Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Monday, March 24, 2014

Editorial: The Post’s View: The Silver Line’s long, hard slog, Washington Post, March 23, 2014

In what appears to be a more circumspect and far more optimistic version of what we wrote on Friday, the Washington Post Editorial Board today laments the sorry state of affairs in the completion of Phase 1 of the Silver Line.  Here is how the Post begins:
THERE WERE two significant pieces of news last month about Metro’s Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport, one of the nation’s biggest infrastructure projects, and together they could give Northern Virginia commuters whiplash.
First came the good news: The project’s $2.7 billion second phase — 12 miles of rail running from Reston to the airport and into Loudoun County — is likely to receive almost $1.9 billion in federal loans on highly favorable terms, a critical component of the hoped-for financing for a project that broke ground last year.

Then came the bad news: Completion of the project’s $2.9 billion first phase, 11 miles of rail from East Falls Church to Reston, would be delayed. Again. . .
Near the end of the editorial, the Post goes out on a fact-free, rose-colored limb (to mix our metaphors):
Like all soap operas, this one will end — with passengers boarding Silver Line trains no later than June, we hope. That’s months later than officials had expected even a year ago, and it will cost Metro millions of dollars in lost revenue.
First, let's acknowledge a straightforward accounting error in the Post's assessment of "lost revenue":  While WMATA forecasts the Silver Line will generate about $2 million per month once it is in operation, the Post repeatedly has ignored the fact that Metrorail's operating costs exceed revenues by about half--or about $1 million per month for a new Silver LIne if WMATA's revenue forecast is accurate.  So, for every month the Silver Line is in operation, Metro will--in fact--lose about one million dollars.  And, yes, the taxpayers of the WMATA jurisdictions will be making up the difference as they have for decades.  Failure to acknowledge this important financial fact reflects badly on the Post and its editorial.

More importantly, the "hope" expressed here that passengers will be riding the Silver Line "no later June" is absurd to  the point of being dangerous in setting not just unrealistic, but impossible, expectations for the beginning of Silver Line revenue operations.  First, as the Post observes, MWAA and DTP can't even agree on what needs to be done--and who needs to pay for it.  Little, if any, work has been done in the month since the Silver Line failed to meet MWAA's (& WMATA's) standards for "substantial completion."  DTP says they don't even know what needs to be done.  Second, that work will takes a number of weeks, if not months, to complete--including the speaker replacement, repairing the ATC system (again--or still), and fixing whatever the track gage problem is.  Then, third, when the line achieves "substantial completion,"  WMATA has another 90 days to test the line itself and train its operators.  Given the dubious work on the project to date, we would expect WMATA to be especially diligent in its testing and training, using just about all the 90 days it has at its disposal.

We believe that Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins' assessment that the line should be done by late summer or she will be "very disappointed" is probably more realistic.  And we certainly believe it is possible that the start of revenue operations will be postponed until 2015 given the sorry state of relations between MWAA and DTP in trying to bring the project up to acceptable standards. 

And, to reiterate, we want the Silver Line completed and operational as soon as it is safe to do so.  We also do not want any of the entities financing this $3 billion project--especially Dulles Toll Road users--to be socked with extra charges because of the inept handling of the construction and management of this important transportation infrastructure. 

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