What About a Faster Transit Route Between Dulles and the Core?
The planned Metrorail Line to Dulles Airport will provide a high-frequency, high-capacity link between the airport and the region’s core, and will enable travel between all Metrorail stations and the airport, without requiring rail-to-bus transfers. Concerns have been expressed about the likely Metrorail travel times between the airport and the core, and the capacity of the Metrorail system, as trains converge through Rosslyn and pass under the Potomac River. Could there be improvements that would provide faster service, expand the capacity, and also provide for greater flexibility for routing trains when service is disrupted, because of either incidents or planned major maintenance?
To attract riders, transit travel times need to “be competitive with” other travel options, yet setting that competitive bar at the level of auto travel times doesn’t seem to be necessary (nor is it readily achievable.) Reagan National Airport attracts many transit trips, even though driving times to the airport are generally shorter than by rail. While travel times need to be competitive, and a faster travel time would be more appealing and attract some more ridership, Metrorail to Dulles Airport will result in considerable transit usage by airport patrons and employees, not only to and from the core, but to Tysons Corner and other locations served by the Metrorail network.
Travel time from Dulles Airport to Metro Center will be 52 minutes, compared with the current travel time of 17 minutes from National Airport to Metro Center. However, many of the trips using the Dulles extension will be shorter trips that stay within Virginia. Travel time from Dulles Airport to Tysons Corner will be only 22 minutes and from Tysons Corner to Ballston will be 15 minutes.
|Future Rail Travel Time Between Stations||Travel Time (min)|
|Dulles Airport to Tysons Route 7||22|
|Herndon/Monroe to Tysons Route 7||13|
|Tysons Route 7 to Ballston||15|
|Dulles Airport to Metro Center||52|
|Reagan National Airport to Metro Center||17|
As part of the Regional Transit System Plan (RTSP) effort, Metro is evaluating strategies to increase the capacity of service through Rosslyn, and reduce the travel times between the outer reaches of Metrorail and the core. Two specific ideas a include building a new line parallel to the existing Orange Line in Arlington so as to bypass multiple stations there, and operating trains in a skip-stop pattern. Metro is not considering building a third track (or third and fourth tracks) that would follow the current alignment, which would require rebuilding the existing stations. It would likely be no more costly and much less disruptive to build a nearby parallel line. While a skip-stop operation is feasible (though confusing to non-regular riders), the idea of express trains is not being pursued because the future train frequency will be so high that an express train would gain little time before being constrained by the train in front, and operating trains into and out of bypasses would involve considerable switching that is fraught with complications.
While it’s not planned to analyze express Metrorail service to Dulles as part of the RTSP effort, it is planned to model a configuration that would enable trains to bypass the section of the Orange Line between Ballston and Courthouse. This could provide an indication of ridership potential from reducing travel times by about 10 minutes.
The Commonwealth’s upcoming study of I-66 inside the beltway will provide another opportunity to look at transit in this corridor. At the same time that VDOT is moving ahead with the I-66 spot improvements to widen the outbound roadway in places, this upcoming VDOT study will look at a broad range of long-term options for the corridor. While this road widening will make it more difficult to put a new heavy rail line down the I-66 right-of-way between East Falls Church and Rosslyn to enable a parallel Metrorail route in this corridor, it may still be feasible should high quality transit be a priority for future travel along this corridor.