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Virginia Railway Express

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Virginia Railway Express
A VRE train at Manassas station
A VRE train at Manassas station
OwnerNVTC and PRTC
LocaleNorthern Virginia, U.S.
Transit typeCommuter rail
Number of lines2
Number of stations19 year-round, 1 seasonal, 1 planned
Daily ridership6,600 (weekdays, Q1 2024)[1]
Annual ridership1,537,000 (2023)[2]
Began operationJune 22, 1992
Operator(s)Keolis (under contract)
Reporting marksVREX
System length90 mi (145 km)
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
System map
Union Station DC Streetcar Amtrak
Crystal City
Alexandria Amtrak
Backlick Road
Rolling Road
Northeast Regional
Burke Centre
Northeast Regional
(events only)
Manassas Park
Potomac Shores (planned)
Broad Run
Leeland Road
 Manassas Line 
 Fredericksburg Line 
Manassas Line
Fredericksburg Line
Both services

Handicapped/disabled access All stations are accessible

Virginia Railway Express (VRE) (reporting mark VREX) is a commuter rail service that connects outlying small cities of Northern Virginia to Washington Union Station in Washington, D.C. It operates two lines which run during weekday rush hour only: the Fredericksburg Line from Spotsylvania, Virginia, and the Manassas Line from Broad Run station in Bristow, Virginia. In 2023, the system had a ridership of 1,537,000, or about 6,600 per weekday as of the first quarter of 2024.

Service to Manassas began on June 22, 1992; the Fredericksburg service started on July 20, 1992.[3]

VRE is owned by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC). The NVTC and PRTC are governmental entities that were created by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Local governments (such as counties and cities) within each commission's geographic area are members of each commission. The service will undergo expansion as the result of a December 19, 2019 deal brokered between former Virginia governor Ralph Northam and rail company CSX Transportation.[4]


A Virginia Railway Express train going through Crystal City in 1999

Discussions about commuter rail service in Northern Virginia had occurred as early as 1964 at the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, but died in the face of opposition by the freight railroads whose tracks offered ready access to core employment areas. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments eventually commissioned a regional feasibility study by R.L. Banks and Associates, Inc., and planning began in earnest for VRE in 1984.[5] In the meantime, Washington Metro extended its service to much of the inner ring of Northern Virginia, including the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church and Arlington and Fairfax counties, which are members of the NVTC.

By 1986, it became apparent that Prince William and Stafford counties and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park could not reach agreement on how to support VRE by joining NVTC, so the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission was created for them. Legislation established a 2% motor fuels tax to support VRE expenses and other transportation investments.

By 1988, NVTC and PRTC established a VRE Operations Board, consisting of three voting members plus alternates from each of the two commissions, plus a voting representative of the Commonwealth of Virginia (currently a representative of the Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation). The following year, the jurisdictions participating in the VRE project agreed to fund it according to a formula that weighted ridership by jurisdiction of residence with a factor of 90% and population with a factor of 10%. Arlington and Alexandria agreed to contribute to the project and have paid each year approximately what their formula share would be. The cities of Fredericksburg and Manassas Park joined PRTC in 1990 and signed the VRE Master Agreement and became participating jurisdictions in 1992.[5]

Spotsylvania County joined in February 2010 to allow construction of Spotsylvania station, which opened in November 2015.[6][7]


A VRE train crossing the Potomac River in 2013

Rail service operates Monday through Friday during rush hour in the peak direction, with trains traveling toward Washington in the morning and toward either Manassas or Fredericksburg in the afternoon. Service is suspended or reduced on some holidays.[8]

Through a cross-honoring agreement, VRE and the MARC Train allow passengers to transfer to trains on the other system that are going in the opposite direction of the rush-hour commuters.[9]

VRE operates on lines owned and maintained by Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, and CSX Transportation. In December 2019, the state of Virginia agreed to purchase large portions of the right-of-way and track on the CSX line, as well as the Long Bridge into the District of Columbia. The state will add parallel tracks and make other improvements for increased service on the VRE.[10] Most of the Fredericksburg Line is on CSX tracks, while the portion of the Manassas Line west of Alexandria is mostly on Norfolk Southern tracks. Washington Union Station in Washington, D.C., the northern terminus for most VRE trains, is owned and operated by Amtrak, including the station tracks.

