Let's Talk! The next VRE online forum will start on Thursday, December 2nd at 12:00pm. There are currently 156 questions waiting to be answered. VRE Management: Today was another long morning for Manassas Line riders. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of them are the same. I prefer not to sound like a broken record. Many of you are commenting that you want to see less words and more action. For that reason, I want to address the Manassas Line issues just once in this forum, because there are also a number of other valid issues not related to Manassas Line delays that deserved to be addressed as well. But let me make clear that I take full responsibility for the operations of VRE and I am personally accountable for the delays that you have been experiencing. VRE Management: In light of the recent delays, we have changed many of our mechanical protocols. Rather than having delays leaving our yards, which had occurred more often than not in the past, we are catching things before they leave. This has helped us correct issues before riders are affected. Unfortunately, since you can’t see them, you aren’t as aware of them as we are. VRE Management: What we are left with are the more en route catastrophic failures that are harder to find and even harder to predict. As a result, we are looking to implement even more protocols to see if even these can be remedied before they go out. VRE Management: Before I get on to the questions, I want to tell you that we will have to cancel a train on the Manassas Line this evening. Train 335 will be cancelled and we will send a Train Talk out following the web chat. Ken from Fairfax asks: Why should I continue to use VRE with the delays recently? VRE Management: I want to start our forum with this question, because I think it gets to the heart of what many of our Manassas Line passengers are thinking right now. Why should you continue with VRE? While our performance may not have met your expectations recently, VRE is an organization that does not hide during the difficult times. My preference is to provide as much transparency to our riders as possible. When other commuter rail and transit organizations look at all of the ways that VRE communicates with its riders, they are in awe. From Meet the Management to these monthly on-line web chats, during the good, bad, and the ugly, riders will always know where they stand. You, the rider, are the heart of this organization. I never forget that, and neither does the staff at VRE. Will it get better? Yes. Will it be overnight? No. Everyone at Keolis and VRE is working to mitigate these delays as quickly as possible. Patti from Fairfax, VA asks: Can Girl Scouts sell cookies at a small table in the parking lot at VREs? Thanks VRE Management: Yes, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for information on how to submit a Right of Entry Request at http://vre.org/feedback/faq.htm#selling. Mark from Manassas Park asks: The 329 is completely full!!!!!!!!!!! It needs more train cars. Can a trainset be stored at L'enfant? Suggestion: The final morning train into Union Station return back to L'enfant for storage. One mid afternoon train leaves union station caring Manassas and Fredericksburg line riders. Passengers from one line get off at L'enfant and use the train set stored there. VRE Management: I am looking at a number of different options to be able to lengthen train 329 and one of the morning Manassas Line trains. I will be going before the Operations Board later this month as part of the process. I’ll let you know more as it develops. Mark from Manassas Park asks: Is charging for parking a solution at some of the over capicity stations? VRE Management: Parking is a tricky subject. Parking is not uniformly owned by VRE. In fact, with few exceptions, the local jurisdictions own the parking lots. Creating a uniform parking policy is difficult. As a result, the Board’s decision to make parking free across the board. Benny from sprinfield,va asks: Can u explain why there is such a large gap between the 726 am and 811 am trains at springfield and do something to close it ? Obviously this applies to all the stops on this line. And can't something be done to close the time gap to more in line w the usual 25 to 30 minute gape betweewn trains not this large 45 minute gap! VRE Management: The problem is that we need to work our schedule into the larger schedule of what happens along the railroad. In between those two trains is an Amtrak train. Eileen from Clifton, VA asks: Dec 2 at Alexandria, Why didn't the conductor put down the step stool for the passengers needing this assistance. He stayed in the foyer and one of the passengers had to install it. VRE Management: Please emails firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what train you saw this on and we'll look into it. Conductors should be putting down step stools at Alexandria on every train. Jeff from Burke asks: What happened this morning - AND WHY VRE Management: At this point, I don't have any information as to why the locomotive on 324 failed. It is being sent back to Broad Run this evening for a full work up and diagnosis. ray from gainesville, va asks: We purchased santa train tickets online and have the confirmation. How do we get the physical tickets? VRE Management: The majority of them were sent out in the mail today. We have two trains left that we are stuffing tickets for. You should receive them in the mail on Monday at the latest. Fred from Fairfax asks: Mr. Zehner, why don't you level with