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Is low ridership killing Virginia Railway Express?

Some people say VRE commuter trains fly by traffic on I-95 and I-66, but ridership is down to less than a quarter of what it was before the pandemic.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A Reddit post about commuting in Virginia is getting a lot of attention. 

"VRE is an amazing service to get in and out of the City," it says. "But is dying on the vine due to low ridership."

Ridership on the Virginia Railway Express commuter trains is way down.

QUESTION:

Does the low ridership mean there are any future plans to kill the service?

ANSWER:

This is false.

OUR SOURCES:

VRE spokeswoman Karen Finucan Clarkson 

VRE budget and ridership documents.

WHAT WE FOUND:

Finucan Clarkson says riders are coming back -- slowly. And rather than contracting, a multi-billion dollar expansion over the next eight years is still on track.

The riders we talked to really loved the service.

"With all the traffic on I-95, I'll take it any day, and watch the traffic pass me by," said Pamela Bridgewater as she waited for her train at the Alexandria station. 

"I love it...VRE is the best," said rider Margarita Cramer, who was headed home to Manassas.

From an average of about 18,000 riders a day before the pandemic, the number of people on board has plummeted. As of last Friday, according to ridership documents, not a single train from Fredericksburg to D.C. and back was even half full, and many were even emptier. The numbers on the Manassas line were even lower.

With an annual operating budget of $185.9 million for 2022, VRE right now is carrying an average of fewer than 4,300 riders a day.

"It's not cost-effective. But again, it's a service many people need. And I hope ridership will go up," said Bridgewater.

Last year, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a $3.7 billion plan to boost rail service in Virginia. "A once in a century alignment," he called it.

Supporters say rail is still way cheaper than adding another 50-mile long lane to I-95 or I-66. And VRE expects the expansion will bring in many new train riders with weekend service and faster, more frequent trains. It is also expected to avoid delays caused by using the same line as CSX freight rail.

On Reddit, many people complained that the service only operates during rush hour, and not on the weekend. 

"I would love to have more there because we have only during rush hour," said Cramer.

VRE spokeswoman Finucan Clarkson says ridership is up 40% just since last month and the rail service expects ridership will just keep chugging upward as people head back to work.

So we can verify, there are no plans to kill VRE.

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