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GETTING THERE: Pandemic derails VRE's popular Santa trains
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GETTING THERE: Pandemic derails VRE's popular Santa trains

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THE coronavirus has become our new archetype of evil—spreading sickness, death and anguish across the globe.

Now the virus can also be derided as the Grinch (before his emaciated heart grew).

The Virginia Railway Express Santa Trains, where children get to take rides with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, have become a tradition. Tickets usually sell out in minutes.

But this year there will be no Santa Trains because of the pandemic.

VRE officials mentioned the cancellation during last week’s online chat with riders.

The commuter rail system, like other mass transit providers, has seen ridership plummet during the pandemic.

VRE’s March 20 data showed an average of 3,011 daily rider trips. That figure dropped to a low of 432 on April 10. On Oct. 2, the daily rider trips had climbed to 1,411.

While VRE’s daily figures are slowly improving, the Santa Trains will remain empty this Christmas season.

“This would have been our 24th consecutive year running these wildly popular trains, VRE spokeswoman Karen Finucan Clarkson wrote in an email. “We currently are exploring options for holiday-themed events at our stations to continue our support for Toys for Tots.”

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VRE takes part annually in a Toys for Tots program to collect Christmas presents for underprivileged children.

Second commuter survey starts

A follow-up survey is being launched to help state officials get a hold on the pandemic’s impacts to commuting.

The Virginia Department of Transportation and Department of Rail and Public Transportation are conducting the survey, which follows one conducted in the summer.

The first survey, held from June 29 to July 17, found that three times as many commuters were working from home at least once a week compared to their pre-pandemic schedule.

Seventy-six percent of those teleworkers were doing so full time, compared with 13 percent before the pandemic. More than half (60 percent) of those workers weren’t sure when they’d return to the office; 80 percent of them said they wanted to work from home at least once a week after the pandemic.

The second survey will focus on which modes of transportation commuters prefer.

The survey was opened for responses on Thursday and will run for three weeks. The survey can be found on VDOT’s website.

In a news release, VDOT said the survey responses will help state planners better gauge the pandemic impact to commuting patterns as they figure out what modifications might be needed for transit infrastructure.

More commuter surveys will follow “as the pandemic evolves,” VDOT said.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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