us and admit that the locomotive situation is simply out of control and won't get any better until more of the new locomotives arrive? Also, why is delivery of the new locomotives taking so long? VRE Management: I am not sure I agree that the situation is out of control. But I do know that the situation will continue to be difficult until we have more of the new locomotives. That said, the second locomotive ships on Monday from Boise and should be here in tow to three weeks and then another one is shipped every two weeks after that. By the end of April, all revenue trains will have a new locomotive. By July, we'll have all 20 locomotives. At that time we will not use any of the existing locomotives at all. Thomas from Virginia asks: Beginning January 1, 2011 many Federal employees will be switched from receiving their transportation subsidy from Metro vouchers to a new GOCard form of receiving this subsidy. With the assumed reduction in the subsidy amount, many VRE riders will have to supplement their subsidy with another form of payment. Will VRE TVMs be able to accomodate split payment for VRE tickets as some of the previous VRE vendors will no longer be designated as a GOCard facility? VRE Management: VRE's Fare Collections Manager is currently working with the software company for our TVMs to accept multiple forms of payment excluding cash. The completion date is unknown at this time. Greg from Burke asks: When the metro option is opened in the AM can riders with Manassas line tickets take the Fredericksburg line to Springfield in the PM to get their cars? VRE Management: Yes. Our tickets are designed for zones and not for particular lines. If you parked at Franconia/Springfield and a Manassas Line rider, you are welcome to take any Fredericksburg Line train. Larry from Fredericksburg asks: The conductor on the express train (300) is a great guy, but he really likes to "chat" over the PA with announcements ranging from multiple "don't forget your tickets" to three or four announcements that (blank) is the next stop. Many of these announcements (very loud) come immediately after the automated announcements are heard. This kills any sleeping plans you may have had. VRE Management: There is always a fine line between too many and too few announcements. I’ll work on it and see what we can do, but I would rather receive complaints about too many announcements, than to have complaints about people missing their stop or not knowing about delays. Boiling from Manassas VA asks: Do we just have to accept that the VRE is an unreliable form of transportation until all the new locomotives have arrived in a year or so? When the CEO sends out an "all is well" message Wednesday night and Thursday morning we are all stranded AGAIN, you lose trust. VRE Management: Understood. Certainly if I had known that we would have this kind of day this morning, my message probably would have been a bit different. Jeff from Manassas asks: Why can not VRE make the automated messavge systems on the cars work correctly. The messages continue to announce the wrong stations. VRE Management: Please let me know which train you are experiencing this on and I will look into it further. Dawn Roddy from Burke Center asks: Why did VRE wait so long to open the Metro option this morning. Many of us had to pay. VRE Management: There will always be a bit of a lag between when we open the Metro Option and when Metro informs its station managers. Unfortunately, this is an area outside of our control. Bart from Fredericksburg asks: Conductor David (302/303) is the best Ive seen in 6 years. VRE Management: Thanks. I will be sure to pass this along. Julie from Fredericksburg, VA asks: Good Morning- Just wondering if you can provide an update on the projected date that the Spotsylvania Station will open? Also, do you anticipate the drop in the JETS subsidy in January to significantly decrease your ridership? VRE Management: We first have to build a third track to the Crossroads yard. We are currently doing the final design for the track and hopefully we will start construction in the fall assuming we can get funding for construction. On the federal transit subsidy, I have no way to predict whether it will be extended or not. We should probably know before Christmas. Bill from Burke asks: I feel like I'm beating a dead horse but what is the status of the wi-fi service? The recent delays would be a lot more tolerable if we had Internet service to do work or entertain ourselves. Let's make wi-fi a priority ... after working to have an on-time service. VRE Management: I gained permission for the board to purchase required equipment. Right now I anticipate that WiFi will be on all trains in late spring. Jeff from Fairfax asks: Conductors did not hand out FRC's again today (after another 30+ minutes of delay). Are you trying to make it difficult to get the FRCs and save money or has the service gotten so bad that you can't keep enough FRCs in stock. VRE Management: I feel very strongly that FRCs need to be given out at the time of the delay. I will look into this. Mike from That place that don't have a station ye asks: FRCs and step-ups are worth roughly the same now. 1) Any progress on getting the ridiculous step-up rate reduced? 