VRE's trains were initially run by Amtrak. On November 5, 2009, VRE awarded a five-year, $85 million operating and maintenance contract to Keolis.[11][12] The change in operations took place on July 12, 2010, two weeks later than planned, to allow Keolis employees to learn how to run VRE trains.[13]

Ridership on VRE increased an average of 13% each year from 2000 to 2005, but fell 2% in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005. VRE said passengers affected by track maintenance and heat restrictions were taking other forms of transportation.[14] The trend reversed in the summer of 2007, with ridership up nearly 2% in June and 4% in July compared with the corresponding months in 2006.[15] As of October 2016, VRE transports an average of 19,400 passengers per day.[16]

In 2015, VRE extended its contract with Keolis for five years, with an additional option for another five-year extension in 2020.[17] That option was exercised in 2020, so Keolis will continue to provide operational and maintenance services through June 2025.[18]

Starting in 2015, VRE began a study of extending service to Haymarket via a short branch line from the Manassas Line, but found that ridership would not sufficiently increase to justify the estimated $660 million cost and ended further consideration of the line.[19]

Lines and stations[edit]

VRE's fares are based on distance, with the 19 stations grouped into zones. The two lines diverge at Alexandria Union Station in Alexandria.

Manassas Line[edit]

The Manassas Line runs east–west along trackage owned by Norfolk Southern. Amtrak's Crescent and Cardinal, as well as Northeast Regional trains bound for Roanoke, also use this line. VRE studied an extension of the Manassas Line west to the communities of Gainesville and Haymarket, but chose instead to pursue added service on the existing line to Broad Run.[19]

A reverse-peak VRE train to Washington, D.C.
Miles (km) Fare Zone State Location Station Daily boardings (2012)[20] Connections
0 (0) 1 DC Washington Washington Union Station 1,135 Washington Metro, MARC, Amtrak
1.8 (2.9) L'Enfant 2,050 Washington Metro
4.3 (6.9) 2 VA Crystal City Crystal City 870 Washington Metro, Metroway
8.3 (13.4) Alexandria Alexandria Union Station 425 Washington Metro, Amtrak
15.1 (24.3) 3 Springfield Backlick Road 170
19.3 (31.1) 4 Burke Rolling Road 395
21.6 (34.8) Burke Centre Burke Centre 920 Amtrak
26.8 (43.1) Clifton Clifton 880 Special events only
30.6 (49.2) 6 Manassas Park Manassas Park 880
32.7 (52.6) Manassas Manassas 880 Amtrak
35.9 (57.8) Bristow Broad Run 1290

Fredericksburg Line[edit]

The Fredericksburg Line runs north–south along trackage that was once part of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and is now part of CSX. Amtrak service to Richmond, Virginia, and points south (the Silver Service, Palmetto, Carolinian, and Northeast Regional runs to Hampton Roads) also uses this line. An extension to Spotsylvania opened in November 2015.[21]

Miles (km) Fare Zone State Location Station Daily boardings (2012)[20] Connections
0 (0) 1 DC Washington, D.C. Washington Union Station 930 Washington Metro, MARC, Amtrak
1.8 (2.9) L'Enfant 1,675 Washington Metro
4.3 (6.9) 2 VA Crystal City Crystal City 930 Washington Metro, Metroway
8.3 (13.4) Alexandria Alexandria Union Station 630 Washington Metro, Amtrak
15.7 (25.3) 3 Springfield Franconia–Springfield 290 Washington Metro
20.2 (32.5) 4 Lorton Lorton 510
24.6 (39.6) 5 Woodbridge Woodbridge 455 Amtrak
27.9 (44.9) Featherstone Rippon 545
30.6 mi (49.2 km) VA Dumfries Potomac Shores (under development)
34.8 (56.0) 6 VA Quantico Quantico 540 Amtrak
45.7 (73.5) 8 Brooke Brooke 630
50.2 (80.8) Leeland Leeland Road 1100
54.2 (87.2) 9 Fredericksburg Fredericksburg 1770 Amtrak
60.3 (97.0) Olive Spotsylvania Opened in 2015

Rolling stock[edit]

