VRE survey: Riders somewhat happier with train service

Local,Kytja Weir

Riders have credited Virginia Railway Express with improving its service since last year, as the commuter train agency has stepped up the timeliness of its trains.

In an annual customer survey, riders gave the service its highest ranking since 2003.

Still, only 75 percent of those surveyed gave the train service a grade of an A or B, up just slightly from the 71 percent who did the year before.


About the riders


The 2009 Virginia Railway Express survey found that riders have the following demographics:

»  64 percent are male.
35 percent are ages 45 to 54, compared with 24 percent who are 55 to 64 and 23 percent ages 35 to 44.
59 percent of riders work for the government, 25 percent work in the private sector, and 9 percent work for the military.
»  More than half of the riders' households earn $100,000 or more annually.
»  40 percent drive to work alone when they don't take the train.


Source: Virginia Railway Express



The survey results came as the commuter train service that brings riders from Fredericksburg and Manassas to Washington reported that more than nine of every 10 trains arrived on time last month.


The train service has been trying for years to improve its timeliness to such levels. It started its turnaround in January, just two months after only three of every four trains arrived on time along the Fredericksburg line.

Riders ranked the trains' on-time performance as their top concern in the survey. Timeliness is a key barometer for a train system's success, which VRE had to learn several years ago. The system faced dramatic delays in 2006, costing the service some of its regular riders.

But some of the recent improvements may have come from a change made earlier this year that added a few extra minutes into the schedules to pad its timetables.

Even with the upgrades, only 58 percent of riders gave the commuter service an A or B grade for on-time performance in the survey, which was conducted in May. Yet that represented an improvement from last year, when 47 percent gave VRE the top grades.

And riders were somewhat split on whether they felt service had improved or stayed the same, with 38 percent saying it improved, compared with 35 percent who said it stayed the same as last year. Just 7 percent said service had worsened.

The service fared the worst over the reliability of ticket vending machines and timeliness of platform information, with fewer than half giving the system an A or B grade.


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