Worker caught fudging Virginia Railway Express on-time records

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Metro and Traffic

A commuter train employee has been fired after he was caught cooking the books to boost the on-time performance record for Virginia Railway Express trains.

The worker was caught changing the time of a Fredericksburg train that ran in March, according to VRE and the operations service that runs the trains.

The Fredericksburg train had been seven minutes late, VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said, but was listed in an on-time performance report from operating service Keolis as being five minutes late -- just under the cutoff for what is considered "on time."

A two-minute difference for a single train seems inconsequential, but it would have meant that the line had an on-time performance of 99 percent, instead of 98 percent, for the month. That would have been a record, Roeber said.

It would have represented the culmination of a turnaround for the agency, specifically for the once-beleaguered Fredericksburg line that takes commuters from Northern Virginia to their jobs in the District. At its worst, in July 2006, only about half the trains were within five minutes of their scheduled times.

A VRE audit process caught the discrepancy. The agency and Keolis then audited past reports but did not find any other problems, Roeber said.

The man, a Keolis employee, admitted he fudged the numbers, according to VRE and Keolis. Keolis General Manager Gregg Baxter declined to release his name, citing privacy of personnel matters. The man was dismissed last month.

Keolis receives cash incentives for on-time performance and penalties for failures. But both VRE and Keolis said the fudged report would not have made a difference for those bonuses, which do not go directly to employees.

Baxter said the cash bonuses begin if 92 percent of trains arrive on time. But they max out at 96 percent, so the difference between 98 percent and 99 percent would not have mattered. The employee would not have received any cash incentive for the higher rate, he said.

"We were very close to having 99 percent for the month, and that was the really the only motivation," Baxter said.

Both Baxter and Roeber said the incident shows that the existing system of checks and balances was working as intended.

"The service really is doing well here. This is just a little blip for us," Baxter said. "We regret it occurred."

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner