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Virginia Railway Express apologizes after lengthy Friday commute

Commuters on Virginia Railway Express had to contend with long delays on Friday.

A portion of the track just south of Long Bridge across the Potomac River in Arlington caught fire, leaving passengers stranded for hours.

This morning, the transit agency issued an apology.

First, we would like to apologize to everyone affected by the service disruption last Friday evening due to the brush fires north of Crystal City. We know that some of our passengers got home some three to four hours late and understood this is a major inconvenience. As a follow-up, we would like to explain the timeline of events.

Once the fire was out, bridge inspectors were sent to make sure the bridge was stable enough to handle rail traffic, but they became stuck in traffic delays.

More from VRE:

At approximately 5:05 pm, we were notified of a track fire just south of the Long Bridge across the Potomac River stopping all rail traffic. We opened the Metro Option shortly after at 5:35 pm so VRE passengers could transfer to Metrorail if it were a viable option. The fire department responded quickly and brought the fire under control promptly. However, the track and bridge inspectors were caught in traffic on the way to the scene and did not arrive until about 6:50 pm.

A train traveling from Manassas added to the problem.

In the meantime, we had Manassas Train #338 traveling northbound (which also operates Manassas Train #337 southbound) approach Crystal City at 6:15 pm and decided to turn the train back south at Crystal City since it couldn’t go north past the scene of the fire. Since the fire affected the bridge as well, it took a long time to inspect and ensure that the bridge was safe for travel and they opened the rails for traffic at 7:50 pm. At that point, there were seven VRE trains and five Amtrak trains waiting to go south. So once everything started moving, they moved slowly as they were all following each other.

In his October report to the VRE Operations Board, railroad CEO Doug Allen said delays for August, the most recent month data is available, were more prevalent on the Fredericksburg line with an 84% on-time record. Trains on the Manassas line fared better with a 92% on-time rate.

Overall, the system “narrowly missed” it’s 90% on-time operating goal due to ongoing rail improvements that can add congestion along the rail line.

“In this saturated system, any one incident can impact several later trains in the schedule,” stated Allen’s report.

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