Some VRE riders left in the cold during snow early dismissal

Some Virginia Railway Express riders were turned away yesterday, leaving them searching for another way home in the snow.

VRE email | The early release by the Office of Personnel Management yesterday created extreme crowding on the first southbound trains on both lines. While we moved our longest (8-car) train sets to operate on the earliest schedules, the demand was greater than we could accommodate. This resulted in the need to deny boarding to some and created crowded conditions on board the trains. The midday trains made slower than normal trips because of the extra time needed to allow passengers to detrain at their destination stations.

On the Manassas Line, the first two southbound trains turn back to D.C. from Broad Run to operate as later southbound trains. The slower trips for trains 325 and 327 created delays for the turn trains 336 and 338, causing delays on the later evening trains out of D.C. when they turned back south.

We have received questions and comments on why VRE does not have the ability to adjust schedules when situations require OPM to offer early release or late starts.

When OPM decides to close or alter the working hours for federal employees, VRE determines if it is safe to operate service, meaning can passengers get to and from our stations safely and is the railroad able to accommodate our trains. If the answer is yes, we will operate a level of service appropriate for the expected demand. 

During yesterday’s Snow Call at 10 AM, we shared with the group the expected impact of a 1 PM early release on our midday and first afternoon trains. We coordinated with Keolis [operators of VRE trains] and the host railroads to make sure we could get the longest trains out first with all cars open and properly staffed. We then informed passengers through Train Talk of the proposed early release and what could be expected on the early trains, asking everyone to delay their departure and take a later train if possible. Crews were instructed to accommodate as many passengers as they could handle safely, and to stop boarding once the trains reached maximum capacity.

The commuter railroad runs with the permission of its host railroads CSX on the Fredericksburg line and Norfolk Southern on the Manassas line. VRE says it does not have the ability to change its schedules in the event of an early release by the Federal Government, as freight trains take priority on both rail lines.

An announcement last month by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam aims to change that. A key staple in a nearly $4 billion overall rail plan is a new $2.9 billion Long Bridge over the Potomac River bridging the gap between Arlington and Washington, D.C.

It, and newly laid track along the Fredericksburg line, will be owned by the state means an eventual “total separation” from CSX, and the ability to increase the number of trains on weekdays from 38 to 92 and the number of Amtrak trains between Washington and Richmond from 24 to 44 per day.

There’s also plans two add two new VRE trains on weekends. The move will lead to a “total operation” from CSX, according to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation chief Jennifer Mitchell. Work on the improvements is slated to begin later this year and will take up to 10 years to build out all of the slated new improvements

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