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Insta-CoGo: The Dulles Rail Extension and You

Christina Talcott

In an unexpected reverse move, the Feds announced today that they're funding the Dulles rail extension, which we all but left for dead a few months back.

Now that things are back on track (so to speak), it's looking up for Dulles, which is considered Washington's international hub (never mind that BWI is equidistant from downtown Washington).

As anyone who's flown out of IAD lately knows, the airport's been undergoing a big makeover: January saw the opening of new gates in concourse B, a new runway is being constructed, concourses C and D are getting facelifts, and we're finally getting a concourse-to-concourse train, which will make those cramped shuttles a thing of the past.

I for one am excited about the Metro extension to Dulles (not to mention finally being able to get to Tysons by Metro for some travel-gear shopping at L.L. Bean).

Kudos to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, and I'm looking forward to a less-congested Dulles Toll Road and a zippy train ride to Dulles.

What about you? How does this decision strike you?

By Christina Talcott |  April 30, 2008; 1:30 PM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airports , Christina Talcott , In the News , Mid-Atlantic Destinations , Subways
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Good news. I flew out of Dulles airport a couple of weeks ago and had to pay almost $50.00 for a taxi ride. Let's hope the rail project becomes a reality.

Posted by: Robin Mozo | April 30, 2008 1:58 PM

This Metro line has always struck me as a waste of money, although I do think that a line to Tysons (preferably underground) makes lots of sense. Gonna be interesting to see Metrorail construction AND HOT lane construction going on at the same time, especially since there is to be an interchange between the HOT lanes and the bridge that connects Tysons and Tysons II. That Metro line is going to have to be super-elevated to pass over all that stuff.

I answered "No" to the poll because transit access to the airports is generally irrelevant to which airport I use. If the flight I need goes out of Reagan, I go there. Ditto for Dulles.

Posted by: Rich | April 30, 2008 2:00 PM

On the poll, count me as "less unlikely to fly out of Dulles" with a rail option - that's about as far as I'm willing to give when it comes to flying from that place.

Posted by: swdc | April 30, 2008 2:13 PM

Transportation to and from the airport is always a major consideration for me on which airport to use, so this is very good news. I believe underground would be better, but somethin's better than nuttin'.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 2:16 PM

Rail to Dulles represents a national asset. Several noteworthy cities like Chicaco, Philadelphia, and Cleveland have rail to midtown. This provides another option, and Chicago demonstrates the rail did not materially reduce taxi traffic.

Posted by: DM | April 30, 2008 2:18 PM

Yes, rail to Dulles is important, but does it HAVE to be Metrorail? It's a 23-mile EXTENSION, which means a total distance of about 30 miles to Metro Center.

That trip is going to take over an HOUR. Just how many people are going to use it? It's simply NOT cost-effective.

Would have been far more efficient to run an Orange Line spur to Tysons and a separate high-speed rail line (a new VRE line?) to Dulles.

Posted by: NoVA Dem | April 30, 2008 2:23 PM

I've never found the Dulles Toll Road (the part that actually goes to Dulles, not the toll road section) to be very congested. The only problems I get are the occassional taxi that thinks it's ok to drive 50 mph in the left lane.

If they're going to build a metro line out that way, why not also include stops for Reston and Herndon? They are, after all, fairly large population centers that people tend to drive to and from.

Posted by: Liz | April 30, 2008 2:23 PM

Liz, FWIW, the road you're referring to is the Dulles Airport Access Road (referred to in government reports as the "DAAR" to have acronyms).

They do plan to include Metro stops at intermediate locations other than Tysons. The full list:

Tysons East (located near the Capitol One building off VA-123)
Tysons Central 123 (between the two malls)
Tysons Central 7 (near the shopping center where Tower Records used to be)
Tysons West (near the Rosenthal Auto Park)
Provision for a future stop at Wolf Trap
Wiehle Avenue
Reston Parkway
Herndon/Monroe (existing Park & Ride)
Dulles Airport
Route 606 (west of the airport)
Route 772 (Asburn)

Posted by: Rich | April 30, 2008 2:34 PM

Finally! Since the VA supreme court ruled tax increases to improve VA highways unconstitutional and the FTA killed public rail transport, northern VA was on the road to becoming the largest parking lot in the nation (as opposed to currently only 2nd largest).

Now I will consider going to Dulles on Metro instead of spending an hour and over $50 to get there in a cab, not to mention going to Tysons once in a while.

Posted by: Matthew | April 30, 2008 2:37 PM

What is the expected finish date?

Posted by: bob | April 30, 2008 3:20 PM

What is the expected finish date?

Posted by: bob | April 30, 2008 3:20 PM

Rail to IAD in this configuration can be predicted by a city that uses and depends on its mass transit even more than DC - Chicago. I've taken the El out to ORD a few times from the loop - there might have been 5 people getting off the car at ORD, and since the transit station is before you arrive at ORD, it is a safe assumption all those people (or few) were flying or working at the airport. It is slow - even slower than the Kennedy, if you can believe that.

