At long last, passengers flying from the Washington, D.C.-area’s biggest international airport will have a direct rail link to the city.
With weeks until the Thanksgiving travel season commences, the Washington area’s Metrorail system is set to open its much-anticipated extension into Dulles International Airport (IAD) on Nov. 15, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced Monday.
Dulles, which is a hub for United Airlines and has seen its surrounding area transform in recent decades into a major tech corridor, will now have direct access to Washington through the Silver Line expansion.
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Passengers will be able to access the trains via an underground tunnel connected to the airport’s baggage claim area, which is accessible to all departing and arriving flyers. Historically, pricey car services from Dulles to downtown Washington faced debilitating traffic during peak hours that could cost upward of $60. Straddled between Virginia’s Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Dulles is approximately 28 miles away from downtown Washington.
The 11 1/2-mile, $3 billion extension will give the Northern Virginia suburbs six new Silver Line stations, completing the final phase of the 23-mile expansion project that started in 2009. Besides Dulles, these stations are Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) has been served by public rail transportation for years, but that close-to-downtown airport primarily serves short domestic flights. Even at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) — often considered one of the metro area’s three airports — flyers can take an airport shuttle bus to catch an Amtrak train or commuter rail service into downtown Washington. BWI also has a light rail connection to downtown Baltimore. But it’s at Dulles where the Silver Line extension will change the public transit map of the region’s three big airports, giving passengers a new downtown rail option at the airport with the bulk of the region’s international and cross-country flights.
The long-awaited announcement that the Silver Line extension into Dulles will open comes after facing years of delays. Initially set to open in 2018, the final phase of the expansion into Dulles had been marred by years of cost overruns and criminal charges against contractors who falsified records about defective concrete panels. Ultimately, the federal civil suit for the case against the company involved in the incident resulted in a $1 million settlement.
Even in October — just weeks before Metro announced an opening date for the final stretch of the expansion — the agency sparred with the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission after it rejected Metro’s request to return more 7000-series trains, a newer model, to service, according to The Washington Post.
The commission cited safety concerns with the 7000 series, which had already led to a one-year suspension of the newer trains after one of those models derailed on the Blue Line near Arlington Cemetery in October 2021. The suspension subsequently caused Metro to face a train shortage, which had been exacerbated by increasing travel demand. Metro has since been scrambling to fully regain its fleet, according to The Washington Post.
Consequently, Metro executives feared that there wouldn’t be enough trains to fulfill the demand for the new Silver Line extension into Dulles in time for Thanksgiving travel.
The commission and Metro ultimately reached a compromise to phase back in more of the newer trains. However, the Silver Line still awaits certification from the safety commission.
“Metro continues to work on a short list of items that we are coordinating daily with the [safety commission],” Metro said. “We appreciate their collaboration and expect to finalize safety certification before we open for passenger service.”
The first phase of this project was completed in 2014, which added new stations in Fairfax County. The second phase included additional stations in this county, along with new ones in Loudoun County, marking Metrorail’s first foray into another one of Virginia’s most populous areas.
With the Nov. 15 opening, Dulles will now join the ranks of major U.S. airports with a direct rail connection that whisks passengers directly to downtown areas without the hassle of traffic. Some of these direct rail connections have opened within the past decade: The A Line, which connects Denver International Airport (DEN) to downtown Denver, was unveiled in 2016.
A lack of direct public transportation access to cities has plagued many airports for years — LaGuardia Airport (LGA), for example, notoriously lacks a direct public transportation option. Passengers have to instead take a bus from the airport and then connect to a subway or another bus.
Metro workers will hand out commemorative pennants to passengers taking the train from Dulles and the other new stations in Northern Virginia on Nov. 15, continuing a tradition that dates back to 1976 when the first Metro station opened.