2) If not, why not let us use FRCs as Step-Up tickets? This would let the monthly passholders benefit from that legendary Amtrak premium service. BTW, if an Amtrak train is more than half an hour late, we should get to keep our step ups. Fair is fair. It would be nice to see some accountability at Amtrak - once. VRE Management: I am still working on the cost of Step-Up tickets because of the crowding that is occurring. I will know more later this month and share it with you. I’ll keep the FRC suggestion in mind as we go through the process. Tom from Spotsy asks: It seems like the pre programmed announcement on train 306 are always out of sync with which station that the train is approaching. It might be best to just turn that system off and let the Conductors announce the next stop. VRE Management: I will check into it but they should be operating the automated announcement system. FD from Bristow asks: I've seen comments about the positive service. For the most part the service is good, but I, along with others received very rude service from one conductor. I reported it along with detailed information on the train and the conductors name to email@example.com. Why don't we hear back on our feedback? Also, the announcements are often unheard and LED bars have't been accurate in forever. These seemingly simple things were never a problem with Amtrak, why so with Keolis? VRE Management: Rest assured, we received your email. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, we have been inundated with emails. We are working to respond to each of them in turn. We have reviewed your email and are looking into it. Ralph from Burke, VA asks: How long should it take to couple two trains together? Today it took 45 minutes on the Manassass line. VRE Management: Our records indicate that the coupling took 24 minutes. 15-20 minutes is considered the normal. However, the train was probably waiting 45 minutes for the following train to come up behind it. Tom from Spotsy asks: On the day before a long weekend how about making train 301 and eight car set. It was standing room only when she pulled out of Crystal City on the day before Thanksgiving! I know of a disable person who could not find a seat until the train was about to pull out of the Quantico Station! VRE Management: We only have one eight car set of the Fredricksburg Line. historically train 303 has more riders so we put the eight car set there. While I know 301 was very crowded, 303 would have been much worse if it only had the six car set. Fed Up from Manassas asks: Where can I find out about van pools? VRE Management: I believe you can get information about van pools by calling 703-228-RIDE Rick from Manassas, VA asks: How long are the crews required to rest between shift? VRE Management: 8 hours rest after a workday. davee from washington, dc asks: will you hold keolis fiscally resposible for the delays? VRE Management: We have both penalties and incentives in the contract that cover specific situations. Dan from Manassas asks: Any plans to incorporate a dine/bar car into the line so that if there is a delay at least you would be able to get a bite/drink. VRE Management: We had cafe cars several years ago but removed them in order to provide more seats for our riders. Paul from Manassas asks: Comment for your Operations guy: If you're going to make targeted announcements to certain platforms (e.g. L'Enfant only) when you're having problems, would you please check to see that there isn't a freight train on the other track so at lest stand a chance of hearing the announcement? VRE Management: That one actually belongs to VRE. I’ll see what we can do about this. But, now that the P.A. system has been fixed, we’ll be going back to the automatic messages that occur more frequently. Mike from Fredericksburg asks: Dale, why don't you admit that the ongoing delays due to mechanical problems are the direct result of YOUR poor decision to acquire new cars instead of new engines? I believe most of your ridership would rather arrive on time in older cars than arrive significantly later (or not at all) in new cars. If you are as accountable as you claim to be then you will own up to this terrible management mistake. VRE Management: I made the decision five years ago to get new railcars before locomotives. Hindsight being 20/20, I am not sure I would have made a change. Old cars can present their own mechanical issues that would delay trains. If we had 68 old cars with 12 new locomotives, I am not sure we would have been better off with mechanical delays. However by April, we will have new locomotives on all trains. Joe from Spotsy asks: This is a note to thank JB, the conductor on trains 300 and 201. He seems to enjoy his job and his customers. He goes out of his way to ensure a good trip. A few weeks ago, I was on a train that broke down at Woodbridge. Buses were called. He went to the engine and fixed what was broken. On Thanksgiving eve, he went above and beyond to get everyone home in a timely manner on a very crowded train. All the conducters should be like him. Good job!!!! VRE Management: Thanks for letting me know. I’ll pass it along. John from Manassas asks: Did we get lucky with the leave oil this year? VRE Management: It certainly looks that way! Each year is different. This year, the leaves all fell before we started getting the winds and rain that cause this slippery condition. With that said, we did enact some new protocols this year that may have also helped. At the end of October, every train in the afternoon along the parts of the rail we know are most susceptible. I think that helped as well. Steve from Burke, VA asks: Dale, Due to an injury I've been forced to use crutches. The conductors have been great making sure I can get on & off the train okay. However, the passengers don't seem