News & Politics

Metro’s Silver Line Is Open, but Not Without a Few Final Delays

The big ceremony for the new train line had a few hiccups. It is Metro, after all.

The platform at Wiehle-Reston East awaits its first crush of passengers. Photographs by Benjamin Freed.

After five years of construction, $2.9 billion spent, countless legal entanglements and political fussbudgets, Metro’s Silver Line finally opened Saturday, connecting previously far-flung suburbs such as Tysons Corner and Reston with the rest of car-free civilization.

Out at the Wiehle-Reston East station—the last stop on the new extension before the Silver Line’s second phase extends past Dulles International Airport—Metro played up the celebratory side: food trucks, commemorative pennants, a tent full of public officials engaged in a mutual admiration society.

But how was the journey itself? Metro’s opened its doors to more suburbs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a hassle. Here’s how the Silver Line opened, told in Metro-related miscues:

1. To reach the opening ceremony in Reston via Metro, the transit agency advised attendees to travel to West Falls Church on the Orange Line and pick up a shuttle bus. The day got off to a rough start for your correspondent, however, while waiting for a Route 42 bus in Adams Morgan to connect to Metro rail. The 42 blows right past a Columbia Road stop, leaving said correspondent to hail it at the next stop with a combination of determined sprinting and several loud, unprintable, 12-letter exhortations.

2. While Metro’s shuttle buses ran from West Falls Church, many Saturday-morning Orange Line trains terminate at East Falls Church. With Silver Line-bound people feeling suddenly stranded, another train rolls up. Turns out it’s just for VIPS attending the Silver Line ceremony. Reporters and other not important people finally board an Orange train that goes to West Falls Church eight minutes later.

3. A Fairfax Connector shuttle bus from West Falls Church to Wiehle-Reston East appears a few minutes behind its scheduled 9:30 departure time. When it finally starts moving, Metro’s 9:50 deadline is a pipe dream.

They just want to ride.

4. The Silver Line ceremony goes off without a hitch, the lengthy speaking program even beginning three minutes ahead of schedule. When’s the last time Metro did anything ahead of schedule? More VIP trains arrive at the Wiehle-Reston East platform ferrying dignitaries like Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who calls the Silver Line’s inauguration a “great day for America.”

As the speakers take their turns—including, among many others, DC Mayor Vince Gray; Representatives Gerry Connolly, Frank Wolf, and Jim Moran; Fairfax County Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova—a mass ofFairfax County residents forms at the base of the escalator leading to the turnstile.

“I’ve been waiting a while,” says Anne-Marie Smith, of Reston, who expects taking the Silver Line to her job in DC instead of driving will save her as much as $18 a day in tolls, parking, and gas.

But first, all those officials inside the tent must amble over to the escalator to cut a ceremonial ribbon. The clutch of scissor-wielding officials has expanded from the above list of speakers to include DC Council members Muriel Bowser (who serves on Metro’s board) and Vincent Orange (who does not).

The ceremonial snip comes a few minutes before noon, and the Silver Line is open.

5. Metro escalator etiquette is pretty simple: stand on the right, walk on the left. Even during this special occasion, people seem intent on obeying this custom. Who’s not? That’d be Richard Sarles, the CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, standing on the left to yuk it up with a couple of the congressmen.

6. The first Silver Line train, that will run through Fairfax County, Arlington, DC, and Prince George’s County, is packed. Many are Reston residents looking to spend the sunny afternoon in the District; some are train nerds like Ethan Maron, a Southwest DC resident who rode his bike out to the end of the Silver Line and plans to get off at each of the five new stations so he can get a fare card stamped at each one. But will the Silver Line’s inaugural run depart at noon, as scheduled?

“Folks, we’re running a little late, but hey, it is WMATA,” Meron announces at 12:04 PM, sending the sardine-can-like car into a fit of laughter.

The doors seal and the train starts rolling at 12:06, prompting a genuine cheer for the transit system Washington loves to rag on.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.