Manassas Journal Messenger | A good deal

You can’t buy much with $35 these days.

It takes almost that amount to fill the gas tank on an SUV. You can’t even purchase a ticket to sit in the nosebleed seats to watch the Washington Redskins for $35.

Leave it up to the folks at the Virginia Railway Express to find a good deal for only $35. Heck, the Reading Railroad in Monopoly costs $200.

Last week it was announced that the VRE would be purchasing 35 bilevel gallery cars for $1 each. Apparently there’s no catch. VRE officials don’t even have to sit through a high-pressured sales pitch on timeshares to take advantage of this deal.

The purchase of the new cars comes at the right time for VRE which was facing a capacity shortage due to the commuter rail line’s growing popularity and the fact that 18 leased cars were to be returned to the Seattle Sounder system in 2005. Add the fact that another 38 single-level cars were almost due to be overhauled with five more gallery cars about to be retired and VRE was facing a big problem.

The need for new cars was apparent yet little new money is scheduled to be funneled to VRE in the near future. The sales tax referendum failed, which would have helped purchase new cars. Federal money from Congress was a crapshoot, at best.

VRE, which runs trains on two lines each work day, was carrying more than 15,000 commuters to and from work every day. This is a great turn around from the dark days of 1998 when a freight train derailment compounded VRE’s problems as the commuter line’s capacity dipped to record lows.

The VRE rebounded shortly after that and broke through the 10,000-passenger barrier a couple of years ago. With more people taking advantage of the rail line these days, it was feared by many that a money crunch would disrupt the VRE success story. With little new money coming in, it was possible that VRE would have eventually been forced to cut back service based on a dwindling amount of cars on both its Fredericksburg and Manassas lines.

Enter Chicago’s Metra system with 300,000 daily passenger trips and $166 million to spend on new rail cars. The Chicago system’s gain came with a trickle-down effect as the Metra system found itself with 35 cars to spare. VRE took the cars off their hands and will use around $4 million to upgrade 30 of them while using five others for spare parts. The cars themselves are in better condition than the current cars leased from the Seattle carrier.

Considering that it would cost around $2 million to purchase new cars of this size, the VRE has made strides in solving its car shortage while saving between $60-$70 million. Of course it’s unlikely VRE would have been able to spend this amount of money on 35 new cars, but the savings is still significant.

The state budget crunch has been tough all over with little extra money to give to education, law enforcement and cultural resources. These lean times have also been difficult for VRE which had made so much progress in five short years.

The VRE leadership is proving that solutions can be found even if the money needed to solve problems is lacking.

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