This Week’s Service Adjustments
We recognize the inconvenience and challenges our riders faced this week as a result of the changes in service level. While we stand by our decision to suspend service on Wednesday, and operate an “S” schedule yesterday, a little more background on how we arrived at those decisions may help everyone understand why they were necessary.
Leading into any potentially severe weather event, VRE participates in a series of “Snow Calls” organized by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG). Participants in the call include other transit providers like Metro, MARC trains, Amtrak, and the regional and local bus operators. The National Weather Service gives an update of the timeline, projected severity, and any other estimated impact of the storm. The DC, Maryland and Virginia Departments of Transportation give updates on their status and mobilization plans to accommodate vehicular traffic, and then the transportation providers like VRE, share their respective status and plans. Representatives from Federal, State, and Local governments give updates on the planned status of schools and government offices.
The calls generally occur at 9:00 pm the evening prior to an event which may affect commuter travel, and again at 3:00 am just prior to the morning commute. This allows everyone to have the most current information with which to make service decisions.
On Wednesday morning’s 3:00 am call, the weather forecast called for accumulating snow and conditions which would hamper travel beginning during the morning rush period and extending into and through the evening rush hours.
VRE’s decision to alter service is based primarily on our ability to operate safely through the storm. Part of the determination includes whether passengers can get safely to and from our stations. The decision by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to close or offer liberal leave and telework options assists VRE in determining service level only.
We have operated on days when OPM closes, as long as it is safe to do so. When this occurs, we generally operate an “S” schedule because we know ridership will be down significantly. On Wednesday, we decided not operate because the storm was expected to create significant snow accumulation throughout the day, and we could not guarantee passengers returning to their cars in the evening service would be able to safely get home.
VRE must consider the entire railroad network on which we operate. Wednesday’s storm which was still impacting the Northeastern United States on Thursday forced Amtrak to cancel several trains and adjust their own service levels. As Amtrak began ramping their service back to normal on Thursday, there was still significant congestion in Union Station. Since VRE utilizes an Amtrak yard for midday storage of our trains, and since the facilities were already congested with the Amtrak equipment, storing all of our trains was not an option. This required us to operate on an “S” schedule. We did our best to accommodate the 2 hour delayed opening for the government by making sure our latest trains had the most cars, but the total ridership resulted in significant crowding. Similarly, the service yesterday evening resulted in excessive crowding on several trains.
We apologize to everyone who had to deal with an uncomfortable ride yesterday and appreciate your feedback and understanding when events like this occur.