VRE commuters slow to 35 mph

Monday’s Amtrak derailment continues to slow Virginia Railway Express commuters’ daily trips.

The track where the accident occurred in Kensington, Md., is owned by CSX Transportation, and as a precaution, the railroad imposed a 35 mph limit for passenger trains on its lines — tracks used by VRE’s Fredericksburg and Manassas commuter trains.

CSX raised the speed limit to 45 mph halfway through the afternoon on Wednesday, easing delays the past two days.

Two Fredericksburg trains ran an hour behind schedule Wednesday; on Thursday, early afternoon rush hour trains had nominal delays of about five minutes.

Commuters were told to expect delays between seven and 25 minutes.

The Fredericksburg line runs along a CSX line throughout, while the Manassas line runs on track owned by Norfolk Southern until it leads into CSX track in Alexandria.

Norfolk Southern has not imposed speed restrictions on its tracks.

The difference in policy comes from the absence of an exact cause for the derailment, so CSX is taking the most conservative course of action, said VRE chief operating officer Pete Sklannik.

“I understand their hesitation because they are recoiling from the accident,” Sklannik said. But as time passes, CSX should announce an increase in speed limit, possibly as early as today, he said.

About 90 people were injured Monday when an Amtrak train carrying passengers from Chicago to Washington, D.C., jumped the tracks, overturning several cars. A section of the rail had buckled, most likely because of intense heat, investigators believe.

The train was traveling at a speed of about 60 mph, CSX officials said earlier this week.

The track had been inspected visually Sunday and a freight train 45 minutes earlier had reported nothing unusual, CSX officials said.

Sklannik was asking CSX officials to increase the speed restrictions to 55 mph Thursday.

Restrictions due to heat usually take 10 mph off the highest speed allowed on tracks, which on the CSX track go up to 70 mph, said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber. Heat restrictions are put on tracks when consecutive days of 90 degree weather occur. The restrictions are in effect from 1 to 9 p.m., he said.

If temperatures stay below 90 degrees, no heat restrictions go in effect, he said.

A CSX spokesman did not return phone messages.

Officials from CSX and Norfolk Southern have said that they conduct daily inspections of their tracks.

VRE ridership continues its steady climb. About 12,800 passengers used VRE on Monday. Ridership on Wednesday was 12,700 and projected to be at that level Thursday.

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