Metro to Dulles Is Now an Option, Will You Take It?

Yesterday, WMATA officially opened the second phase of the Silver Line. This extension will take the line from Reston all the way out to Ashburn. And most notably, it will stop at Dulles International Airport on its way. After being open sixty years (tomorrow), Dulles airport will finally have a rail connection. But will you use it?

The first response that most Washingtonians would likely offer to that question is “of course not, because I’d rather crawl to my ultimate destination than take Dulles.” And, fair enough. But sometimes a trip to Dulles is really unavoidable. Will you still drive or will you take the Metro?

On the face of it, it might seem like a fairly obvious answer for most people. From Georgetown, even in the middle of evening rush hour, it is only likely to take 30-40 minutes to drive there:

But keep in mind, where are you actually driving to? Are you parking in the short term lot? If so, that gets really expensive, really quickly. If you’re planning on a trip of more than a few days, you’re likely going to want to use the long term lots. And parking, waiting for the shuttle bus, and riding the shuttle bus over to the terminal can easily tack on another half hour. You could be looking at 1:15 hours from door-to-door at that point.

Now how long will the Metro take?

Depending on how long it takes you to get to the Metro, it could end up taking about the same amount of time:

From Rosslyn station, it is estimated that the Metro ride by itself will take just about an hour. So if you can get to Rosslyn in 15 minutes (which isn’t crazy if you catch the right bus) you can get out to the terminal of Dulles in about as much time as it would take to drive and park in the long term lot.

Of course, if you are taking a cab or Uber you can shave off the time spent getting from the long term lot. And so that will likely remain the quickest option (although probably the most expensive, depending on how long you would be parking your car).

(A lot of that depends, of course, where in DC you’re leaving from. The Post had a two teams of reporters race each other from downtown, one in a car and the other on Metro. With such fast access to Metro the team riding the rails won by a hair.)

But GM has a bit of a confession to make that may cause his DC-resident card to be revoked: he doesn’t hate Dulles. That’s because he only uses it to go to special and memorable trips to places like Europe or the Caribbean. It’s now associated in his mind with such occasions that the idea of going to the airport only conjures happy memories. And part of those happy memories is that GM long ago realized how much more relaxing any airplane trip can be when you simply BUILD IN PLENTY OF TIME TO GET TO THE AIRPORT. It seems like the most obvious life hack in the world, but so many people cut the time way too close and then get extremely upset when completely normal and predictable delays cause them to miss or almost miss their flights. JUST LEAVE EARLIER.

And in that spirit, yes taking Metro to Dulles is almost never going to be faster than driving. But if you’re racing to get there, then you’ve already made a mistake. Build in some time, and then take an easy and relaxed ride out there. You’ll be amazed what it will do for your mental state.



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3 responses to “Metro to Dulles Is Now an Option, Will You Take It?

  1. I completely agree with where you ended up in this post. If I’m going on vacation to Europe, I often try to fly *out* from Dulles, and fly back *in* to Reagan. Reagan is a perfectly nice airport, but Dulles even with its flaws has a bit of that midcentury aspirational glamour to it, thanks to Saarinen’s design. I get there early, have lunch or dinner with a glass of bubbly to mark the beginning of my holidays, and up, up, and away. When coming back, since you just want to get home at that point, Reagan wins in my book: shorter lines, faster baggage claim, and quicker cabs back to Gtown. We’re very lucky in this area to have three airports we can choose from and that none of them are O’Hare.

  2. kerlin4321

    The 5A express bus from Rosslyn leaves every hour, costs $7.50 one way, and usually takes less than 45 minutes. Last time our super speedy driver got me to the main terminal doors in only 35 minutes.

    If I take Metro, it will cost a dollar or so less, but the ride probably will take longer, and I face a five minute, unprotected walk from the station to the terminal. It’s too bad that they didn’t try to bring the station closer to or even under the terminal, or at the very least build a sheltered walkway. If I am just picking someone up and the weather is ok, I probably will take Metro, otherwise, with heavy bags in tow, I’ll stick to a cab or the express bus.

  3. qstreeter

    The 5A bus has been discontinued now that the silver line runs to Dulles.

    For me the major advantage of Metro to Dulles is not that it is faster (at low traffic times it won’t be), but the variance in time will be very low. It should take about the same amount of time at peak rush hour or at 8 am on a Sunday morning (except the headways between trains, which you can plan for). Even the bus would get slowed by heavy traffic. When you’re trying to get to a flight just knowing how long the trip to the airport will take removes one source of anxiety. Not having to deal with parking (cost or hassle) or arranging a ride and flexibility of leaving and arriving at different airports make it an even more appealing option.

    Agreed about not having the Metro stop closer to the terminal, that was shortsighted.

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