After the line’s eight-month-long closure, The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) will fully reopen the Yellow Line to customers on May 7 under operational changes projected to increase the frequency of Metro service downtown.
The Yellow Line’s reopening will mark the end of WMATA’s massive construction project to rehabilitate the Yellow Line’s Potomac River tunnel and bridge between the Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations. Prior to their rehabilitation, the tunnel and bridge had both remained largely untouched, outside of regular maintenance and leak repairs, since their original construction during the 1970s. This neglect resulted in numerous structural failings, such as the corrosion of critical metal components on the bridge and erosion of the tunnel’s lining and additional water leakage, leading Metro’s chief engineer to identify repairing the Yellow Line as Metro’s top priority.
The $384 million project involved re-lining the entire tunnel, a task that required welding together approximately 1,200 steel plates, replacing several miles of cabling, reinstalling the tunnel’s fire suppression system, and installing a multi-stage coating system to protect the new steel lining. The bridge repairs were less intensive, including only the replacement of the bridge bearings and expansion joints and the replacement of its fire-suppression system. Although most of the construction should generally go unnoticed by the average customer, Metro plans to host a guest ride on May 6 to tour the repaired Yellow Line tunnel before its official reopening.
In addition to the Yellow Line’s reopening, the newly-constructed infill station at Potomac Yard, between the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Braddock Road stations on the Blue and Yellow lines, will open May 19.
Upon the reopening of the Yellow Line, its trains will turn back at Mt. Vernon Station rather than running all the way to Greenbelt, stripping 10 Metro stations of Yellow Line service in an attempt to increase service frequency on both the Green and Yellow lines. According to Metro, these operational changes would increase service on both lines by 75 percent. Additionally, these changes would decrease wait times; rather than arriving every eight minutes, Metro customers can expect Yellow and Green line trains to arrive every six minutes.
The 10 stations discontinuing Yellow Line service will still be serviced by the Green Line, so Metro does not expect the loss of Yellow Line service to negatively impact travel times for Yellow and Green Line customers due to both lines benefiting from increased frequency of service.
This change came as a result of Metro’s operating budget for 2024. “The FY [fiscal year] 2024 budget focuses on optimizing Metro services while continuing to invest in long-term infrastructure and sustainability projects,” Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Randy Clarke said in a statement.“With this budget, we are proud to invest in more frequent rail and bus service and a better customer experience, maximizing the value we deliver to the region with available resources.”
In addition to altered Yellow Line service, Metro’s 2024 budget also outlined a massive construction plan that will cause Metro service on the Orange, Silver, and Green lines to progress through various stages of disruption beginning in May and extending through the summer months.
The plan spans five major construction projects between May 12 and Sept. 4: completion of a roofing project on the Orange Line, replacement of 30 miles of steel railing, installation of fiber-optic communications cables, updating customer information displays at select downtown stations, and rehabilitating the escalator and elevator at Dupont Circle Station’s northern entrance.
According to WMATA, service disruptions will happen in four stages. From May 12-21, Metro trains will be single-tracking between Stadium-Armory to Cheverly stations on the Orange Line. Then, the Orange Line will shut down between Vienna and Ballston stations and the Silver Line will shut down between Ballston and McLean stations from June 3-25. The Orange Line shutdown between West Falls Church and Vienna stations will then continue until July 16. Finally, Green Line service between Fort Totten and Greenbelt stations will shut down between July 22 and Sept. 4.
“Continued maintenance work is essential to safe and reliable rail service,” Metro Executive Vice President of Infrastructure Andy Off said in a statement. “We are working strategically to target maintenance locations and minimize the impacts on customers as we conduct this critical work to upgrade systems, improve reliability, and modernize station facilities.”
Outside of construction areas, Metro service is expected to remain at normal levels. To minimize the negative impact this project will have on its customers, Metro announced several travel alternatives to compensate for the service disruptions in the form of shuttles and alternative rail services. However, no travel alternative was announced to compensate for the delays the May 12-21 Orange Line single-tracking will cause.
“I want to thank our customers for their patience while we completed this critical work to ensure safe, reliable service for decades to come,” Clarke said in an April 4 statement. “I’m also very proud and thankful to the dedicated women and men who worked to deliver this complex project on schedule and on budget.”