Dear Lane Ranger: Has anyone investigated why the Virginia Railway Express has poured millions into a bunch of old, worn-out Gallery railcars and refused to look at other procurement options when these 19 cars were purchased?

The initial contract has been voided to rehabilitate the cars. The other bidders had more realistic bids but Northern Rail Car was cheapest. After assurances that it had been removed, asbestos was still found in the cars. The cost to bring obsolete cars into [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance is so high that the cab cars may never run this was never looked at before the purchase.

The whole purchase of the Gallery cars is rife with contract irregularities, bad contract decisions, cost overruns, etc. The end result is that now VRE will have to lease equipment to meet rider demands, plus spend more money to attempt to get the Gallery cars into service. While it is great that ridership is up, management seems to be reluctant to address costs honestly. I don’t see VRE being brought to task for some of the fiscal irresponsibility it has shown over the last couple of years. Anonymous rider and taxpayer

When we get all 19 of these Pullman-Standard Gallery cars, an additional 2,200 seats will be added to the VRE fleet. Northern Rail Car delivered ten, but due to poor performance, they were not awarded an option for the nine remaining cars.

To answer your anonymous question, from which I had to edit out libelous accusations, the basic reason comes down to money. The original cost estimate of the purchase and rehabilitation of the cars was $8 million. Right now Transportation and Transit Associates are overhauling the nine remaining cars for $3 million.

The going price for new bilevel passenger railcars is $2 million a piece. So we’re getting a good deal on these solid and safe gallery cars, it was going to be around $500,000 each. I’ll have a more exact estimate next week VRE officials were working on that Friday.

The gallery cars were a “stopgap” measure to meet growth, said VRE chief operating officer Pete Sklannik. The lease of Sounder trains sets was another short-term fix to VRE’s strong ridership growth. VRE is averaging 12,000 trips a day and that is forecasted to go up to 14,000 to 15,000 in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Federal money in this year’s transportation bill is being sought to get new bilevel cars for VRE to replace the first Sounder lease. That’s $20 million for just one train.

I say VRE is going out of its way to accommodate passengers.

The Kawasaki/Bombardier cars are hard to match, but VRE has set out to install better seating material in 14 cars they have and do a better job in the five remaining cars to be overhauled.

Sklannik said carpet will be tested to see if it deadens the noise in the cars and new shocks will improve the ride and extend the life of the cars.

If you can’t wait for the newest in equipment, try commuting on OmniRide, which got plush touring buses in January.

Commuter lot crime

Iris Young of Woodbridge said her car was broken into at the Horner Road commuter lot, along with several other cars near hers. She lost her stereo and $400 in compact discs.

“My concern is that no one is doing anything to boost up security there,” she said. “It’s not much to dip into Prince William County money and put up more security.”

Young said she is starting a petition and hopes to get 300 signatures.

That may be how you should go about affecting change.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors has looked at this issue before. The level of crime in the commuter lots is not out of the ordinary, police say. Putting security cameras up or police patrols costs money. That parking lot is free now it doesn’t have to be if you want added piece of mind.

Remember to check if your non-factory car stereo is covered by regular car insurance.

Va. 234 is not ignored

Two weeks ago I asked why VDOT is not cutting the grass on the Va. 234 bypass.

“It was high,” admitted VDOT spokesman Bruce Williams. The problem was all that rain we had kept delaying VDOT work crews, he said.

Basically, the ground has to dry out or the tractor tires tear up the dirt and you have big gashes of no grass after cuttings.

I surveyed the Va. 234 bypass (officially not the bypass but the county parkway) and grass had been cut except in the median. The mowing signs were up and it was a work-in-progress when I checked. Strips of hay were being put down for grass seed, and the trees were blooming and everything was wonderful, I guess.

Now if they could cut the grass in my yard and put down some seed in the back where the weeds are getting out of hand, I won’t have any complaints.

Times are tight at VDOT

But let me get this out about VDOT. I remember when we’d have ribbon cuttings for roads and intersections with the big white tent and continental breakfast spreads. Juices, coffee, donuts, and pastries, much like Metro groundbreakings for parking garages. At the ribbon cutting for the Va. 234/Interstate 95 ramps last month, it was Dunkin Donuts coffee and those little doughnuts out of the back of an orange VDOT pickup.

I say, let’s keep ribbon cuttings this simple, even if one day VDOT is swimming in the money. All we need is the pickup with the juice cooler, a box of donuts and coffee on the side. Then I know we’re efficient. If it rains, splurge for the tent because it’s VDOT staffers who have to wake up early and put it up.

You know who has good catering service it’s the Virginia Railway Express. They always have senators and governors at their receptions. But one thing happened at the ceremony for the midday train on the Fredericksburg line April 29: Waiting for the celebrated first train, a VRE commuter asked why she and several other waiting commuters couldn’t have a bite to eat. A VRE official at the time said, sure, they can have some, somebody should tell them I don’t think anyone did.

VRE has all its receptions at the Alexandria station, which doesn’t have too much commuter traffic in the day. VRE should put one person in charge of talking to the customers at the station and telling them to come on over because you’re not snobs.

Go to one of VRE’s “Meet the Management” outings at the stations, which they are cycling through now. Visit their Web site at

Get to prom safely

For us reporters, prom stories are always the same boring fare to write each May, but I remember two years ago I had an interesting one. One group riding in a limousine noticed smoke pouring from the inside panels and the driver had to pull over on the Beltway. The group ended up arriving at prom in an ambulance everyone except the limo was OK.

This brings me to “Seven Steps to Choosing a Limo Service” on the Department of Motor Vehicles Web site,, for that special night. Authorized limousine services can be checked out by calling 1-866-878-2582 (1-88-TRUCK-VA).

Lane Ranger welcomes and encourages your correspondence. Please send any questions or comments on area transportation to: Lane Ranger, c/o Potomac News, P.O. Box 2470, Woodbridge VA 22195; fax: (703) 878-8099; e-mail to lanerang[email protected] or by phone: (703) 878-8062.

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