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Expansion starts as Metrorail's core network is completed

01 Jan 2001

INTRO: After 31 years of continuous construction, the 166 route-km metro network in the US Federal Capital will be completed this month. But as the region's population continues to expand, work is already getting under way on the first of up to 19 expansion projects. Further investment will be needed over the next decade to refurbish the oldest parts of the initial system. William D Middleton reports

ON JANUARY 13, just in time for the US presidential inauguration, Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority celebrates the opening of the final segment of its Metrorail Green line. The opening brings to a close a 31-year construction effort to complete the 166-km, 83-station system called for in the area's Adopted Regional Rail System plan.

Without even a momentary pause, however, work is beginning for the system's first expansion beyond the original regional plan. Construction starts early this year on a 5 km Blue line extension from Landover to Largo Towncenter in suburban Maryland. Still more expansion should begin soon, as WMATA moves towards a strategic goal of doubling ridership by 2025.

The 10·5 km, five-station Green line extension opening this month, which links Anacostia in the District of Columbia to Branch Avenue in Prince George's County, Maryland, brings Metrorail to the full scope outlined in the regional plan more than 30 years ago. WMATA expects it to increase rail traffic by more than 22000 daily trips. 'The Green Line extension', explains WMATA General Manager Richard A White, 'will serve the largest transit dependent area of the region that is not now served by rail.'

During the three decades of Metrorail construction, Washington metropolitan area population has grown by almost 50% to more than 4·4 million. Employment has grown even faster, increasing by more than 80% to almost 2·8 million jobs. Growth has brought some massive transport problems for the region; Washington area traffic congestion is now ranked second only to Los Angeles in the USA. It could be much worse, but the region's $9·5bn investment in rail transit has been a key element of its strategy for controlling growth and maintaining mobility. 'It is almost unimaginable', says White, 'how the metropolitan area would function today without this investment.'

Reflecting the region's steadily-growing transport needs, Metrorail ridership has gone from one record year to another, with a current weekday average of over 600000 trips. Fully 40% of the people who work in the core employment area served by Metrorail arrive by public transport, which now accounts for 18% of all rush hour trips in the region. This level of public transport use is now second only to New York City in the USA.

Land use strategies

Key to this high level of public transport use have been a number of growth projects that have exploited the potential of rail service. For example, there has been a land use policy to concentrate development around stations.

In Arlington County, Virginia, strategies for infrastructure improvements, incentive zoning, and development have encouraged high density development around five Orange line stations. At Ballston, the most successful of these, 2500 residential units and 340000m2 of commercial space had been developed within walking distance of the station by 1995.

The transit-centred Fashion Centre mall, with direct access to Pentagon City station in Arlington, draws more than half its customers by rail and ranks among the most profitable shopping malls anywhere in the USA.

Alexandria, Virginia, has been experiencing similar rail-oriented, high-density commercial and residential redevelopment. The area around King Street station, west of central Alexandria, is already substantially redeveloped. Major new development is in progress on the site of the former Potomac Yard, in the area south of Duke Street, and to the west along Eisenhower Avenue.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, major new office, retail and residential development has occurred around Bethesda station, while similar high density development is in prospect at both Grosvenor and Friendship Heights.

Central Washington has seen perpetual construction activity as new commercial space has developed along the Metrorail corridors. Just a few years ago, the city's new MCI Center, a major sports arena, was completed in the city centre, immediately adjacent to the interchange between three Metrorail lines at Gallery Place. Worsening congestion in the region's sprawling suburbs has encouraged a new interest in close-in, transit-convenient residential areas, and the District of Columbia population, which had been in decline for decades, has begun to grow again.

Preparing for growth

Planning projections point to a Washington area population of more than 5·6 million and an employment base of almost 3·6 million jobs by 2020. Planners have been studying how the region's transport network can be expanded to get all of these people where they want to go. Metrorail promises to be a major element of the solution.

WMATA 's goal of doubling public transport ridership by 2025 would bring total use to more than 2 million daily trips, with Metrorail traffic exceeding 1·2 million. Some 60% of this growth is expected to come from increased use of the existing rail network, while the balance will come from expansion projects.

The shape of potential rail expansion was detailed in a 25-year Transit Service Expansion Plan adopted by the WMATA board early in 1999. This outlined 19 projects that could add as much as 240route-km to the rail network. Five of these would extend existing Metrorail or add new light rail lines further into the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. A completely new metro line is envisaged to serve the Dulles Airport corridor. Within the District of Columbia, a Red line branch would serve Georgetown, while a half dozen light rail projects are under consideration in the inner urban core of the District, Arlington, and Alexandria. Other projects would add large segments of what is being called the Purple line, a circumferential rail route that might eventually encircle the District. This is intended to cater for the region's growing suburb-to-suburb commuting market.

