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Passenger service on the long-awaited Silver line could begin this summer, the Washington Metropoltan Area Transit Authority said Thursday.

Metro announced that it has entered into an agreement with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction of the new rail line, that will allow the airports authority contractor to continue work on the first phase of the Silver Line after it is turned over to Metro.

The Silver Line will be a 23-mile rail line connecting to Metro’s Orange Line, eventually extending rail service to Washington Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County. The 12-mile first phase includes four stops in Tysons Corner and one at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

“While there are still outstanding items for the Airports Authority and their contractor to resolve, today’s agreement allows us to move this project closer to opening day for our customers by allowing certain tasks to be completed after the project is in Metro’s control,” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, said in a released statement. “We expect that the Airports Authority will complete the remaining items in a timely fashion, thereby allowing us to open the line this summer.”

However, there are still several items that affect the system’s reliability or that require significant track access that MWAA and its contractor, Dulles Transit Partners, must complete prior to formally turning the system over to Metro.

These include resolving issues identified during system testing that could affect reliability, such as signal problems and issues with circuit breakers.

Other work can continue while Metro is conducting testing and employee training. Tasks include replacing a cable in the tunnel, fixing leaks and drainage issues, replacing loudspeakers in the station, replacing elevator parts in the Tysons Corner station, and other items needed to obtain certificates of occupancy for the stations and other structures along the new rail line.

MWAA can also execute its new contract with Alstom, the manufacturer of the train control system used throughout the Metro system, to correct an issue with the train control system that has not been fully resolved by a subcontractor.

Also on Thursday, the airports authority announced that it is accepting Dulles Transit Partners’ April 7 declaration of “substantial completion,” a construction milestone. MWAA rejected the contractor’s prior declaration of substantial completion because Dulles Transit Partners, a consortium led by Bechtel Corp., had not met all the requirements of its contract with the agency.

“Achieving substantial completion is a significant milestone,” airports authority President and CEO Jack Potter said in a released statement. “We have conducted a thorough review of the contractor’s submission and are satisfied that Phase 1 has met the contractual requirements that will allow the project to now move to the next steps in the process to begin passenger service.”

The next milestone, called the “operational readiness date,” is when the system can be turned over to Metro.

Sarles said he believes that if the priority tasks — those affecting system reliability or requiring track access — are completed in a timely fashion, MWAA could reach this milestone in late May.

Once Metro takes over, the agency has 90 days to do testing, training and emergency drills prior to the start of passenger service, while MWAA and its contractor continue work on the remaining tasks. The Federal Transit Administration and the regional Tri-State Oversight Committee will also conduct reviews during this time.

This would put the opening date in late August or early September, although the Metro Board of Directors will set the actual opening date once the rail line is under Metro control.

“The Phase 1 construction has been a long and sometimes challenging process, but when it’s complete, the Silver Line will be a critically important part of Northern Virginia’s transportation infrastructure and a major driver of economic development,” said Tom Davis, a former congressman and county supervisor who serves on the airports authority’s Board of Directors, in a released statement. “While reaching this milestone today has taken longer than many of us had hoped, our top commitment has always been to assure the safety of the system.”

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes,com