WITH Virginia entering Phase 3 today, many of us are considering what our commutes will look like. The Virginia Railway Express, the commuter rail system that has served our region for nearly three decades, remains a viable option for those headed north in the morning.
Wondering what VRE has done to prepare for the safe return of passengers?
It has spent the past several months putting safeguards in place that will, to the greatest extent possible, protect riders’ health and safety. These new measures go above and beyond industry standards.
That has been reassuring to those passengers who, during Phase 2, returned to their places of employment on VRE.
A new cleaning protocol, social distancing measures, a touchless ticket option, and hand sanitizer dispensers allow VRE to welcome back passengers in the most safe and healthy way possible.
VRE railcars are disinfected twice a day, after morning and evening service, with special attention given to frequently touched surfaces.
Overnight cleanings now use acidic electrolyzed water, a potent yet nonirritating disinfectant that kills viruses and bacteria. The acid produced by electrolyzing the water is much more powerful than the active ingredient in bleach, yet it does not irritate the eyes and skin and does not damage fabric and metal.
VRE has installed equipment so crews can create the cleaning solution at its maintenance and storage facilities. The system is environmentally friendly, using only salt, tap water, and electricity.
By generating the cleaning solution on site and on demand, VRE eliminates the environmental impact from the distribution and disposal of hazardous conventional chemicals, while creating a healthy indoor environment.
As riders return, they will find decals on platforms that provide six feet of separation for those waiting for a train. Onboard graphics guide riders to window seats in every other row to ensure proper distancing.
Under VRE’s current distancing plan, roughly a third of seats are available to passengers. The average car has approximately 130 seats, with about 45 now available to riders. As ridership grows, VRE can lengthen and add trains as additional capacity is needed.
Passengers who want the greatest amount of social distancing can turn to VRE’s website for help. The Train Utilization Trends page now reflects total seats, maximum capacity to support social distancing, and current daily ridership. VRE also is exploring ways to notify passengers when trains are near or at capacity.
While ticket vending machines at VRE stations are sanitized daily, the VRE Mobile app is great for riders who prefer not to use the machines. VRE Mobile, which supports SmartBenefits, makes it easy to purchase, validate and display tickets on a smartphone.
Hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed soon on trains and at stations. Passengers will find them on platforms, in station waiting rooms, and near the priority seating on trains. Face coverings continue to be mandatory under Phase 3, with a few exceptions.
VRE train crews remain vigilant in protecting passengers’ health as well as their own. They wear face coverings and their body temperature is taken twice before they board the train.
These are unprecedented times and VRE is taking unprecedented steps to protect the health and safety of its passengers.
Just remember, when you are ready, VRE is ready, too.
Gary Skinner is chairman of both the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors and the Virginia Railway Express Operations Board.