Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Get ready for Metro's Silver Sardine Can

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Metro's already uncomfortably overcrowded Orange Line is not so fondly referred to by Northern Virginia commuters as the "Orange Crush." Don't be surprised if the "Silver Sardine Can" is next.

Current Metro riders will get no relief from the Silver Line. In fact, they are being warned to expect even longer waits and more crowded trains when Phase 1 opens later this year.

Blue Line riders will have to wait 12 minutes for a train, even during rush hour, and are supposed to be happy that this is two minutes less than originally planned. Orange Line riders will have to wait at least six minutes for the next packed train.

Metro stations were originally designed to handle eight-car trains, and the longer trains would do much to alleviate crowding on the most popular routes, including the Red Line. In 2010, Metro even announced that 100 percent of the transit system's trains would be eight cars long by 2015.

That's clearly not going to happen. The 428 new 7000-series rail cars that Metro currently has on order from Kawasaki will not be available until 2014, but they are already spoken for. About 300 will be used to replace the oldest 1000-series that the National Transportation Safety Board recommended be replaced after they telescoped during the fatal 2009 Red Line crash, and the remainder of the new cars will be put into service on the newly opened Silver Line.

General Manager Richard Sarles recently admitted that running eight-car trains under the Metro Momentum capital replacement program won't happen until 2020 at the earliest. And even that's a questionable timetable given the fact that there's still no funding for the $2 billion or so it will cost. That figure includes the new rail cars themselves plus the electrical upgrades and new power substations that are needed to run the longer trains systemwide.

Metro will need to spend an additional $1 billion to correct the existing bottleneck at the Rosslyn tunnel, which is why Blue and Orange Line riders will have to cool their heels when Silver Line trains start competing for the limited track space. In other words, their grueling commutes will only get worse.

Metro's current inability to utilize its own built-in capacity for longer trains to alleviate overcrowding is symptomatic of its many management failures over the years. And once again, passengers are paying the price.

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