Final approval has been given to the Virginia Railway Express to abandon its 17 year relationship with Amtrak. The Northern Virginia and Potomac and Rappahannock transportation commissions all voted today in favor of awarding a new five-year contract to Keolis Rail Services America, a subsidiary of a French transport group. Keolis is the largest private sector transport group in Europe, based out of Paris, France.
The plan was initially approved by the VRE Operations Board in mid-October. The new contract begins July 1, 2010 and has two five-year renewal options.
HOT Lanes Delayed: While the Beltway HOT Lane construction continues forward, Virigina has decided to delay building additional HOT lanes on I-395 and I-95. The economy is the answer that’s been trotted out; state leaders fear that they won’t be able to get money from the bond market and the state has no more money to spend. The Beltway project is expected to be completed by 2012, with the outer lanes opening as early as next year.
Officials were pretty specific in stating the project has been delayed, not abandoned, though there is still a lot of concern with local officials, who feel the proposed project will adversely affect their communities and neighborhood traffic patterns.
Construction was supposed to begin next summer.
ICC & I-95: This week began a traffic pattern shift along I-95 as construction continues on the Intercounty Connector in Prince George’s County. Several lanes are being closed or shifted in both northbound and southbound directions from Route 198 to Route 212. Closures begin as early as 8 p.m. and re-open before morning rush. The closures will be in effect until Sept. 29.
VRE Gets Stimulated: The federal government has awarded $9.8 million to the Virginia Railway Express, money needed to purchase 12 more locomotives. The funds fall under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will be administered by the Federal Transit Administration.
The current locomotive fleet consists of 20 engines that can pull an average of six cars; the new engines the VRE is purchasing are more powerful and efficient, capable of pulling 10 cars each (at 144 passengers a car) and will help the service expand its current capacity.
With most of Union Station’s Grand Hall reserved for tonight’s inaugural ball, and the Metro station and rail concourse already packed to capacity, the crowd entering Union Station had to be divided into Metro, Amtrak, and MARC/VRE riders. Confusion reigned outside as the Columbus Circle road was closed off, forcing people to circle around sidewalks and fences and clumps of National Guard and MPD personnel.
Lots of odds and ends for this rundown. We’ve got VRE hikes, DC bike angst, and more Metro news than you can shake a SmarTrip card at.
VRE: Looks like after some review, the VRE will not be raising fares by 15 percent in January, but only a “modest” 7 percent. Which, I’m sure for VRE households like mine is a lot easier to swallow. But it’s also more likely that we’ll see another fare hike again in July of next year. The original plan was a 10 percent bump for July along with the January spike; VRE didn’t say anything about the summer hike but with the lower rate boost in January it only makes it more likely the July hit will remain the same. Unless fuel prices drop dramatically, that is.
Lately, strikes, cuts and hikes have one thing in common in transit around here. More specifically, the Fairfax Connector, Maryland budget woes, and VRE fare hikes.
Fairfax Connector: Today is Day 2 of the bus driver strike, where drivers are holding out for a new contract with better pension and health benefits. The old contract ended on Sunday.
Yesterday, the first day of the strike, saw 16 routes get canceled and eight others put on a reduced schedule. Servicing over 20,000 commuters a day, the strike only affects the routes serving southern Fairfax County as the striking drivers are from the Huntington garage. The Herndon-based drivers are under a different contract so there is no reduction of service from routes originating there.