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The opening of the Silver Line could be delayed for another few weeks as tests have identified additional work that needs to be done to the system.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction of the $2.6 billion rail line, announced Monday that its contractor needs to upgrade software on the automatic train control system before the system can be turned over to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The need for the software upgrades was discovered during testing.

“This is why we test,” Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, said in a released statement. “Our guiding principle throughout this process has been ‘safety first’ and we remain committed to that principle. We will not do anything that might compromise safety or create unsafe conditions for the traveling public.”

The Silver Line was originally slated to open by the end of this year but, earlier this year, the date of “substantial completion” was pushed back by about two months, pushing the start of service to early 2014. Substantial completion marks the point at which the airports authority accepts the project from its contractor and can begin the process of transferring the system to Metro.

As of Nov. 16, Nowakowski still believed contractor Dulles Transit Partners was on track to reach substantial completion at the end of November, but subsequent testing revealed that about another three weeks will be needed.

Dulles Transit Partners is still working out a definitive schedule.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) said she believes it is appropriate to err on the side of caution.

“It is most important that we’re looking out for the safety of our passengers and not trying to rush the Silver Line into service,” she said. “The last thing we want is to open and for there to be problems. You only get one first time, and it’s important we do it well.”

Once the project reaches substantial completion, Metro will do its own testing and go through a formal and legal process to accept the Silver Line into its existing system. The transit agency must also train its employees on the new line and conduct emergency drills.

Metro will also be the agency that ultimately decides when Silver Line service will begin.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com