Great Train Robbery Going Off Without a Hitch

By on April 15, 2013

{Article originally posted in the Fairfax Times on April 5, 2013}

Fifty years ago in Britain, an overnight Royal Mail train from Glasgow to London was robbed of cash and other valuables estimated then to be worth over $7 million. Due to inflation, “The Great Train Robbery” now ranks as only the 9th biggest heist in British history. The audacity of the British train robbers pales in comparison to actions of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority and partners in the Dulles Rail Robbery.

The estimated Dulles Rail capital costs have increased from $1.9 billion in 2000 to over $6 billion today, not including local project costs such as road improvements needed to improve access to Metrorail stations. The Wiehle Avenue parking garage alone is expected to cost over $110 million for 2,300 autos and will likely never be financially self sustaining.

Dulles Toll Road tolls needed to help pay for Dulles Rail and maintain the DTR over the next 50 years are projected to total $17 billion unless federal financial assistance is provided from the U.S. Department of Transportation. To give context, the current Virginia Department of Transportation budget is $4.19 billion. Remember, DTR tolls are paid with your after-tax funds which amount to double taxation without representation since the MWAA Board is comprised of unelected officials, most not from Virginia.

Operating and replacement capital costs of the Silver Line will cost taxpayers billions more over the next 50 years. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of other proposed transit project capital costs which will total over $100 billion in the Washington metro area.

Last year, the Metro Washington Council of Governments issued a report on a proposed 500-mile bus rapid transit network using mainly express toll lanes on interstate highways from Frederick, Md., to Prince William County. The estimated construction costs are $3.5 billion per year over 20 years — $70 billion in total. The report indicated that costs would be paid by taxpayers along with toll revenue and fare revenue — but did not indicate the respective shares. Subsequently, Montgomery County officials expressed concerns about the cost effectiveness of the $1.8 billion 160 mile BRT system proposed.

At $10 to $15 million per mile, BRT certainly beats the over $250 million per mile cost of the Dulles Rail project, which will do little to reduce traffic congestion in the Dulles Corridor in the next 50 years. MWAA plans additional lanes for the Dulles Access Road and additional links to and from the Beltway express lanes — all likely to be paid by toll road users. MWAA has so far not indicated when it will implement most of the $300 million in DTR improvements promised to the Commonwealth in 2006 as part of its takeover of the DTR. Meanwhile, Fairfax County planners are working on two additional connections and service roads linking to the DTR to expand road capacity in Tysons Corner. Planners have not provided estimated costs or a financial plan for these improvements.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority recently unveiled its $26 billion “Metro Momentum” plan for the next 30 years. Only three people spoke at the February 2013 WMATA public hearing in Falls Church. WMATA has repeatedly failed to explain how it intends to fund a majority of the $13.3 billion in estimated capital replacement and safety upgrade costs needed by 2020 for the original 103-mile Metrorail system. WMATA recently eliminated the modest “peak of the peak” fare surcharge designed to lessen overcrowding during the highest traffic periods and has not proposed any fare increase in 2013 to cover its growing deficits. Instead, it proposes that local and state governments increase their subsidies for operation and maintenance costs. New traction power substations and escalator/elevator improvements needed in Arlington County and Washington D.C. to allow all eight-car train operations there are now estimated to cost $2 billion. Instead of the 2015 completion of these improvements promised by WMATA in 2010, a ten-year construction schedule is now proposed.

WMATA has not so far proposed creating a special fare surcharge for Metrorail riders for a “capital replacement cost” reserve fund to build needed funds. A $1 per ride surcharge would result in over $220 million annually in reserve funds based on today’s ridership. Assuming weekday ridership in coming years averages 800,000 trips per day, a WMATA reserve fund could provide $2.5 billion towards the needed capital replacement costs.

WMATA plans to start Silver Line operations with existing Metrorail cars as most new Series 7000 railcars will not be delivered until after mid 2014. WMATA claims that federal regulations require that they use the new Silver Line cars, paid for mostly by DTR tolls, for operations throughout the Metrorail system, even though WMATA and its riders are paying virtually nothing to their costs.
Many unresolved issues and questions remain regarding the Silver Line involving MWAA and WMATA. MWAA intends to award a Phase 2 construction contract by June 2013. Will answers be provided to the public by then? The Dulles Corridor Advisory Committee last met on Oct. 5, 2012. The DCAC, which does not allow public input, was supposed to have met last month but it seems that “hiding the ball” is the favorite game of MWAA, WMATA, federal, state and county officials. The same is true of Governor McDonnell’s transportation funding plan. Only lobbyists appear to have been given advanced details of the spending proposals.

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