Virginia Railway Express commenced operations in 1992 with ten EMD RP39-2C diesel locomotives, 38 Mafersa coaches, and 21 remanufactured Budd Rail Diesel Cars from the MBTA. Morrison-Knudsen rebuilt the locomotives from EMD GP40s at a total cost of $5.9 million. Mafersa built the coaches new at $24.7 million, or $600,000–$700,000 per car.[22][23] During Summer 1998, SEPTA leased some VRE Boisie Budds for the Regional Rail services. VRE sold 33 of the Mafersa coaches to the Connecticut Department of Transportation in 2004 for its Shore Line East service.[24] QIT-Fer et Titane, a Quebec mining company, purchased the remaining five cars in 2008.[5]

VRE operated 13 Kawasaki bi-level cars between 1999 and 2008, after which they were sold to MARC (these cars were originally procured as an option on MARC's larger order).[5][25][26] Starting in 2001, VRE also operated a number of second-hand Pullman-Standard gallery cars from Metra in Chicago.[27] These were all replaced by new Sumitomo/Nippon Sharyo gallery cars from 2006 to 2017 as some cars returned to Metra and others went to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina.[25][28]

Trains currently comprise one and on some occasions two MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives that pull their fleet of Sumitomo/Nippon Sharyo gallery cars. As of 2018, train lengths usually range from at least four cars to a maximum of eight cars.[28]

Locomotive fleet[edit]

Numbers Status Model Notes Photo
V1–V10[29] retired EMD RP39-2C Rebuilt from original units by Morrison-Knudsen. All sold to other operators.[29] Lack the flared radiators of VRE's GP40s.
V20–V21[29] EMD RP40-2C Rebuilt from original units by Morrison-Knudsen. V20 sold to Royal Gorge Route Railroad and renumbered 728. V21 sold to the US Army.[29]
V22–V24[29] EMD GP40H-2 V22 and V24 sold to US Army. V23 sold to other another operator.
V30–V36[29] EMD F40PH-2 All were former Amtrak units.

V30 owned by Amtrak(AMTK 403). When lease was up, it was returned to Amtrak and received its original number. V31 sold to another operator. V32 sold to Metra renumbered 217. V33 sold to AMT and then LTEX renumbered 330. V34-V36 sold to LTEX and V35 displayed at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina.[28]

V50–V69[28] active MPI MP36PH-3C Total order of 20.[30][31] The first unit was delivered in June 2010, entered service in August 2010, and all units are currently in service. These are the first new locomotives that VRE purchased. Going to be overhauled within the next 5 years.[32]

VRE also operated a pair of EMD F59PHI locomotives and 18 high capacity Bombardier BiLevel cars leased from Sound Transit from 2002 to 2008; they have been returned to Sounder and replaced by locomotives V50–V69 and the Sumitomo bi-level cars.[29][33]

Coach fleet[edit]

Numbers Years Built Status Builder Model Seats
405, 408, 412, 413, 415*[28] 1956 retired Pullman Company Gallery I coach 123
421-430*[28] 1956 Gallery II coach 123
431-458*[28] 1960-66 Gallery III coach 123
710–730*[28] 2006–08 active Sumitomo / Nippon Sharyo Gallery IV cab car 123
800–819*, 850–869, 870–879[28] 2007–09 Gallery IV trailer car 132* / 144
820–848*[28] 2014 Gallery IV trailer car 132

* with restroom

† Eight cars ordered in February 2012 with options for 42 more.[32] As of 2018, 21 further cars had been procured from these options.[28]

Safety and accidents[edit]

The VRE derailment on January 5, 2006

On January 5, 2006, at 6:45 am, Fredericksburg line train No. 304 bound for Washington, D.C., derailed at Possum Point, just north of Quantico. Four people, including the assistant conductor, suffered minor injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the derailment was intimately related to CSX's maintenance practices: a switch point had been repeatedly identified as deteriorating, but CSX failed to replace it. Eventually, the excessively worn and chipped point caused the lead truck of a passenger car to derail—the fourth car on train 304.[34]