Three schemes started

Given the region's limited transport funding resources, not all of this costly Plan is likely to move forward over the next two decades. But planning and financing work has been initiated for three major projects which are now moving towards construction.

On December 16 WMATA broke ground for a new Red line station at New York Avenue (Fig 1). This is intended to support a District of Columbia economic development initiative for the New York Avenue Corridor. Already, one federal government agency and a major commercial project are committed to development at the site. The $84m cost is being financed jointly by the federal government, the District of Columbia, and private developers.

Next to begin will be the 5 km, two-station Blue line extension to Largo Towncenter in Prince George's County, Maryland. The $435m project is being funded on a 60:40 basis by the federal government and the State of Maryland. Site preparation and utilities relocation are being accomplished through a conventional design-bid-build contract, while two design-and-build contracts will be awarded for stations and for track work and systems. Completion is scheduled for 2004.

This should be followed by a start to the planned Metrorail line in the median of the Dulles Airport Access Road. It will initially run from a junction with the Orange Line at West Falls Church to the Tysons Corner area of Fairfax County, Virginia. In the longer term it will be extended to Dulles Airport and a park-and-ride terminal at the junction of Route 772 and the Dulles Greenway toll road in Loudon County.

The initial phases of the work will concentrate on a 12 km, seven-station segment that will provide a rail service to the major commercial development at Tysons Corner. A 29 km 'bus rapid transit' feeder along the airport access road will serve the rest of the corridor. In the longer term, the bus lanes and stations will be converted into a rail alignment.

Developed on the basis of car access, Tysons Corner's scattered office parks and retail centres will be difficult to serve effectively by rail. WMATA planners have developed an innovative loop and wye concept. Diverging from the airport access road alignment, the line will be looped through Tysons Corner, with outbound trains operating around one side of the one-way loop, and inbound trains around the other, serving a total of four stations. Wyes at each end of the loop will permit Metrorail to operate a variety of service patterns and an internal loop circulator (Fig 2).

The four stations will be developed around a 'pavilion' concept in which entry and fare collection pavilions will be placed at convenient centralised locations and linked to the platforms by enclosed pedestrian bridges. Some of these entrance pavilions will be integrated into joint development projects.

The initial rail segment will terminate a short distance beyond Tysons Corner, near the junction of the airport access road and Route 7, where there will be an interchange with the bus feeder. Beyond this point, seven bus stations will be located in the median of the access road. These will be arranged much like rail stations, with off-vehicle fare collection and centre platforms, and will be planned for later conversion to rail. The buses will enter the median at each station and cross to the opposite side to allow right-hand door access to the central platform.

Preliminary engineering and environmental studies are now under way, and WMATA expects to go to the Federal Transit Administration for a record of decision in Spring 2002. While full funding for the project has not yet been identified, a total of $86m in federal funds has already been appropriated for planning work. The federal transit appropriation for the 2001 financial year also established a $217m 'contingent commitment' for the project that is likely to give it a head start over other new-start projects seeking federal funding. BRT services could be introduced during 2003-05, with rail services to Tysons Corner following in 2006. The entire rail corridor to Dulles could be completed by 2010.

Total cost for the entire rail expansion programme is estimated at $1·91bn, while the BRT work will cost an additional $283·3m.

While other elements of WMATA 's service expansion plan are much further away, planning has already begun for some projects. Virginia Department of Transportation has initiated studies for a projected extension of the Orange line along the Interstate 66 corridor from Vienna to Centreville.

Both Virginia and Maryland transportation departments have begun studies for segments of the circumferential Purple line in the alignment of the Capital Beltway, while current planning for a replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge beltway crossing of the Potomac River at Alexandria includes provision for the future rail line.

To serve the growing demand for the suburb-to-suburb service that the Purple line will provide, WMATA has already launched a Capital Beltway express bus service between Montgomery County and Tysons Corner. A similar service between the Green line terminal at Branch Avenue and the Red line station at King Street, Alexandria, will be launched on January 13 in conjunction with the opening of the Green line extension.

Investing for renewal

Together with the investment needed for system expansion, WMATA is confronted with a daunting requirement for reinvestment in the original network. Based upon an overall condition assessment completed in 1998, the agency has developed a 25-year refurbishment programme that is projected to cost $9·8bn.

Early priorities include an estimated $400m mid-life rehabilitation for 364 Breda-built EMU cars, and $128m for rehabilitation of 170 of the oldest escalators. This work includes installation of canopies over open escalator wellways at 53 locations, where exposure to rain and deicing salts has contributed to accelerated deterioration. Other work includes rehabilitation of structures, train control, track, and communications and operating systems.

A major item not yet included in the programme is the need to waterproof some of the oldest tunnel sections. This includes 14·5 km of Red line tunnel that was built by drill-and-shoot tunnelling through hard rock. This was lined with shotcrete or cast-in-place tunnel lining without a waterproofing membrane, and major water infiltration is now damaging all equipment located in the tunnel.

