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Metro board raises concerns about impact of volatile timeline for Silver Line extension project

4/15/20: Silver Line Phase 1 crews place concrete for new ADA ramp along eastbound Route 7 (courtesy Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project)

On paper, the Silver Line Phase 2 expansion should be “substantially completed” by November or December this year, but doubts expressed by the construction contractor about that timeline have filtered up to the Metro Board of Directors, where there are worries that construction delays could have a ripple effect.

At a meeting yesterday (Thursday), board members questioned staff about the status of construction following a disagreement between Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and Capital Rail Constructors (CRC).

“We have seen some reports that Capital Rail Constructors, the main Silver Line contractor, is telling MWAA that substantial completion date is something like May 2022,” said Metro Board member Matt Letourneau. “MWAA has stuck to November/December 2021 completion date. As of now, that’s still our understanding and what we’re operating on, correct?”

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority staff said they are still operating on the November or December timeframe for substantial completion laid out by MWAA. Andy Off, executive vice president for capital delivery, said substantial completion is still expected for later this year.

Even so, this wouldn’t be the first time the Silver Line has missed a deadline, and other Metro projects have also seen significant delays recently.

Off said testing with trains started on Aug. 21 and has been going well, potentially bringing the project closer to operational readiness testing, a process projected to take 60 days after substantial completion. However, that timeline is not set in stone and depends on how testing goes.

“We’re hesitant to get too far out in front of the timeline,” Off said.

After that, WMATA moves into a 90-day period for pre-revenue service activity — things like outfitting the kiosks, updating signage, and assigning staff.

The uncertain timing is a particularly sticky issue when it comes to hiring of new staff for the Silver Line expansion, who the Metro Board warned could be paid to sit around waiting for construction to finish.

“It seems like we don’t have an end date, so we’re training all these people early, but what happens when we’re not ready to go forward with operating the silver line?” board member Tom Bulger said. “What happens to those employees? Do they just sit around?”

WMATA Chief Operations Officer Joe Leader said the process of hiring and training staff takes time and, in the final stages of construction, needs to run in parallel with testing and other tasks in order for the Silver Line extension to be fully staffed when it opens.

“It’s an issue we’re dealing with with MWAA,” Leader said. “One of the things important to keep in mind: lead time for training employees takes time, just hiring them can take months to go through background check and medical. A Metro transit police officer can take up to ten months to train.”

Leader said WMATA will continue to monitor the substantial completion date to decide when to start moving forward with hiring and training.

“Based on what we’re hearing,” Leader said, “we need to continue to bring people onboard.

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