Starting on Monday, Keolis will be taking over Virginia Railway Express commuter trains after a bumpy entrance into the U.S. market forced the French-owned company to delay the start of service for two weeks.

The switch also marks the end of 18 years of operations by Amtrak crews, who had run the train service that shuttles Virginia residents to D.C. jobs since its inception. Some passengers hugged and thanked their longtime conductors on the final trips on Friday.

But VRE officials expect the riders to be pleased by the new crews to greet them on Monday. They are new to VRE but experienced under other train services.

"We expect them to be ready and fully prepared to begin upgrading onboard service," said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber. "We're very excited."

VRE pledges to offer new, friendlier service Virginia Railway Express says having Keolis at the helm will allow the train service to return to some of its old ways -- such as handing out candy at Halloween, a policy train officials said they had to stop because of Amtrak management. The agency wants to promote the idea of treating commuters like family, a key style that made VRE unique. "We're going out to do stuff that's fun and exciting to make the passenger ride more enjoyable," said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber. "Halloween candy? That's OK," longtime VRE rider Steve Dunham said. "There was a time when VRE's attitude was we'll make sure you get to work. That's what I'd like to see." One key advantage Keolis may have in the short term: The heat wave that pushed temperatures over 100 degrees last week, warping tracks and causing delays around the region, is supposed to abate somewhat. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 90s instead. -- Kytja Weir

Many eyes will be upon them. Federal Railroad Administration officials will be riding every train all week. "This doesn't happen very often when you pass off a railroad to another," said FRA spokesman Rob Kulat.

CSX and Norfolk Southern, which own the tracks that VRE travels on, will each have officials on their respective lines, too. Amtrak, meanwhile, will have crews keeping an eye out at the Ivy City rail yard. VRE board members also plan to ride.

Roeber said VRE welcomes all the scrutiny as it will make the service better.

Keolis gained a great deal of attention when it won the VRE contract last fall, beating out Amtrak. It marked the first foray into the U.S. commuter train market for the global train giant. The agency is now also vying for a MARC contract and one in California, plus eying the bigger slice of pie coming with high-speed rail.

But it struggled to get employees in place for VRE, after nearly all of the Amtrak employees who ran the VRE trains decided to stay with the national company instead of the train service.

Yet despite the delayed start, Keolis appears ready now, Roeber said. The new crews ran a full dress rehearsal on July 5. Only one or two station announcements were off, he said, and the new crews had no service problems.

"If [the dress rehearsal] is any indication, we expect to have a seamless transition," Roeber said.