Dale Zehner, the CEO of the Virginia Railway Express, will retire June 30 after almost a decade of leading an organization that oversaw the hiring of new contractors and spent millions to replace an aging fleet.
Zehner said the result has been better service and fewer breakdowns on the rail line.
“I’ve basically completed those in my mind and it’s my time to leave the work force,” Zehner said. “I’m not 20 years old anymore.”
Zehner, 65, said he planned to spend more time with his two sons.
Zehner, who had a career as a U.S. Navy officer before he joined VRE, said he has worked to improve relationships with VRE’s host rail lines — CSX, Norfolk Southern and Amtrak. He has also moved to purchase new rail cars, resulting in fewer breakdowns and maintenance problems, he said.
Last month, VRE had almost-perfect on-time performance.
“It’s a lot of things that came together over the last few years,” Zehner said of the recent success and improving relationships with contractors and host rail lines. “We were blaming each other. What we ended up doing was I said, ‘We’re all in the soup together here. All our reputations our on the line. We have to answer to the passenger.’”
VRE has just 37 employees and relies on contractors to run its day-to-day operations. Zehner replaced Amtrak, which had operated the trains, with Keolis Rail Services America, a subsidiary of the French railway company SNCF.
Zehner said after a somewhat difficult transition — which saw some breakdowns in service — the relationship is a good one.
“Every day is a complicated ballet with multiple players involved,” he said.
Prince William Supervisor W.S. “Wally” Covington (R-Brentsville), the chairman of VRE’s operations board, said credited Zehner with streamlining operations and moving to replace aging cars. The on-time performance of trains has been excellent in the last six months, he said.
“That’s a sign of having a consistent fleet,” Covington said. “[Zehner] is at the top of his game at this point.”
Covington said there is no plan yet for finding a replacement for Zehner, and that the issue would be discussed at the next VRE board meeting.