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VRE sets ridership record, topping 20K

Friday - 2/18/2011, 8:21am  ET

VRE430 (WTOP Photo/Kristi King)
VRE has made over 49 million passenger trips since it first started. (WTOP File Photo/Kristi King)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - More people are hopping aboard Virginia Rail Express trains to get to work in the District.

VRE set a record Wednesday when it provided 20,133 passenger trips. That beat VRE's prior record by nearly 200 trips.

"You can almost now set your clock by it [VRE]," says VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

"In our area, that's a convenience that people enjoy and expect."

In February, Roeber says trains have been on time 97 percent of the time.

VRE Chief Executive Officer Dale Zehner says overall ridership is 7.5 percent higher than last year at the same time. By this point last year, VRE made 2.541 million passenger trips. This year, it's made 2.694 million passenger trips, 152,000 more, Zehner says.

"Quite honestly, if we had more capacity, we would have even more riders," Roeber tells WTOP.

VRE, which operates 30 trains on the Fredericksburg and Manassas lines, is still struggling with the number of people who have to stand on the trains. Some trains carry as many as 300 people who are standing.

Roeber says VRE is trying to address that issue.

"It becomes an issue of how quickly can we add more trains, and where are we going to park them when we do?"

The region's traffic tie-ups and gas prices over $3 a gallon are contributing to VRE's higher ridership.

Roeber says VRE's free parking doesn't hurt.

"It might not seem like much, but when you're talking about $5 a day, that adds up," Roeber says.

When VRE Operations Board Chairman Sharon Bulova joined the board in 1989, before the rail line started operating, VRE hoped to have 10,000 people riding it on a daily basis.

Now, VRE is looking to expand by adding a third line into Spotsylvania County.

Roeber says VRE is working with Prince William County to expand into Haymarket and Gainesville.

"That expansion alone could double the Manassas Line."

WTOP's Kristi King contributed to this story. Follow Kristi andWTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)