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Posted at 10:05 AM ET, 01/21/2011

VRE explores ways to improve service

By Jennifer Buske

Virginia Railway Express Chief Executive Officer Dale Zehner reached out to riders this week, updating them on efforts to alleviate overcrowding and prevent the massive delays the commuter rail service experienced last year.

Zehner said Keolis Rail Services America, which began operating and maintaining trains in July, has made some staffing changes and has reassigned the maintenance supervisor. VRE's director of rail equipment and services will also take a more active role in the maintenance process, he said.

The policy for mechanical breakdowns has been retooled, and Keolis is now required to call maintenance crews to the scene of an incident as soon as a problem arises. VRE has also connected locomotive engineers with a series of mechanics who they can call directly when anything malfunctions, Zehner said.

Though plagued with a series of seven major delays at the end of 2010, VRE's on-time performance thus far in January is at 92 percent, VRE officials said.

In terms of capacity issues, Zehner said he is examining several options as the commuter rail service has seen several days where ridership was at more than 19,000 trips a day. The system has a capacity for 20,000 trips a day.

Zehner said one possibility is to send a morning train back to Broad Run, where it would be stored until it returns to D.C. for the evening commute. By doing this, Zehner said he can add two cars to train 326/329 and add one car to a Fredericksburg Line train. Zehner said the VRE Operations Board supports this plan. However, the commuter rail's service will need to restore an "acceptable" on-time performance before CSX will be on board, he said.

Another option Zehner said is to use the storage space available at L'Enfant. The ideal situation would be to add a new train and store it at L'Enfant, but there are currently not enough rail cars to add another full train. Zehner said he will work with the board on how to pay for more cars. Another possibility, he said, is to add a switch at L'Enfant, which would allow a train to go into Union Station and then back to L'Enfant's storage track.

"I am equally committed to improving the capacity of our trains as I am to improving on-time performance," Zehner said in his message to riders. "Hopefully, in a few months, I'll be able to come back to you with some good news."

By Jennifer Buske  | January 21, 2011; 10:05 AM ET
Categories:  Virginia Railway Express  
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