On October 3, 2012, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell launched a review of "multiple internal control issues", including reports of corruption and favoritism, that "call into question the management of the Virginia Railway Express". For example, VRE managers disregarded warnings by a former employee, later borne out, that trains would hit the new Broad Run platform.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Transit Ridership Report First Quarter 2024" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association. May 23, 2024. Retrieved May 31, 2024.
  2. ^ "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter 2023" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association. March 4, 2024. Retrieved March 14, 2024.
  3. ^ Virginia Railway Express Launched International Railway Journal September 1992 page 71
  4. ^ MARTZ, MICHAEL. "Virginia has $3.7 billion deal to expand rail service between Richmond and Washington". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d Taube, Richard K. (August 11, 2008). "Chronology of the Virginia Railway Express: 1964 to Present" (PDF). Virginia Railway Express. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 17, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  6. ^ HDR Engineering (August 4, 2010). "Spotsylvania County VRE Commuter Rail Station Site Screening Analysis: Final Technical Memorandum" (PDF). Spotsylvania County. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 5, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  7. ^ Lazo, Luz (October 26, 2015). "VRE's Spotsylvania station to open next month". Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 27, 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  8. ^ "VRE Schedules". VRE. Archived from the original on November 28, 2018. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  9. ^ "Amtrak & MARC Cross Honor Agreements". VRE. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  10. ^ Horner, Rick (June 12, 2020). "VRE inks $8.5 million deal to keep trains running to Fredericksburg for 1 more year". Retrieved March 21, 2021.
  11. ^ "Keolis in, Amtrak out at VRE". Trains. November 6, 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ Buske, Jennifer (July 10, 2010). "Amtrak ends role as VRE operator; Keolis to start Monday". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on August 1, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  13. ^ "Amtrak gets two more weeks to operate Virginia Railway Express". Trains. June 10, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Virginia Railway Express Sees Decline in Ridership" Archived October 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, WTOP news, July 25, 2006
  15. ^ Dan Genz (August 15, 2007), "VRE ridership up; commuters likely to ask for later trains" Archived September 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Examiner
  16. ^ "CEO Report: December 2016". December 2016. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017.
  17. ^ Worrell, Carolina (July 14, 2015). "VRE extends contract with Keolis". Railway Age. Archived from the original on September 17, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  18. ^ "VRE extends operations and maintenance contracts with Keolis". www.masstransitmag.com. Endeavor Business Media. Retrieved September 25, 2022.
  19. ^ a b "VRE throttles back Gainesville, Haymarket expansion plans". Trains. March 21, 2017. Archived from the original on March 21, 2017. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  20. ^ a b Texas A&M Transportation Institute (June 2015). "Congestion Relief Provided by Virginia Railway Express". Virginia Railway Express. Archived from the original on May 1, 2023.
  21. ^ Lazo, Luz (November 15, 2015). "VRE Spotsylvania station to open Monday". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 15, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  22. ^ Virginia find a bargain in Brazil: a $700,000 commuter car Railway Age March 1990 page 28
  23. ^ Middleton, William D. (1994). North American commuter rail 1994. Pasadena, CA: Pentrex. p. 16. OCLC 32665882.
  24. ^ "Connecticut State Rail Plan 2012–2016" (PDF). Connecticut Department of Transportation. 2012. pp. 37, 238. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 1, 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2016.
  25. ^ a b "Virginia Railway Express Transit Development Plan FY2013 – FY2018" (PDF). Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. December 2011.
  26. ^ "Maryland Transit purchases passenger-rail coaches from VRE". Progressive Railroading. August 29, 2008. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  27. ^ "Strategic Plan 2004–2025" (PDF). Virginia Railway Express. May 2004.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Equipment & Train Consist". Virginia Railway Express. November 21, 2017. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g "Virginia Railway Express". The Diesel Shop. October 29, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  30. ^ "VRE taps MotivePower for 12 locomotives, option for 8". August 18, 2009. Archived from the original on August 22, 2009. Retrieved July 8, 2010.
  31. ^ "VRE has $5.1 million surplus". Washington Post. September 20, 2010. Archived from the original on September 19, 2010. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  32. ^ a b Buske, Jennifer (August 5, 2010). "Virginia Railway Express begins adding new locomotives to its fleet". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
  33. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on December 2, 2010. Retrieved September 19, 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  34. ^ "Railroad Accident Brief – Derailment of Virginia Railway Express train near Quantico, Virginia, January 5, 2006" Archived September 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, National Transportation Safety Board report NTSB/RAB-06/06 (includes link to pdf document with full report), retrieved March 22, 2008
  35. ^ "Gov. McDonnell Initiates Review of VRE". patch.com. November 14, 2012.

External links[edit]

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