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Virginia Railway Express will be getting new replacement rail cars, though it won't be any time soon.
The VRE board of directors yesterday approved the purchase of eight new rail cars at a total cost of $24.6 million. The vote sends the plan to the Northern Virginia Transportation and Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation commissions for a final decision.
It will take two years to build the new cars, which are part of a plan to replace 20 antiquated Legacy cars. VRE still uses about half of the old rail cars, which are more than 40 years old. The replacement plan calls for the eight initial cars and eventually seven more, which combined would cost an estimated $42.8 million.
Already, though, VRE has had to adjust to rising prices, which added some $6.8 million to the projected cost of replacing all 15 cars. Rising prices added $2 million to the cost of the eight cars the board voted on yesterday.
To cover part of the initial cost increase, VRE will get $334,000 in a federal grant and $219,000 in state bonds. VRE will cover the remaining $1.5 million by using its capital reserve fund.
Several factors played a role in the higher costs, said VRE's CEO Dale Zehner, including the falling value of the dollar compared with the yen. The company that VRE selected, Sumitomo Corp. of America, is doing some of the work at its Japan facilities, so part of the contract must be paid with yen, Zehner said.
He also said part of the increased costs are due to the rising price of stainless steel.
Also during yesterday's meeting, the board discussed the issue of adding Wi-Fi service on the trains, a hot topic among riders since VRE said it was delaying those plans.
Zehner said that many riders use smartphones and iPads, many of which don't need Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet, so he wondered whether it would be worth the costs to have it installed. The board asked Zehner to produce a report to determine the viability of adding Wi-Fi to the trains.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436