substation to service sometime today.


Ask GGW: What will the Metro station at Dulles Airport look like?

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?

Photo by Joe Ravi on Wikipedia Commons.

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.

Final rendering of Dulles Airport station. Photo by Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

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.

Conceptual rendering of Dulles Airport station. Photo by BeyondDC.

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.

Excavation for the Dulles Airport station mezzanine is underway. Photo by John R. Cambron.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll pose a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!


Metro isn't running as many trains through Farragut West as it would like

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?

Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.

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.

Farragut West, AM peak. Click for the entire chart. Charts by the author.

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.

Farragut West, PM peak. Click for the entire chart.

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.

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