Still more work on the original Metrorail network is being identified in a current study of capacity enhancements which will be needed to support the planned expansion. These are likely to include additional rolling stock, and improvements to station throughput capacity, vertical circulation, power supply, and train control capacity.

Finding a way to pay for all of these renewal and expansion needs represents a daunting problem. The region currently has an annual revenue stream of about $2·5bn for all of its transport needs. About 80% of this goes on operations and maintenance of the existing bus and rail systems, leaving too little to fund Metrorail's renewal and expansion proposals, or any other projects required to expand the region's transport capacity.

WMATA General Manager Richard White acknowledges the magnitude of the financial challenge, but says he's 'cautiously optimistic' that the region will be able to find ways to meet it. 'The business community has recognised that congestion is limiting their ability to function', he comments. 'The problem is so acute that I believe there will be a solution.'

TABLE: Last year WMATA identified 19 proposals for long-term rail development in the Washington region, including two new metro corridors, five extensions and a range of light rail routes. The goal is to provide for at least a 50% expansion of the network over the next 25 years.

Length km Cost $m 1

1 Blue line Largo extension 5·0 400

2 Bethesda - Silver Spring connection 6·8 300 - 1 000

3 Falls Church - Tysons - Dulles - Loudon 38·6 1 500

4 Branch Ave - Alexandria connection 11·3 1 000

5 Branch Ave - Charles County LRT 27·4 350 - 450

6 Fort Lincoln - New York Ave - Mt Vernon Square LRT 6·4 400

7 Georgetown - Downtown - Mt Vernon Square LRT 4·0 300

8 Purple line Greenbelt - Rock Spring 20·9 1 500 - 2 200

9 Beltway line New Carrolton - Silver Spring 16·1 600 - 750

10 Purple line Rock Spring - American Legion Bridge 8·0 400 - 600

11 Purple line American Legion Bridge - Dunn Loring 11·1 700 - 800

12 Orange line Vienna - Centreville 16·1 600

13 Shady Grove - Gaithersburg or Clarksburg LRT 10·5 - 23·3 300 - 700

14 Adams Morgan - Minnesota Avenue LRT 7·2 250 - 350

15 Pentagon City - Columbia Pike - Bailey's Crossroads LRT 6·4 250 - 350

16 Pentagon City - Route 1 - Alexandria LRT 8·0 300 - 400

17 Upper Georgia Ave - Barney Circle LRT 9·6 350 - 400

18 Blue line Franconia/Springfield - Ft Belvoir - Lorton 9·0 600 - 700

19 Red line Tenleytown - Georgetown - Mt Vernon Square 8·2 900 - 1 200

1. Choice of technology (light rail/heavy rail) will define final costs. Preliminary estimates are subject to refinement through detailed engineering studies.

CAPTION: Metrorail's U-shaped Red line serving the northern suburbs shares the CSX rail alignment north of Fort Totten with MARC commuter trains and Amtrak's Capitol Limited

CAPTION: The Blue line's western extension from Alexandria to Franconia/ Springfield opened on June 29 1997

CAPTION: High-density residential and commercial developments around the Orange line station at Ballston in Arlington County, Virginia, reflect local strategies for infrastructure improvement and, incentive zoning

CAPTION: Fig 1. The $84m station at New York Avenue will be built onto the side of the existing Red line branch to Glenmont to serve an urban corridor redevelopment strategy being funded as a public-private partnership

CAPTION: Fig 2. The Dulles Airport metro line will be threaded through the Tysons Corner development area as an elevated single-track loop, with four unidirectional stations and a mix of operating patterns to serve the widely dispersed commercial, retail and hotel developments

Summary in French, German and Spanish:

Expansion starts as Metrorail's core network is completed

After 31 years of continuous construction, the 161 route-km metro network in the US Federal Capital will be completed this month. But as the region's population continues to expand, work is already getting under way on the first of up to 19 expansion projects. These include a metro link to Dulles Airport, an orbital Purple line and several light rail corridors. Further investment will also be needed over the next decade to refurbish the oldest parts of the initial system. William D Middleton reports

L'expansion démarre avec l'achèvement du réseau central de Metrorail

Après 36 années de construction continue, le réseau de 161 km de lignes du métro de la capitale fédérale américaine sera achevé ce mois ci. Mais, tandis que la population de la région continue de s'accroître, William D Middleton explique que les travaux vont déjà bon train sur le premier des projets d'expansion dont le nombre va jusqu'à 19. Ceux-ci incluent une liaison métro jusqu'à l'aéroport de Dulles, la ligne Pourpre, circulaire, et plusieurs lignes de métro léger. Des investissements ultérieurs seront également nécessaires au cours de la prochaine décennie pour remettre en état les parties les plus anciennes du réseau initial

Nach Fertigstellung des Kern-Netzes beginnen die Erweiterungen bei Metrorail

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