Manassas Journal Messenger | VRE may cut holiday service

The Virginia Railway Express could save $140,000 next year if it drops service for five holidays on which ridership drops off by more than 80 percent.

The commuter railroad is asking its passengers if the proposal is acceptable.

VRE does not operate on New Year?s Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Proposed is to end service for Columbus Day, Veterans Day, the day after Thanksgiving, Lee-Jackson-King Day and Presidents? Day.

VRE is posting averages of 15,000 trips per day this summer after four years of 15 percent growth. But on the five holidays it averages 2,400 trips, or 1,200 people.

VRE?s annual budget is $52 million, roughly half of that goes to operating costs and the other to capital improvements and maintenance.

VRE Acting Chief Operating Officer Dale Zehner said the savings are significant.

?It?s more than a few bucks,? he said. ?When you talk operating costs, if you?re hitting around $50,000, you?re talking a lot of money.?

Budgets are tight but operating costs go up 2 to 4 percent a year because of increases in fuel, access fees and contract payments to Amtrak. More than half of operating costs go to Amtrak for labor, he said.

?So now what we?re doing is taking a hard look at costs yet keeping the same service that we have,? Zehner said.

Revenue growth from new riders has leveled off as capacity has been nearly reached, he said.

?We are now carrying during mid-week over 15,000. I don?t think we can carry much more than that unless they fill the aisles with standees,? he said.

Which is not the plan for VRE with its riders used to comfortable rides.

The line is acquiring more bilevel cars and using them for its most popular trains instead of the single level cars with fewer seats.

In the coming years, upgrades of the CSX railroad line on which the Fredericksburg line runs will give VRE additional rights to run more trains. VRE also needs money to expand parking at stations ? it has doubled spaces at several stations but still demand is keeping up. More than $4 million is expected to come from Congress this year for a parking deck in Manassas.

For holidays, the highways are less congested for customers who would then drive in, Zehner said. Sixty percent of VRE riders work for the federal government and have the holidays off anyway.

On Monday, Columbus Day, VRE will put surveys on its train asking those riders who will be most affected.

All riders were asked for comments in VRE?s e-mailed newsletter to riders. All comments must be received by Oct. 15. For more information, go to or call the VRE at (703) 684-1001.

VRE on Thursday accepted the resignation of outgoing operating chief Pete Sklannik after an investigation found $17,000 in spending by Sklannik for questionable items such as personal cell phone usage, travel, meals and office renovations.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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