Rail to IAD will suffer from the same problems with one big difference - the access road makes it much faster and cheaper to get to the airport. If you want a commuter rail, have it commute. If you want rail to IAD, express service a la Heathrow is the answer. This hybrid does not kill two birds with one stone - it merely nicks two birds with one stone and misses the target.

Posted by: Steven | April 30, 2008 3:55 PM

This project is screwed.
1) Tunnels underneath Tysons would get pedestrians off of pedenstrian-unfriendly roads, connect parts of Tysons that were considered unwalkable beforehand, create new underground businesses, allow exisitng retail to flourish, etc.

2) What's going to happen to the existing Orange Line. It's already at or near capacity. Dump Silver line commuters onto it at WFC, and you might as well start employing Japanese pushers to cram people in cars.

3) I agree that this should somehow be a heavy rail project, as the distance from WFC to Dulles is enormous, and I suspect heavy rail, independent of the metro system, would eliminate the inevitable overcrowding of the Orangle line, and be cheaper.

Posted by: Ill-conceived | April 30, 2008 4:10 PM

Right now I prefer to fly out of BWI, ONLY because I can get there entirely by public transit and not have to hassle with driving and then paying for long-term parking at the airport. Metro to Dulles would completely change my calculus.

Posted by: blicious | April 30, 2008 4:47 PM

Dulles Rail not only solves the problem of transit to the airport but also address the issues of commute for residents of Fairfax (Reston,Herndon etc) and Loudoun County the district. This reduces lot of pollution, congestion and adds to the value time spent in commute.

Posted by: prasad | April 30, 2008 5:49 PM

Christina, 1-1/2 hours is your definition of "zippy"? Because that will be the approximately travel time unless you board from an Orange Line station that is West of Metro Center. This means that for any international flight out of IAD, if you plan on taking Metro, you'd better leave the house no later than 12:30 p.m. for a 6:00 p.m. plane departure.

Posted by: Sasquatch | April 30, 2008 6:10 PM

I live in Maryland and it's much faster to drive down 270, around the Beltway, and out the Dulles Access Road, instead of waiting for a Red Line train, taking it downtown, waiting for an Orange Line train, and waiting as it creeps station-by-station out to Dulles.

While it's true that most modern cities have rail links to the airport, those lines are EXPRESS lines, not locals - London's Heathrow Express, Rome's daVinci Express, the Arlanda Express (Stockholm), the Kansai Express, the MTR (Hong Kong) Airport Express, the Gardermobanen (Oslo) Express, and the new Shanghai and Beijing airport lines.

Why can't WMATA meet the needs of travelers who need to be someplace in a reasonable amount of time?!?

Posted by: Marylander | April 30, 2008 6:24 PM

There seems to be a lot of negativity towards the extension here. Yes maybe an hour ride will seem long, but it already takes that amount of time with current public transportation. I always take the 5A bus to Dulles and it runs at 40 minute intervals and makes several unnecessary stops at parking garages. If I were to drive to Dulles then I would have to pay for multiday parking and unlike other cities, there is little in the way of alternative cheap satellite longterm parking at the airport. Finally I wouldn't call BWI that strong of an "international hub" in comparison to Dulles.

Posted by: Paul | April 30, 2008 8:13 PM

Its time we reconsider the spliting of the Orange and Blue line after Rosslyn. It would reduce backup under the Potomac and provide Georgetown and other areas the metro service that has always been needed. Nights and weekends on M st. are certainly a sign of how traffic gets out of control when you don't have reliable public transportation. The buses help, but they get stuck in the traffic like everyone else.

Posted by: Jacob | April 30, 2008 8:18 PM

BWI has much greater problems than distance from Washington in terms of being an "international hub". It's down to a single trans-atlantic flight a night, which is a 767 to London subsidized by the state of Maryland. Dulles, on the other hand, has over 30 nightly trans-atlantic flights to all parts of the globe. BW "I" is great for cheap flights to Oklahoma City or Columbus, but IAD is Washington's int'l gateway regardless of rail. Part of the problem at BWI is that Baltimore has weak demographics for int'l flying.

Posted by: Frequent Flyer | April 30, 2008 9:08 PM

wow. This writer is jackass. She wants us to spend $5 billion so she can take the Metro to Tysons so she can shop at LL Bean -- which is primarily a mail order shop.

Great. Once everyone's metro fare goes up by $1 to pay for the maintenance on 26 miles of extra suburban track -- and keep in mind they have a hard time keeping the existing stuff working -- I'll be sure to tune back in. In the meantime, I'll be taking the Washington Flyer bus to the airport for $8.

Posted by: LLBean | April 30, 2008 9:20 PM

Since I live out by South Riding, Dulles is already my preferred airport, but I will take the Metro to work in DC.

