Virginia, VRE encouraging riders to take Amtrak instead

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Photo - Amtrak train (Examiner file photo)
Amtrak train (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

It's about to get a little bit cheaper to take Amtrak from Northern Virginia into D.C. each day.

Virginia Railway Express said Thursday that it will reduce the price of step-up tickets for its riders to use Amtrak from $5 to $3 starting Dec. 1.

It's the second price reduction within the last two years on the tickets, which allow existing VRE ticket holders to take an Amtrak train instead.

The commuter train service began subsidizing $5 of the $10 step-up tickets in May 2011 as a way to combat crowding on its commuter trains, which shuttle riders from as far as Manassas and Fredericksburg into D.C.

Now, according to VRE, the Virginia Department of Transportation will be kicking in the extra money to encourage drivers to take a train amid construction of express lanes on Interstate 95.

The attempts to reduce the costs of the Amtrak step-up tickets highlight the lack of local options for getting workers from the depths of Northern Virginia into D.C. Both local roads and the commuter train service are crowded to capacity at certain times of day. Adding massive new road construction to the mix makes the problem worse.

It still will be cheaper to take VRE. But the step-up tickets give riders another option -- for a small fee on top of their existing tickets -- when VRE trains are standing-room-only.

For Amtrak, it's a way of filling empty seats on trains that are already running, maximizing their loads.

VRE started the program in July 2005. Chief Executive Officer Doug Allen calls it "one of VRE's most cost-effective means of reducing overcrowding" on its trains in a new report to VRE's board.

An average of 400 VRE riders are taking advantage of the program.

But VRE also said Thursday that it will no longer replace expired but unused step-up tickets, as it has to pay the full subsidy each time the tickets are issued.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner