The new operator of Virginia Railway Express will be ready to take over the train service next week, according to VRE's leader -- a piece of welcome good news for riders of commuter trains that have faced a recent series of setbacks.
Keolis, a French company, originally was slated to take over operations from Amtrak on June 28 after winning the contract. But the newcomer to U.S. commuter service ran into problems hiring staff and VRE had to ask Amtrak to continue running the trains for two weeks after Amtrak's contract expired.
VRE Chief Executive Officer Dale Zehner said Keolis is set to take over full operations on July 12, having put in place sufficient conductors and engineers last week.
The new crews will conduct a dress rehearsal Monday, when the commuter service is closed for the federal holiday, Zehner said.
Amtrak has agreed to let the new engineering crews shadow Amtrak employees as they run the trains until the handoff, both he and Amtrak confirmed.
The commuter train service has had an unsteady few months as it grapples with the changeover. But in addition to Zehner's announcement, made to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, the train service received a new locomotive last week. Named the Elaine McConnell after the longtime Fairfax County supervisor, the locomotive will be tested over the next three weeks and likely rolled out by the end of the month, Zehner said.
But just as VRE is regaining its footing, its Maryland counterpart, MARC, has been encountering bumps.
After two weeks of high-profile delays, including a stalled train that trapped about 900 riders in 90-plus-degree heat for hours and another train that skipped a stop, Maryland officials have been meeting with riders to assuage their anger.
In response, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Baltimore, introduced a federal commuters rights bill that would require public transit systems to provide food, water, medical service and updates to riders on disabled trains.