- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

Metro officials avoided taking sides Thursday over a compromise proposal to move a planned underground rail station at Washington Dulles International Airport above ground to save money, but board members warned the final choice should not be at the expense of transit or customer service.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said the agency “wants to see the project built” but would not elaborate on which design he prefers, adding that Metro would be analyzing recently proposed cost reductions suggested by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood because they “could impact service.”

Mr. Sarles‘ comments came during a discussion with Metro’s board members and Peter M. Rogoff, administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, about the July 3 memo from the Transportation Department that outlined how to cut costs of the second phase of a Metro extension to Dulles Airport from the current estimate of $3.8 billion.

The largest and most controversial move would be to reverse the decision by the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) to build the underground train station instead of an above-ground version that is $300 million cheaper.

Beyond that, the cuts to bring the project closer to its original $2.5 billion cost include reducing the number of traction power substations to save $34 million and reducing the planned purchase of railcars to save $24 million.

Mr. Sarles said the substations, which provide the power for the trains’ third rails, are “not so much” about power but are key in getting the trains going quickly again after they stop.

The train cars are part of a larger order that Metro officials hope will replace some of the oldest cars in their fleet. A quarter of the roughly 400 cars the transit system has ordered are slated for use on the Silver Line, and federal officials say a reduction in the order would save money.

Mr. Sarles said the fleet plan for Metro’s trains is being updated and a final decision on whether or not the cuts will affect Metro’s service plan won’t come for another month or two.

The roughly $58 million in savings is just a small portion of the $1.1 billion in overall cuts proposed by Mr. LaHood.

Stakeholder partnerships “have begun to unravel in a way that could be fatal to the project,” Mr. Rogoff said. “We want to get as close to the original $2.5 billion prices as possible to ensure we get a real transit option all the way out to Loudoun County.”

Since the April 6 vote by the MWAA in favor of the underground station, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, as well as some Virginia officials, have dug in their heels about shelling out extra millions of dollars for a project that was already climbing in cost.

Mr. LaHood has asked for a formal position from these stakeholders by July 20.

The station is part of the second half of the 23-mile-long Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, which will extend Metro service to Dulles and eastern Loudoun County.

The first phase starts Metro Silver Line service from East Falls Church station, in Arlington, to Reston. It has a $2.7 billion price tag and a completion date of 2013.