DC Silver Line Construction ‘Substantially’ Completed


The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority announced earlier this month that the Metrorail Silver Line extension project has reached “substantial” completion and will begin testing. The $2.8 billion Phase 2 project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2018 but was delayed by construction issues and cost overruns.

“This is a significant step toward completing the 11.5-mile extension that will provide rail service for residents in Reston, Herndon and eastern Loudoun County and give Metro riders direct access to Dulles Airport,” said Jack Potter, President and CEO of the MWAA.

“In addition to providing new public transportation options, the Silver Line is a major catalyst for jobs and economic development in the National Capital region.”

The Washington Post reports that delays have added more than $300 million to the project’s cost, which is expected to be covered by a $500 million contingency fund. The total cost of the first and second phases of the Silver Line is $5.8 billion.

Phase 2 of the project also includes the construction of a 90-acre rail maintenance yard at Dulles International Airport. The contract with Hensel Phelps is nearly completed.

“This significant milestone is a testament to the hard work, dedication and collaboration of the project team and stakeholders,” said Keith Couch, Project Director at Capital Rail Constructors. “The CRC team is proud to have been a part of this transformational piece of infrastructure for the region.  

“This project was built by the community, for the community. It is the result of the significant contributions of nearly 10,000 craft workers – a large contingent from the Capital Region – all coming together to deliver an impactful project that we can be proud of. It has been an extraordinary team effort.”

Silver Line Saga

Back in May 2018, the Silver Line project was initially rocked by reports that employees of subcontractor Universal Concrete Products, of Stowe, Pennsylvania, falsified concrete test reports, certifying panels that were not made to specification. Andrew Nolan, who served as QC manager at the firm and allegedly oversaw the cooking of the books, pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

The QC team at UCP allegedly changed values on reports indicating the air and water content of the concrete mixtures, and sourced aggregate from a different quarry than it had originally proposed, potentially leaving the door open to the alkali-silica reaction, in which aggregate reacts with cement paste, often creating cracking and spalling.

The whistleblower lawsuit, filed in 2016 by former UCP quality-control employee Nathan Davidheiser, was joined that summer by the federal government and commonwealth of Virginia. In addition to the allegations leveled against Nolan, the suit states that company executives ignored internal complaints about the fraudulent practice and in some cases demoted or even terminated employees who attempted to put a stop to the false reports. 

At the end of September, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Office of the Inspector General announced it would take over the investigation into quality-control issues.

On top of the lawsuit, in the beginning of October, reports indicated that a garage being built as part of the second phase of the project was sinking.

In January 2019, alleged faulty concrete railroad ties came to light; Capital Rail Constructors, a joint venture composed of Clark Construction and Kiewit Infrastructure, had discovered that roughly 400 railroad ties were up to half an inch higher in the center than on the sides.

And in February, the first tests were slated to take place with a two-car train, which was pushed by an older locomotive, but only made it roughly 1,000 feet before encountering issues with the rail—the whole trip is 11 miles. In addition to this set-back, 300 cracks were also found to have formed in buildings that are meant to be used for railcar maintenance for an extension.

By March, of the three concrete issues located between Wiehle-Reton and Ashburn, only one had an approved plan to address more than 1,000 faulty framing panels. Additionally, the 451 heavy concrete rail ties installed where trains may switch from one track to another, have angled the rails outward, posing a significant safety risk.

In May, Capital Rail Constructors, the contractor responsible for building the second phase of the endeavor, reported that concrete pedestals supporting a station were cracking.

In July, officials reported that the entire rail line was more than $260 million over budget and all three phases were about 13 months behind schedule. Centered around necessary mechanical testing at the rail yard, officials at the time said the line might not be up and running until the fall of 2020.

Michael Barker, Operations Manager at Hensel Phelps, the general contractor for the rail yard portion of the project (separate from the contract held for the extension by CRC), told the MWAA at the time that even though the yard was about 90% complete, the testing and commissioning progress was going to eat up a lot of time. Barker also said, though, that they might be able to make up some time depending on some change orders and the testing process itself.

What’s Next

“After successful Phase 1 and Phase 2 tie-in testing at Wiehle Avenue, MWAA has approved substantial completion of the Package A Silver Line Phase 2 project. The project will now move into Operational Readiness Testing, which will be completed by MWAA and WMATA,” Couch said.

According to CRC, MWAA will turn the project over to WMATA to make final preparations once Operational Readiness Testing is complete.

“Metro looks forward to entering the next phase of the project, during which we will perform hundreds of tests to ensure the extension can be operated safely and reliably before the Board accepts ownership and sets an opening date,” WMATA said in a statement.

Following tests, WMATA will also begin training, simulations and emergency drills for about 90 days. The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission will also reportedly need to sign-off on the extension before it opens to the public.

WMATA estimated earlier this year that the extension would open around February 2022, but an official opening date for passengers has yet to be announced.


Tagged categories: Construction; Mass transit; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Public Transit; Rail; Railcars; Testing + Evaluation

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