Jan
20

Giving up a stop at the airport to streamline travel

By

One WMATA board member isn't sold on a Silver Line station stop at Dulles. (Image via The Transport Politic)

If New York had its druthers, public transportation to its airports would be more direct than it is today. Right now, existing transit connections serve to get air travelers almost to their destinations. Instead of direct service, the trip to Newark or JFK Airports involves a two-seat ride with an automated people-mover that delivers travelers from one train station to a terminal. Of course, a subway to JFK’s door would still involve travel from a train station to the terminal, but as London’s Piccadilly Line shows, it’s not an impossible way to travel.

Down in the Washington, D.C. area, the WMATA is finally rectifying a grave oversight of travel. They are amidst work on a multi-billion extension of the Metro that will finally, mercifully bring subway service to Dulles Airport. By New York standards, this so-called Silver Line seems downright cheap, mostly because it involves a good amount of at-grade construction. The final project will bring 23 miles of track and 11 new stations to the area for under $7 billion. Jealous yet?

Still, one Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board member isn’t satisfied. To save $70 million — or a little over 1 percent of the project’s total cost — Bob Brown proposed eliminating the Dulles stop, straightening out the alignment and constructing a people mover from the nearest station to the airport. “In my view this would be superior transportation service for our passengers,” Brown said.

Other WMATA board members were quick to shoot down the plan. “This is a creative idea,” Mame Reiley said, “but it’s not rail to Dulles. Fifteen years ago I might have been supportive, but I just don’t think that’s what we labored for is not to have rail to Dulles.”

That’s a rather singular vision put forward by Reiley. They’re not going to change their minds after 15 years of planning, and Greater Greater Washington issued a similar appeal. “Cutting so many corners that you don’t achieve your goal is not cost savings, it’s failure. Far from saving $70 million, by failing to provide Metro service to Dulles Airport Brown’s proposal would actually waste billions,” Dan Malouff wrote. He concluded: “The absolute minimum requirement for a Metro line to Dulles Airport must be that it actually reaches Dulles Airport. Period.”

I’m often skeptical of any argument that must be emphasized with a superfluous “period,” and another piece I read on the issue seemed to bare that out. Yonah Freemark ponders whether or not an airport line must actually service an airport. It may be perfectly acceptable and more beneficial for all riders if the airport line does what New York’s does. That is, if the train to the plane takes you to a people-mover that can better service airport terminals, everyone might come ahead.

After running some numbers, Freemark finds that total travel time from Route 28 — the station from which a Dulles people-mover would depart — to the airport isn’t significantly different if the WMATA goes with a station stop at Dulles or an airport connector. The difference, he notes, is in perceived convenience. It’s viewed as inconvenient for someone laden with bags and stressing to catch a flight to switch to yet another mode of transit. No one wants a two-seat ride; everyone craves a one-seat trip.

Ultimately, the people-mover proposal is a non-starter. It could streamline rides for folks traveling on the so-called Phase 2 of the Silver Line that connects parts north and west of the airport with the rest of the Metro system, but after years of fighting it out, the WMATA isn’t about to give up the airport station for an effort now called Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. It might just be worth it though for everyone involved.



Categories : WMATA

35 Responses to “Giving up a stop at the airport to streamline travel”

  1. Bolwerk says:

    I tried to snap a photo of the progress down there last time I was down. It’s coming along nicely. Alas, my camera phone sucks too badly to do it from a moving Orange Line. I’ll possibly be down there this week, though. I’ll see if I can bring a better camera.

    It may be perfectly acceptable and more beneficial for all riders if the airport line does what New York’s does. That is, if the train to the plane takes you to a people-mover that can better service airport terminals, everyone might come ahead.

    I don’t buy this argument. Okay, it may be acceptable, but it’s not more beneficial to all riders. It’s only more beneficial to riders who are not using the terminal the subway stops in (which could be more than one, in theory). Even then, baggage checks could be centralized in one terminal, even if passengers have to use a people mover to get to the others.

    After running some numbers, Freemark finds that total travel time from Route 28 — the station from which a Dulles people-mover would depart — to the airport isn’t significantly different if the WMATA goes with a station stop at Dulles or an airport connector. The difference, he notes, is in perceived convenience. It’s viewed as inconvenient for someone laden with bags and stressing to catch a flight to switch to yet another mode of transit. No one wants a two-seat ride; everyone craves a one-seat trip.

    A, say, family of four potentially needs some big bags, plus you’re marshaling kids across a platform, or worse up and down stairs. It’s not entirely unreasonable to build convenience into the system.

    And why would the people mover be any cheaper to extend than the Metro?

    • pea-jay says:

      a cross-platform transfer with a people mover that connects directly into the main and satellite terminals would be faster than the proposed Dulles Metro surface station which lies across a large surface parking lot from the main terminal. It’s a substantial (but not excessive) walk, then factor in the need to get out to one of the satellites for your actual flight.

