VRE reassigns maintenance supervisor
Virginia Railway Express officials said they are revamping their mechanical policies and procedures in order to ensure their commuter trains run more efficiently. The changes include moving the supervisor in charge of maintenance from that position, launching a search for a replacement, and lining up a team of specialists to stand by for specific problems.
Though the system was plagued with some major delays in the past month, VRE
CEO Dale Zehner said the company had planned to retool its maintenance program
when Keolis Rail Services America took over the service from Amtrak in July. The recent delays, however, have served as a wake-up call, he said.
"Performance hasn't been what it should be, and we do have holes in our maintenance plan that we are trying to address," Zehner said. "But we will overcome this and get back on track."
In November, VRE had seven major delays where people were stranded more than hour because of mechanical failures, Zehner said. On-time performance for November was 85 percent on the Manassas line and 87 percent on the Fredericksburg line.
Zehner said as part of Keolis' contract, VRE asked that the company provide a way to track defects in equipment at a much more detailed level than before. The data gathering has begun, he said, however it will take VRE some time to determine how best to use and analyze the new information.
"We have all this data and we want to be able to use it to change our practices and procedures so we can cut off maintenance problems before they even occur--that's the big change we are trying to work through," Zehner said.
The Washington Post used that data to take an in-depth look at performance, and found that while the ratio of trains on time has remained roughly the same, incidents are becoming increasingly lengthy, and stacking up as one train delays the ones behind it. There have been 46 delays of an hour or longer since Keolis took over, compared with eight in the span a year prior.
In recent weeks VRE has also made a change to its mechanical staff, Zehner said, noting the maintenance supervisor has been "reassigned" and Keolis is in the process of finding a new leader. Zehner said much of the maintenance staff has been working on the system since Amtrak ran the trains, however when leadership changes, it can be an adjustment.
"We understood this [transition] wasn't going to be easy, but we knew it was the right thing to do," said Rich Dalton, director of rail equipment and services. "Unfortunately we've experienced some unacceptable mechanical delays...but they have reminded us what to stay focused on and that's keeping trains going up and down the tracks."
VRE officials said they are also lining up experts in 10 different maintenance areas including engines, cab signals and air brake systems that will be "on call." Zehner said while they have always had general contacts when problems arose, this process will essentially eliminate the middle man and put VRE and Keolis immediately in contact with people who can help maintenance crews deal with issues more quickly.
VRE is also in the process of bringing in some experts to look at the bathrooms, doors, wheel chair lifts, the HVAC system, the locomotives and the system that provides electricity to the cars, Zehner said, noting they have done this before, but it has been awhile.
The Post's analysis of the causes of delays showed that failures of wheelchair lift technology have been chronic offenders continuously the last three years, and any measures taken to correct the problem seem to have been ineffective. Trains operating without heat and lights are not an uncommon experience for regular riders.
Zehner said the 20 new locomotives on order will also help eliminate some of the mechanical problems. One of the new locomotives is in use and two more are expected to be ready next month.
| December 16, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
Categories: Commuter Bus, Virginia, Virginia Railway Express
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