Starting this week, Washington D.C.'s Metro system is unveiling some new, highly desired routes. The Silver Live has been extended with an 11.5-mile, six-station segment that provides convenient access to Washington Dulles International Airport. The Silver Line route also now travels to Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn, in addition to its usual destinations.
Reports suggest that over $3 billion has been funneled into this project. The endeavor to connect Dulles airport to a public rail system has proven labyrinthine throughout the airport's 60-year history.
As Bloomberg Citylab explains,
Sited in a then-rural patch of Virginia’s Loudoun County, Dulles was built to be reached solely via an access highway. Though the Federal Aviation Administration voiced interest in a rail connection when the terminal opened in the early 1960s, bureaucratic and political delays kept the idea from materializing, even after trains for the region’s Metrorail rapid transit system began running in 1976.
Train connections to major airports are commonplace in many other countries, regarded as a quotidian component of the routine involved in flying. However, only a negligible number of American cities offer this possibility, leaving Americans scrambling to summon exorbitant Ubers that stagger through congested overpasses.
D.C. residents have long bemoaned this deficiency in the capital's transportation system, demanding more economical and efficient options. Urban planning experts have inveighed against the haphazard design of American cities' public transportation apparatus.
For instance, according to Yonah Freemark at the Urban Institute,
The primary explanation is that while the aviation sector exploded post World War II, the US rail system collapsed during the same period. As a result you had a lack of focus in cities around the country to orient the rail system around serving airports.
Urban planners note that American cities tend to require new projects to pass muster through a notoriously arcane, byzantine review process.
However, direct rail transportation to airports is not entirely unprecedented in the U.S. For example, Denver's residents have enjoyed direct airport access since 2016, and Orlando will begin operating such a service this year. Additionally, Chicago's airport is connected to the city's rapid transit system.
Many Americans hope that this precedent in DC will catalyze demand for rail-to-airport projects around the country.