      People-moving airline passengers from a Route 28 Metro station, cross-platform, directly to their terminal and offering them the ability to be security screened as they get off the people mover (and by-passing the main terminal check-point) might actually encourage more folks to take the Metro than the current plan.

      I don’t think that would save any money however.

      • Bolwerk says:

        a cross-platform transfer with a people mover that connects directly into the main and satellite terminals would be faster than the proposed Dulles Metro surface station which lies across a large surface parking lot from the main terminal.

        If it’s that far away, they’re doing it wrong.

        I seem to recall Dulles’ people mover was available after check-in at the main terminal. Is that right?

        In New York, you take the AirTrain to your terminal and then check in.

        • pea-jay says:

          Yeah, it’s true that all check in is centralized at the main terminal and all bags get dropped off and picked up there. But for those traveling without bags, it would be a nice little advantage if the peoplemover continued onto one of the satellites, opened their doors directly to a security screening area before heading upstairs to their departure gate. At the same time, folks arriving at Dulles at one of these terminals without bags could buy their Metro farecard and enter the peoplemover and zip right out to the Rt 28 station. Like I said, this would be the only way to make it convenient (though it would probably cost more). It’s just a thought exercise.

          In reality, if any people mover system were to be installed, it would involve an escalator ride and several hundred feet of walking to a separate train system that would make one or more intervening stops at long term car parking lots and rental car facilities before dropping passengers off next to the main terminal somewhere.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    The final project will bring 23 miles of track and 11 new stations to the area for under $7 billion. Jealous yet?

    $7 billion for 23 miles of almost 100% above-ground transit in the boondocks is one of the examples I use to show that New York is not the only city in the US with a cost problem.

    • Alex B. says:

      Indeed. And most of the track is in the middle of a freeway median where the space has been reserved for rail transit since the road was built.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Of course it should not be that expensive considering they already had much of the ROW, but it’s only boondocks compared to NYC. It does pass through some pretty high-value (if not always high-density) real estate.

      Part of what is now the Orange Line perhaps indirectly utilizes the former Washington and Old Dominion Railroad ROW. This was an interurban that actually went almost as far west as Appalachia so Washingtonians could escape the heat of the city in the summer. It was probably a good two hour trip to here, truly through rural countryside (the Appalachian Trail passes about a 5 minutes’ drive west). What a great thing the FRA banned that!

      • Alon Levy says:

        It’s very low-density sprawl by any standards. The land may have high value, but the cost of this is not land cost – the ROW is a reserved freeway median for the most part.

        Also: the FRA has done a lot of bad things, but the interurbans’ demise isn’t one of them. Their decline came from the spread of cars, not the inability to modernize rolling stock. The FRA is a big part of what’s preventing their revival today, though.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Well, I wasn’t trying to say the costs aren’t ridiculous. $300M/mile, afterall. Does that at least count the rolling stock and some land acquisition? Maybe in Tyson’s Corner?

          I know about the FRA.

  3. John-2 says:

    Although Dulles is a bigger airport than Washington National, the minimum WMATA customers will expect from the new route is that the Silver Line get close to the terminals — maybe not as close as the Blue/Yellow lines at National, but at least within a plausible distance. Plus, if you look at WMATA’s other line routes, direct paths from Point A to Point B have not been a key feature of the system since Day 1. A jog into airport property would be less of an indirect/PITA routing than, say, the route the Blue Line takes from Smithsonian to Van Dorn Street or the Columbia Heights jughandle on the Green/Yellow lines.

  4. Scott E says:

    Just when airlines started flying again after 9/11/01 (I was on vacation at the time), there were still no flights to LaGuardia so I flew into Philadelphia. From there, an easy SEPTA ride to 30th Street Station, Amtrak to NY Penn, then LIRR home. Long, but easy (then again, speed wasn’t exactly my goal at the time). It sure was nice having that train stop right there outside of the baggage claim area. I can only imagine what it must be like for someone to make an uplanned diversion to LGA then have to find their way around.

  5. Ed says:

    Jesus Christ. Judging from the photograph, they could put the metro stop on the right side of the terminal, and still get the nice diagonal route cutting across, and no people mover. But how much time would eliminating the station save anyway?

    • SEAN says:

      But how much time would eliminating the station save anyway? It was 2 hole minutes according to the article. No big deal.

      The original plan was to have the station in the terminal, but Louden County was ready to pull it’s support of the project unless the station was moved to the current location.

  6. ajedrez says:

    I think it’s 3 or 4 minutes. Yonah Freemark put the exact number on the blog.

  7. Dizzy says:

    FYI, Bob Brown is a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board, not the WMATA board. The MWAA owns and operates Dulles and DCA (as well as the Dulles Toll Road, tolls from which are paying for a good bit of the Silver Line) and it is in charge of the entirety of the Silver Line project, not WMATA.

