The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is one of the fastest growing commuter rail systems in the country, but its ability to expand service was hampered by its
dependence on Amtrak in Washington for maintenance of engines and cars. As a result, VRE is building its own maintenance and inspection facilities.
Under an outsourcing arrangement with Amtrak, VRE had to shuttle engines and cars to Washington for daily inspection and service. Given its train schedule,
“that gave us a window of opportunity of just five to six hours a day to get everything done,” says Dale Zehner, the CEO of VRE. “As we’ve gotten new cars
and made the trains longer, we began to realize that we just couldn’t get all the maintenance done that needed to be done.”
In November, VRE opened a maintenance and train inspection facility at its Crossroads Yard, which serves the Fredericksburg line. It includes an enclosed
engine house with an overhead crane and air and electrical supply; a train washer; and car pits, which enable mechanics to stand underneath cars to work on
VRE soon will ask for bids to build a similar facility at its Broad Run Yard, which serves the Manassas Line. That facility should take about 12 months to
Zehner says that the new facilities will enable VRE to request bids for maintenance contracts. Previously, VRE sole-sourced all maintenance work to Amtrak,
the only organization in the area with the necessary facilities.
“We’re a public agency, so we should be competing all of our work to ensure that the public is getting the most for their dollar,” Zehner says. VRE will put
out a request for proposals in March for maintenance services and equipment crews for the Crossroads facility. Amtrak is welcome to bid on that work.
VRE now has the maintenance facilities it needs to meet demand for additional service as well as enough federal funds to purchase five locomotives and
several passenger coaches. But it will not have the operating funds it needs for expansion this year because of the state’s budget shortfall. “We’ll probably
have to wait until we get through this whole recession,” Zehner says. “Then we can take another look and try to add service.”
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