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VRE board votes against adding another state voting member

Date published: 1/19/2013


The Virginia Railway Express Operations Board voted Friday to oppose a Senate bill that some commuter rail officials say would allow the state to take over VRE.

The VRE board was reacting to legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate Transportation Committee.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford County, would add a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board to the VRE Operations Board. That member's vote would be weighted depending on the percentage of state money going into the Northern Virginia commuter rail service.

Now, the VRE board is made up of elected officials from localities that support the commuter rail, and one state public transportation department representative.

Thelma Drake, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, represented the state at Friday's VRE meeting, in place of the regular representative, Kevin Page.

She said the state doesn't intend to control VRE. But Drake explained that one reason for the bill stemmed from an August decision by the VRE board not to seek an independent audit of commuter rail finances.

Page voted for the audit, along with a minority of VRE board members.

But at the time there was confusion about how the jurisdictions' weighted votes worked. In the end the votes against the audit won out.

Drake said the state representative's "vote didn't count, unless we were in that majority." The state, she added, "is extremely concerned about having a vote."

Despite the vote, the state decided to conduct its own audit of VRE, focusing on its organizational structure and governance. Drake said the audit could be finished within weeks.

State officials have expressed concerns about an FBI investigation last year that resulted in a former VRE manager pleading guilty to taking kickbacks for subcontracting work. The manager was sentenced to 24 months in prison on Friday.

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