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Posted at 01:30 PM ET, 08/24/2011

VRE addresses earthquake delays; more possible with Hurricane Irene

The earthquake that rocked the East Coast Tuesday caused numerous transportation delays for D.C.-area commuters and riders of the Virginia Railway Express were no exception.

Many VRE riders experienced delays Tuesday and early trains were packed as government workers left early. VRE officials said the average Fredericksburg line delay was 130 minutes, with the longest delay being more than 2.5 hours. On the Manassas line, which is a shorter trip, the average delay was 51 minutes.

Chief Executive Dale Zehner sent a message to riders Wednesday, explaining what caused Tuesday’s delays and warned riders more could be in the future depending on Hurricane Irene’s impact to the D.C. area.

VRE trains at Union Station were halted Tuesday afternoon until rail officials could inspect the First Avenue tunnel for any damage. Once VRE was allowed to start service, trains were required to maintain speeds of 15 m.p.h or less.

Zehner said slower speeds were required because engineers had to be able to stop quickly if any damage was spotted on the tracks, bridges or other infrastructure. The restrictions were put in place by both CSX and Norfolk Southern-- the host railroads for the Fredericksburg and Manassas line VRE trains, VRE officials said, adding that delays eased toward the evening when speed restrictions were lifted.

Zehner said while VRE sent updates to riders, e-mails didn’t always go through and the situation was constantly changing. In the future, he said, the best way to stay alert to changes is through Twitter.

Riders on most trains should have received free ride vouchers Tuesday. If you didn’t, visit the Web site http://vre.org/programs/PDF/frc-request.pdf.

With Hurricane Irene potentially striking the D.C- area, Zehner said riders could see more delays or a disruption in service. When Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003, VRE had to cancel service, Zehner said. With Tropical Storm Nicole in 2010, however, there were just flash flood restrictions on both lines.

Last week, there were flood restrictions on the Manassas Line. Zehner said while it frustrates many riders, the host railroad placed speed restrictions on trains because this kind of flooding can happen quickly and without warning. Fast moving water can create a “tremendous” amount of damage to railroads, he said.

Zehner said he is participating in regional meetings to stay on top of Hurricane Irene and will update riders whenever new information is available.

By  |  01:30 PM ET, 08/24/2011

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