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A year of delays on VRE has led to a decrease in ridership. Are improvements to the rail system planned?
VRE has made changes to win back the faith of riders who are frustrated by delays, but will they be enough?
FILE/DAVIS TURNER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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By KELLY HANNON
Virginia Railway Express rider Joe Burgess boarded Train 308 Friday at 7:20 a.m. at the Leeland Road station in Stafford County.
By 10, he had traveled only as far north as Quantico Creek, roughly 16 miles.
His train was at a standstill, and he was watching a freight train roll past. Burgess was fuming. He would be at least two hours late to his job at a federal district court in Washington.
The time would be subtracted from his vacation leave. In return, he would get a free-ride voucher from VRE, worth about $8.
"We've got people sitting on the tracks that could lose their jobs if this keeps up," Burgess said in a telephone interview from the stalled train.
Burgess started riding VRE in its first year of operation, 1992, and has stuck with it despite delays this year that he calls the worst of his 14 years aboard.
But others have not been so patient. Last year, for the first time in six years, poor on-time performance led VRE to see a decline in ridership.
Passengers levels dropped 2 percent--about 178 riders--in the fiscal year that ended June 30. From 2000 to 2005, VRE ridership grew 13 percent each year. The drop in 2006 has caused the rail service to lose about $500,000 in operating funds.
Mark Roeber, VRE's manager of public affairs and government relations, said the railway knows riders face personal and financial hardships when trains are late. VRE recently started a program that reimburses passengers for late child-care pickup fees, up to four times a year.
"We're the first to admit we've got hiccups we've got to get through," Roeber said. "We need CSX to get their track in order and finally get past the slow orders and heat restrictions and everything that comes with it, so people can have a genuine ride."