Dulles Airport should connect to DC Metro’s Silver Line by fall
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There will soon be two airports in our nation’s capital region connected by rail to the city’s most iconic tourist destinations. After a major step this past week, it appears the Washington Metro system’s extension to Dulles International Airport (IAD) should be open sometime this fall.
Until now, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) has been the only airport in the region with direct rail access to the area’s largest mass transit system. That will change once this extension of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority opens the extension of its Silver Line, extending farther beyond the city into Northern Virginia than before and connecting to Dulles with a station just outside the terminal. The new section of the Silver Line is expected to open by late autumn, but no later than the end of the year, Metro officials said Thursday.
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While a Metro ride to the center of D.C. from Dulles will still be far longer than the ride from Reagan, which sits just outside the boundaries of the city, once open this figures to be a significant new option for travelers.
The new Metro access should be of particular benefit to the large number of passengers who arrive at Dulles each day from international destinations. It could also make exploring the city easier for frequent United Airlines travelers since the carrier operates a major hub at Dulles.
The completion of the Silver Line has been a long time coming for those in the D.C. area who have watched the slow, methodical construction unfold along the side of major highways for over a decade — a process punctuated in the summer of 2014 when the Metro opened the first phase of its Silver Line, extending well into Northern Virginia but stopping miles short of the airport.
The reality of an open Metro station at Dulles became clearer Thursday when the transit agency took over the 11-plus-mile extension of the line from the organization that oversaw the construction and declared the project to be in a state of “operational readiness.” The transit agency did not set an exact opening date, with the line and its stations still requiring testing — not to mention training for new employees.
Still, with this milestone decades in the making, the opening now seems close enough to begin considering exactly what it will mean for travelers.
Until now, only 1 Metro-connected airport
Among the top factors flyers weigh when planning travel to Washington, D.C., is the convenience Reagan Airport has to the city’s downtown. In addition to being just across the Potomac River from the city — you can see many of the city’s landmarks while sitting on the tarmac — the airport has also, for decades, enjoyed the benefit of being connected to the region by Metro. Within minutes of deplaning at DCA, you could be on a Metro train heading across the river into the city.
Dulles, on the other hand, has not enjoyed quite the same level of connectivity since its opening in 1962, a factor that travelers consider along with its location 26 miles outside D.C.
Still, Dulles has one of the East Coast’s most robust schedules of international flights each day, not to mention vast domestic options — particularly aboard United.
For international passengers — or those who simply found a better itinerary or fare in and out of Dulles — this could be a way to avoid the pricier cab, Uber or Lyft fares you would currently run into traveling between the airport and the city. It could also be a way to easily access other key destinations in Northern Virginia, like Tysons Corner, a shopping and business hub along the portion of the Silver Line that opened eight years ago.
How to use the Metro to get from Dulles to the city
As shown in the below tweet by Dulles Airport this past week celebrating the approaching completion of this project, the Metro station at the airport is just beyond the parking lot closest to the iconic terminal.
IT’S HAPPENING! This morning, @WMATA took control of the #SilverLineExtension with a planned opening for later this fall. We’ll continue working with our partners at #WMATA as they conduct final testing on the new rail line. pic.twitter.com/IPVc8Xdx0N
— Dulles Airport (IAD) (@Dulles_Airport) June 23, 2022
Once you land at Dulles, whether you’re on a domestic flight or have just cleared customs after an international trip, you’ll be able to take an underground walkway from the main terminal building to the Metro station using the same walkway connected to a parking garage.
From there, you’ll be able to purchase your ticket and board a Silver Line train. Of course, since this portion of the line is not yet open, the official Metro map does not explicitly include the Dulles station. However, on the left side, you can see the dotted “under construction” portion of the Silver Line. The station at the airport will be the third-to-last station on the line.
Once on board, Metro estimates it will take about 53 minutes (19 stops) to get to Metro Center, which is right in the heart of the city and walking distance from many landmarks, restaurants and hotels — not to mention a few tenths of a mile from the White House. It’s also where you could transfer to a Red Line train to take you to Union Station to catch a train or connect to the Blue Line to get to Reagan Airport or the Smithsonian station, right on the National Mall, if needed. (You could also get the Blue Line to Reagan Airport from Rosslyn).
What you’ll pay
A trip on Metro can cost you between $2.25 and $6 for a ride during peak hours, depending on the distance of your trip. During off-peak hours, the fares are lower — between $2 and $3.85. You can also buy a one-day unlimited pass for $13 or a three-day unlimited pass for $28, which could be good options if you’ll be moving around the region while sightseeing.
On Saturdays and Sundays, you’ll save on a trip from the airport to the city, because Metro has gone to $2 one-way fares for weekend trips. Also, as of Monday, Metro is beginning $2 one-way late-night fares (after 9:30 p.m.) on weeknights.
You can plug your trip into the system’s Trip Planner to help get an exact sense of your fare.
Comparing that to a ride-hailing option, I plugged a trip between Dulles and the National Mall into Uber. Checking midmorning on a Saturday, an UberX would cost me $46.95; $77.81 for an UberXL. You may get there faster (depending on the time of day, of course) but certainly the Metro could be a cost-saving option for some travelers.
Over the many years this project has unfolded, it’s encountered plenty of delays. Metro officials insisted this past week, though, that they have every intention of opening this section of the Silver Line connecting to Dulles by the end of the year at the latest.
While travelers still won’t enjoy the quick and easy access to downtown Washington, D.C., afforded to flyers using Reagan Airport, having Dulles be better connected to the city by public transportation could make it a more feasible option for travelers who previously wouldn’t have considered flying in and out of the airport, and more convenient for those already using it.
Featured photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
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