Posted by: Spectator2 | April 30, 2008 10:55 PM

Evidently some people will be unhappy until the time to travel from point A to point B is reduced to a nano second, and at zero cost. Face it people, teleportation will always be a fantasy not a reality.
Since I have not found the article that goes into the specifics of the spur, I won't comment on the route, but is it logistically possible to have the spur originating at Rosslyn?
Many people are commenting that it wouldn't get the traffic needed to justify the cost of the spur. But would a dedicated express train separate from METRO have more passengers? I don't think so. I have taken the R1 train in Philly out to the airport a number of times. Of the amount of passengers that take the train all the way out to the airport, I'd say at least 50%(probably more) were airport workers. Does that make the line any less valid? of course not. It actually makes it more valid. I would think that workers at Dulles would appreciate the option of getting to work by METRO, instead of driving or taking a bus. Also wouldn't the people in the area's of the planned Metro stops like the ability to travel to the District without driving themselves?
I think the results of the pole speak for itself. People have to start thinking Green regarding forms of transportation other than the horseless carriage.

Posted by: rja112 | May 1, 2008 12:42 AM

I think the metro will be well-utilized. I already use public transit to Dulles when I can (i.e. when I don't have flights too early or late in the day for there to be service) since driving means either paying $15 a day at the Daily Garage or having it take me twice as long from the economy parking to the terminal as it does from home (in Vienna) to the parking lot.

I have taken the El between O'Hare and the Loop numerous times at various times of day and there have always been plenty of people using it. And that's over an hour ride. Similarly, the Picadilly Line of the London Tube takes about an hour to the center of the city, but is very heavily utilized. My recollection is that it was about an hour (and two transfers) by metro from the airport in Madrid to the areas where most travelers stay, also.

By the way, I can't count the number of times that overseas visitors have expressed astonishment at the lack of metro to Dulles.

Posted by: xenophilia | May 1, 2008 8:55 AM

I won't be more likely to fly from IAD. It's the only airport I fly from, I can't beat 100%.

Posted by: Beth | May 1, 2008 3:36 PM

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is just another stop on the BART (pretty similar to Metro), it's about an hour from the East Bay (like Berkeley, Oakland). I love it, it made SFO my airport of choice instead of Oakland International Airport (when there's a choice) which requires BART + direct shuttle (more like BWI) even when it's faster to take public transportation to OAK.

I've been hoping for a Metro stop at IAD for ages! I think this regular Metro line integrated into daily use is a great idea. If it was an express just to the airport, there would have to be a lot of riders or they'd probably run it at less frequent (and less useful) intervals. And like others have mentioned, there will be people using the expanded Orange (or whatever) line, not just airport riders and employees. Pretty exciting, actually:)

Posted by: mim | May 1, 2008 3:46 PM

How delusional.

Does anyone seriously think that long-haul air passengers will want to tote their luggage to a subway stop (thru turnstiles and escalators), and then ride a stop-and-go LOCAL train all the way out to Dulles? Or that out-of-town visitors with luggage will opt for the slowest way to get from Dulles into DC and other destinations?

Do air travelers really want to ADD an extra hour (or more) to their trip to and from the airport?

Or will people continue to opt for faster, more direct, more luggage-friendly ways to get to and from the airport, such as door-to-door Airport Shuttles, or cabs, or rides from friends, or simply driving out the EXPRESS Dulles Access Road?

Yes, some cities have viable rail-to-airport systems, but those feature EXPRESS trains, and they service airports with short-haul trips (for passengers who fly with less luggage). The proposed rail to Dulles line would have slow LOCAL trains, and the airport is primarily for long-haul and international flights, where travelers have lots of luggage.

Rail to Dulles makes little senses for most types of transit riders, and is hugely expensive. But it is perhaps least efficient for -- and least likely to be used by -- air travelers flying in and out of Dulles.

On the other hand, the rail extension will likely attract local riders (not air travelers) on closer-in segments, headed to or from Tysons. And they will help to overload the already-crowded Orange Line, making that Metrorail line even more uncomfortable than it is today.

Some bargain, eh?

Posted by: ArlingtonRider | May 2, 2008 4:15 AM

"Since I have not found the article that goes into the specifics of the spur, I won't comment on the route, but is it logistically possible to have the spur originating at Rosslyn?"

No. There's no pocket track there. A pocket track is a third track located between the two tracks used for revenue service. A train can be stored there, or the track can be used to reverse the direction of a terminating train without holding up other trains. The only pocket track anywhere on the Orange Line (not counting the third track between the two platforms at West Falls Church) is located east of Stadium-Armory on the elevated section. That's one reason why the plan is to run the Dulles trains all the way to Stadium-Armory (if you terminate a train at, say, Foggy Bottom, which has an interlocking just to the east of the station, you hold up all the trains on the other track while the train switches over and then reverses direction). They don't want to have the Dulles line end at West Falls Church because they figure, probably correctly, that people won't be keen on changing trains.

Posted by: Rich | May 5, 2008 10:14 AM

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