to understand the handicapped seats are for folks like me! One conductor did tell me if folks won't move he would make sure I got a seat (by telling folks to move)! My question is, can anything be done to make sure the Union Station escalators are running in the proper direction for VRE trains? I've had to walk down (with my crutches) a # of times and this creates a big back up behind me plus is hazardus. Thanks! VRE Management: This is a re-occuring problem that somehow I have not been able to solve since it is not our property. I will continue to work the issue. from asks: Why haven't you modifed the bike policy to only allow bikes that fold-up and fit into the luggage area? Regular bikes take up three seats that should be made available to passengers who have paid for a seat but cannot find an open one and have to stand. VRE Management: Given the crowding we will revaluate the policy. Dan from Manassas asks: VRE'ers: Despite some recent mechanical problems, VRE is the best commuter option going. Anyone who does not believe it, try I-66 or I-95 one day. With the new engines coming at the rate of 1 per 2 weeks, VRE's mechanical issues will be a thing of the past in a very short period of time. Patience please! VRE Management: I appreciate your support. Sick of the Bullying from Fredericksburg asks: I am glad to see that there is a significant increase in ridership on the Fredsburg line. However, I am so sick of the obvious bullying that occurs daily. Grown men who I'm sure have served time and are gainfully employed pushing, shoving, elbowing WOMEN, stepping past you and in some cases barring women and preventing them from getting on the train. We are all concerned about being able to secure a seat on the long ride home but there needs to be some degree of respect for others, tactfulness and common courtesy, especially to women, when attempting to board the trains. VRE Management: Courtesty issues are always the most difficult to enforce. If you have a particular issue with an individual bullying another passenger, please let the conductor know. AJ from Rippon Landing asks: I recently moved further out from Springfield and am somewhat new to VRE. I must say so far the train system and your employees are far superior in almost everything from cleanliness to professionalism compared to Metro! Great job! Looking back at what most have commented on here, I agree with the feedback as far as the delays and announcements are hard to hear at times. Fix those and you have in my opinion a perfect system! VRE Management: I’m working on it. Thanks for the feedback! Darius from Burke, VA asks: I use a monthly ticket to & from work, but occasionally I travel beyond my fare boundary. I buy a ticket to cover the extra distance, but I'm paying a full 1 zone fare, $5.35, whereas the fare difference is only about 65 cents for the extra zone. How about a 'step-up' ticket that can be used in conjunction with a regular ticket to cover the incremental cost? It simply would need to be seperately validated at a TVM. VRE Management: Unfortunately, we are unable to make a solution through our TVMs. I know monthly ticket holders always feel that FRCs are useless, but this is a situation when they come in handy. jason from lorton asks: Thanks for giving us back operations the day after Thansgiving; but no thanks for Dec 24 and Dec 31. When are you guys going to remeber you provide service to the citizens of VA and that we depend upon you to get to our work? VRE Management: Because Christmas and New Year’s Day are on Saturdays, the official “observed” federal holidays are December 24 and December 31. For that reason, we opted not to operate on those days. Steve from fredericksburg, va asks: Is is possible to have a rescue locomotive parked at a station like Quantico so it can be dispatched to help a disabled train? VRE Management: On the surface, that’s not a bad idea. Unfortunately, there are some federal requirements for inspections couldn’t necessarily be done in the field, making it problematic to implement. But I like your thinking. Ed from Burke asks: I am sure you will be getting an earful today due to the Manassas line disaster this morning. Isn't there someway of speeding up the delivery of the new engines? Perhaps some kind of incentive..maybe some cookies or cupcakes. VRE Management: If only it were that easy! On the bright side, the next one comes later this month, then we get one every other week. Matt from Lorton, VA asks: Does VRE plan to terminate the lease of V34-V36 once the new locomotives come in? VRE Management: We will terminate if we can, otherwise we will pay through the lease period. Bill from Stafford asks: Brooke Station: Increasingly, cars are parking outside the parking area along the side of the approach road and on a vacant lot where a house once stood. What is VRE and Stafford Supervisor & VRE Board Chairman Paul Milde doing to expedite the expansion of this lot? VRE Management: I know. We have staff members that have been parking on the access road. VRE purchased the lot that the house was on. A parking expansion is in design. Gary from Springfield asks: Does it appear that it was a mistake to switch to Keolis. Are you contemplating terminating the contract for cause. VRE Management: No I don't think it was a mistake. VRE Management: I know I didn't answer all of the comments for the delay on the Manassas Line, but trust me I have read them and so has Keolis. I won't make promises as to when, but it will get better. We will see you next year on January 5th.