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VRE considers suing Amtrak

Virginia Railway Express officials will begin exploring what legal actions can be taken against Amtrak, which they said is interfering with the commuter rail service's ability to make a smooth transition to a new operator next month.

VRE officials said Amtrak has meddled in the hiring process and the employee qualification process that VRE's new operator, Keolis Rail Services America, is trying to get through to begin operating VRE trains June 28, when Amtrak's 17-year run with VRE comes to an end.

Amtrak, VRE said, has changed some of its qualification requirements for Keolis's employees, who need to be certified with Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern. Amtrak is also telling riders that Keolis isn't prepared to begin operations, which is unfair and untrue, VRE said. As long as Amtrak doesn't continue to interfere, Keolis, which has most of its staff on board, will be ready, VRE officials said.

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said the qualification change VRE points to was changed for all employees, including Amtrak's new and existing employees. Kulm said Amtrak has been helpful throughout the transition process.

"We want to continue to help VRE and make sure passengers aren't negatively impacted by Keolis's apparent failure to begin operations on time, " Kulm said.

VRE officials said they will see what legal options might be available to get relief from Amtrak's involvement, including possibly filing a lawsuit in state or federal court. VRE has also begun talking to area congressional leaders to see what they can do to ensure commuter rail service is not jeopardized. VRE will bring its findings to its two parent commissions June 3 to determine its next move.

"CSX and Norfolk Southern have been extremely helpful, despite the fact we have solid facts that Amtrak in interfering with this transition," VRE Operations Board Chairman Paul Milde said. "There is no evidence they are trying to help. ..... To some degree that is understandable, but we think they have crossed the line."

-- Jennifer Buske

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 21, 2010; 4:41 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Virginia Railway Express , transit  | Tags: Amtrak, Keolis Rail Services America, VRE considers suing Amtrak, VRE lawsuit, VRE says Amtrak medddling, Virginia Railway Express  
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