    • SEAN says:

      Question; If what you posted is true & I’m not saying it isn’t, then how can Louden County officials make threts of pulling their portion of finantial support? Mind you it nearly happened a few months ago, but it was prevented by hevy negociations wich lead to the airport stations relocation at the north parking structure instead of inside the terminal as intended.

      • Bolwerk says:

        AFAIK, the counties don’t have to be members of WMATA if they don’t want to be. Or, at least the outer counties have an option. I’m not quite clear what happens if they choose to withdraw.

        However, Loudoun County was literally a few cow towns, a dairy-oriented county, thirty years ago and literally got swept up in a suburban boom that probably partly began with the Reagan budget expansions in the 1980s. I haven’t paid as much attention to the politics down there in recent years, but certainly as recently as the late 1990s it pretty much had more or less the same kinds of old timers in charge who were in charge in the 1970s. Meanwhile the population more than doubled, and has probably since quadrupled, from the 1980 number, and none of them understood that they were coping with a completely different animal than the rural nowhere they lived in when Carter was president.

        (I was going to say, the situation in Loudoun might be analogous to taking a county board out of Iowa and sticking them in charge of Suffolk County. But then I decided that perhaps that would improve the governance of Suffolk County, so I backed away from that comparison.)

      • Dizzy says:

        Loudoun County is supposed to contribute a (relatively small, but not inconsequential) percentage of the total cost of the project as their payment for two Phase II stations in Loudoun County – Route 606 and Route 772. The much-disputed Dulles stop is also technically in Loudoun County, although that has always been a MWAA priority rather than the county’s. If Loudoun refuses to deliver the funding it promised, the whole project is jeopardized.

        Note that Loudoun County is not yet a party to the WMATA Compact and probably won’t be for quite some time, since Phase II won’t be operational until the end of the decade.

  8. JE says:

    While the lower comparative cost should be celebrated, let’s also point out the downside of the Silver Line (or whatever it eventually gets labeled).

    1. While a one-seat ride from GW/Metro Center is a plus, this is no express service. From East Falls Church, passengers will have to go another NINE stops before reaching Dulles. From Metro Center, it will be 18 stops. (Do many NYers hop on a local A/C from Chambers Street gets for a 22-stop ride to JFK?)

    2. Delays may increase, as the tracks supporting the Orange and Blue Lines from Rosslyn to RFK already are plenty congested. There has been talk about moving “some” Blue trains to Greenbelt, but that could spell trouble for the Yellow and Green Lines currently sharing the tracks from L’Enfant Plaza to Fort Totten.

    • Bolwerk says:

      #1 How slow do you think that will be? I regularly go from Vienna to Union Station or vice-versa in about 45 minutes, at least during the day. That includes a transfer from the Orange Line to the Red Line at Metro Center.

      #2 This I have trouble disagreeing with. What can you say? They can always build an alternative route in the future. Airport to Union Station perhaps? :-p

      • JE says:

        I can speak only for myself, but the Washington Flyer bus from West Falls Church has been a perfectly acceptable way to get to Dulles. It takes less than 20 minutes from the GW/Foggy Bottom station to WFC, and until Silver Line construction began, there never was traffic on the Dulles Access Road. (That’s not to say that I won’t use the new service.)

        What makes me LMAO are the NYers who still don’t appreciate the utility of express trains and neighborhoods with two or more lines.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Well, I appreciate them (and picked my apartment based largely on that factor, in fact), but I don’t think express service is much of a boost speed-wise. The key benefit to express trains is capacity. Modern signaling can get you most of the benefits speed-wise, and WMATA seems pretty good in that regard. Even in New York, I think the difference between the non-stop A Train between 59th and 125th and the local C Train is about 4m – significant, but not spectacular.

          I’m not sure any line on WMATA calls for express service; though additional routing options for some services I think could be appropriate.

          New York is a different animal. I think it’s a shot in the foot not to make SAS a local/express combination, or at least provision for express service in 2050 or 2075.

        • pea-jay says:

          I believe a majority of the Silver line passengers will go between the outer reaches (reston, herndon now and loudon cty burbs later) to the Tysons and Rossyln areas. Sure there will be DC ridership but the 4 Tysons stops will have quite a few exiting passenger in the AM and boarding ones in the PM. I grew up west of there in Reston and a quite a few of my friends and classmates’ parents commuted to Tysons. My dad now does the reverse commute from Alexandria out to Tysons. Even without the Dulles station, this alignment will be well used

      • JE says:

        “They can always build an alternative route in the future. Airport to Union Station perhaps? :-p”

        And maybe *this* time Georgetown will agree to host a station? ;-)

        • Bolwerk says:

          It’s a fine idea, but there are geographic constraints in Georgetown, particularly if the routing is to be under the river. The grade up that hill from the river bank is pretty steep.

