VRE has $5.1 million surplus
The Virginia Railway Express Operations Board voted Friday to dedicate a $5.1 million fiscal 2010 budget surplus to new equipment and rail infrastructure improvements.
The surplus, VRE officials said, comes from an increase in fare revenue and a reduction in operating expenses. Fares for VRE riders have gone up 16 percent since July 2008. VRE officials said they expected ridership to drop after the hike, but it is actually on the rise, with August's average daily ridership around 17,000.
"Since a lot of this surplus is from the riders, I think the money should go back to benefit the riders," VRE Chief Executive Officer Dale Zehner said.
Of the $5.1 million surplus, $2.5 million will go to acquire the last of 20 new locomotives VRE is adding to the fleet. Nineteen units are already funded, mostly with the help of state and federal funding, and will be rolled out in the next year. The new locomotives will be more efficient, decreasing the number of mechanical delays the service encounters, and are more environmentally friendly, VRE officials said.
A small portion of the surplus, about $500,000, will go toward the company's insurance trust fund, while the remaining amount will go toward adding a third track in Spotsylvania County and the capital reserve pot VRE has in place to eventually buy 30 new railcars.
VRE officials said $1 million from the surplus will allow them to complete the design phase for the additional track and move into construction in less than a year. Putting $1.1 million toward railcars, VRE officials said, will help leverage an estimated $12 million in state and federal grant funding.
While the majority of the operations board members agreed with Zehner to invest in infrastructure, representatives from Stafford County and Manassas voted against the proposal.
Instead of putting $1.1 million toward new railcars, opponents of the proposal said they wanted the money returned to the jurisdictions that support VRE -- many of which are strapped for cash.
-- Jennifer Buske
| September 17, 2010; 7:29 PM ET
Categories: Commuter Rail, Virginia, Virginia Railway Express
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