A 1960s goal of connecting Dulles International Airport to Washington, D.C. by Metro rail has been realized. The Silver Line is open.
In 2009, the Silver Line was finally approved, perhaps by the skin of its teeth. It survived the Federal Transit Administration threatening to withdraw support in 2008.
In 2014, the first phase of the Silver Line opened to Whiele-Reston. On November 15, 2022, the second phase, to Ashburn via Dulles Airport finally opened.
It was a long time coming
13 years 8 months 5 days
Since phase 1 opened
8 years 3 months 20 days
433 weeks 3 days
Four days later, I took my first ride. My son, newborn when he took the first outbound train to Whiele-Reston, is 8 now.
One seat ride from downtown to Dulles
Now that the Silver Line is complete, the DC area can brag about both international airports being served by mass transit
To expand on Pegoraro’s tweet, Philadelphia and Boston don’t have direct subway connections to their airports either. Chicago does although it’s also a long ride to O’hare from downtown, over 40 minutes. Dulles, being even further removed from the urban core, is an hour or more. Metro is more accessible than the CTA though, so not only are there escalators in every station, there are elevators too.
I believe BART serves both San Francisco and Oakland’s international airports directly as well.
Riding the Silver Line
I had hoped to be on the first train outbound like in 2014, but a Tuesday opening meant that wasn’t practical.
My wife, youngest son and our friend Ouij met up on Saturday to check it out.
We met at Courthouse Metro to begin our trip, just as we did over eight years ago. The initial portion was familiar of course. I still enjoy the rise of the tracks from the Dulles Toll Road median as it curves into Tysons along VA 123 (Dolley Madison Blvd.). I hadn’t been out this way since the pandemic started.
The new extension
At Whiele-Reston, we entered the new extension.
By Herndon, the front range of the Appalachians came into view. I enjoy the novelty of seeing mountains from Metro.
After Innovation Center, so named for the landmark Center for Innovation building, the Silver Line curves off the Dulles Toll Road median towards Dulles Airport at long last.
I barely fly, out of Dulles or otherwise, so mostly appreciate the aesthetics of the iconic Eero Saarinen main terminal. I’d have rather the Silver Line go right up to the terminal, as the Yellow/Blue lines do at National Airport, but that was nixed as a cost savings. It seems that the distance between station is comparable with O’hare and the CTA.
Station to terminal video
We didn’t exit the Silver Line at Dulles to see for ourselves the distance, but youtuber Virat’s Travels did. The embed starts at 1:30 to give you an idea of how long it takes.
Virat takes a leisurely pace, but as seen from the station, it’s not much farther than being at the far end of the hourly lot. It’s covered as well.
The Silver Line loops back to the median of VA 267 (the Dulles Greenway here). There is a spur to the Dulles rail yard. Two more stops remain.
Loudoun Gateway is near West Ox Road a few more miles up the line. Interestingly, the trains weren’t reaching top speed. I suspect they are still in shakedown mode for a while until the data has been collected with trains full of passengers.
Ashburn is the terminal station. Like other new stations, there is still a lot of open space around them. The two prime parcels are both empty, though within a half mile a small “town center” development called Loudoun Station has restaurants and a movie theater. JFrankly, the name Loudoun Station is confusing since the actual Metro station has a different name and there is a Loudoun Gateway one stop down the line.
my flickr photos tagged with silverline
I didn’t time our journey, but it seemed about 55-60 minutes as scheduled. It’s a long ride, but it covers a lot of ground.
The Post compared traveling to Dulles from downtown by car of by Metro. The Silver Line won.
There was an opening day atmosphere upon our arrival. There were three moonbounces, foodtrucks, swag tents and a performance by 80s coverband, the Legwarmers. My son enjoyed each of the moonbounces while my wife enjoyed the free Dunkin coffee.
We had lunch at Burger 21. Thanks Ouij!
Diverting and returning to the Silver Line
A sidequest followed to a non-Metro accessible location, Beltway Brewing Co. I wanted to get some World Cup USA team-themed beers from there. We uber’ed both ways, returning to the Silver Line at Innovation Center station.
There is a lot of land near Innovation Center station on the north side. I believe it was considered as a location for a baseball stadium circa 2004 and may yet be a location for a football stadium. We shall see.
I have a feeling Innovation Center will be the least-used Silver Line station.
Ashburn station is closer to West Virginia than the District. Bull Run Mountain is visible starting around Herndon. It’s about 25 miles to West Virginia and 30 to the D.C. border.
For additional perspective, other things that are 30 miles from DC border:
- Annapolis – heck that’s the other side of Annapolis and just a few miles from the Chesapeake Bay
- Interstate 70
- Port Tobacco
- Whatever that outdoor concert venue in Prince William County is called this year
The Silver Line wasn’t too crowded out to Ashburn Saturday morning and some people were clearly there for the celebration. Outbound, Tysons seemed the most popular stop, followed by Reston Town Center.
The eastern terminal signs have been obsolete since day 1 – the “Largo Town Center” station was changed to “Downtown Largo” along with several other name changes in September (WTOP).
One outbound train in the afternoon showed “Route 772” as its terminus. That was an early proposed name for Ashburn.
The day before opening, I saw a 5A bus in the District – I probably should have snapped a photo. It’s obsolete now.
Weekend ridership has looked pretty good the last two weekends. Cars have been pretty full on all the lines I traveled on lately. I feel like non-rush hour service is gaining passengers faster than rush hour.
I am looking forward to riding out the Silver Line and then bicycling all the way home, mostly on the W&OD trail. I will wait for warmer, less windy weather though.
The completion of the Silver Line represents the entire system, save the Potomac Yard station, is built out. It’s 97 stations (Greater Greater Washington) until next year when it goes up to 98 when the Potomac Yard in-fill station opens in Alexandria. Metro is slightly shorter than Chicago’s L and BART in the San Francisco Bay area. Prior to the pandemic, it was the second busiest after New York City.
Ridership cratered during the pandemic and is not coming back to 2019 levels yet. This area is one of the most telework friendly in the country: More than 40% of DC area workforce teleworks on a typical day, report shows (WTOP). The 7000 series has been out of or at a reduced service (WTOP) since 2021. Service cuts on buses leading up to Metro stations are not helping. A transit death spiral has been feared for years.
More riders are using the system, but it’s going to take time, patience, money and determination to avoid further service cutbacks.
The new WMATA GM, Randy Clark, has fared well in the public relations aspect of the job. He has been engaging on Twitter and actually using the system that he manages. Previous general managers cannot make that claim. Greater Greater Washington says Clark exceeds expectations 100 days in.
The Silver Line wasn’t built for today or even tomorrow, it was built for the next 50-100 years. I hope this is remembered by government officials and voters.
Official opening video
I have it set to start at the color guard presentation