    • John-2 says:

      If they shift some Virgina trains south of Pentagon from the Blue to the Yellow Line and route those through to Franconia-Springfield, you can probably maintain the current headways, since the shared Green/Yellow line segement does have a little spare capacity compared to the Red or the Blue/Orange lines through downtown. People going to Arlington Cemetery or trying to get from the K Street area to the Pentagon/Pentagon City area are going to be SOL though, once three quarters of the trains along the line are routed westward at Arlington.

  9. Matt Johnson says:

    Slight correction:

    The Board Member who suggested this is a part of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), not the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

    Because of the status of WMATA as a tri-state agency with a compact (and also because they downsized their planning staff several years ago), the planning, design, and construction of the Silver Line has been farmed out to MWAA.

    Also, not that it particularly matters, but the MWAA board member in question is an appointee of President George W. Bush.

  10. Oz says:

    I haven’t actually traveled through Dulles and don’t live in the DC area, but based on my living and traveling experience in NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis, DC is not any better off having the train pass through the middle of the airport. A two seat ride with a people mover seems the best solution in all cases. This is because for all air travellers, the airport is not the destination, a particular terminal is. A through train needs to stop at all of the terminals to service airport passengers, but this is expensive and likely irritating for through passengers.

    In Philadelphia, SEPTA terminates the line at the airport. There are not through passengers and the train stops at all terminals. Boston is quite convenient, with the Blue Line passing by the airport and circulating shuttle buses moving passengers between terminals as well as the subway stop. Getting anywhere in NYC is always a chore, but the rail links to JFK and Newark are actually pretty good. Both are basically connections from passing rail or subway lines to extended people movers that stop at all of the many, many terminals. Now if they could only do something about LaGuardia and the M60 bus…..

    Minneapolis is the worst. They cheaped out and use the passing-through light rail as the people mover between the airport’s two terminals. This creates horribly long walks at each terminal and long (like 15 minute) waits between service. Beware connecting from an airline in one terminal to the other!!

    • Kai B says:

      IAD is set up as a airside terminal complex instead of a landslide. What this means is you travel to your terminal after passing through security. Given this setup, it would be immensely complicated, to have a train service (metro or otherwise) from the city bring you directly to the terminal you’re flying out of. Besides the additional trackage you’d have to build check-in and security at all the terminals.

    • Kai B says:

      And I agree with your assessment of travel to JFK and EWR. It’s pretty simple, especially since you don’t have to take another train after security. You get to the gate really quickly.

      I just flew out of Terminal 1 at JFK… It has 11 gates. Eleven! The furthest gate was perhaps a three-minute walk after security and security itself was also about a three-minute walk from the AirTrain.

  11. Kai B says:

    You already take a people mover after security at IAD, so your trip from DC under Bob Brown’s proposal:

    Metro -> New People Mover -> Existing People Mover

  12. JSBertram says:

    I’m not sure why the Silver line has to be routed through the Dulles airport property to get to the airport station and then back off the property.

    Simpler solution is to let the Silver line tracks make the shortest connection between Rt.606 and Rt.28 stations (shown as blue dashes), then have a branch line run from the the Silver line ‘mainline’ tracks to the airport station.

    Some trains would be short-turned at the airport station, while others would stay on the Silver line.

    An alternative would be to have the airport line connection as a wye junction so some Silver line trains are operated as ‘via Dulles Airport’. After leaving the airport station, the train re-joins the Silver line ‘mainline’ tracks and continues its trip inbound or outbound.

  13. UESider says:

    something people frequently overlook on this topic is that direct train service invites the crowds of people traveling with 18 bags each onto the train, which delays service for the entire line

    by putting a medium of inconvenience en route, (hopefully) these types are driven to private transportation (or less luggage) where they dont disrupt travel for an entire train line

    (it’s bad enough being stuck behind these folks at checkin/security, no one should have to deal with that on their daily commute, esp one that doesnt involve your own trip to the airport

    not to mention, airport travelers of all types have different needs than the general commuting or rail traveler does, so I like the 2-seat concept in NYC and anywhere else I go

    • Bolwerk says:

      That’s not the real-world experience in London, Rome, Frankfurt, or anywhere else I’ve seen with passable-to-decent airport access by rail. And it’s not the real-world experience on the AirTrain, which by definition has people with luggage using it at every boarding. Having convenient rail service doesn’t take away the option to use taxis and car services, anyway.

      • UESider says:

        Perhaps, but the AirTrain is designed for luggage-laden passengers – the doors are large and wide, the car is wide open on the inside to accommodate large suitcases

        More importantly, there are no commuters mixed in – by the time you get to the AT, everyone is an air passenger

        On the subways, these passengers are going to slow down the ride for the millions of people trying to get to work every single day – it will severely impact service for all

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