By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; PW16
Virginia Railway Express added the first of 19 new locomotives to its fleet Monday -- a move designed to improve the efficiency of the system and pave the way for future expansions, VRE officials said.
"In the middle of the worst economy we've seen, we were able to budget for new locomotives," said Paul Milde, chairman of the VRE operations board. "I am confident that when these new locomotives are all put into service that VRE will be better positioned to ease congestion, decrease pollution and improve the quality of life for our riders and the region."
Milde was one of about 50 state and local officials who gathered in Alexandria on Friday to welcome the first locomotive. The 19 new units are being built by Motive Power in Idaho and cost about $77 million in all, with funding coming from the state, local and federal governments.
"I'm proud to be a strong advocate of VRE in the U.S. Senate," Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said Friday. "While this represents a significant capital investment, it is one that will benefit VRE for decades."
The locomotives will replace the aging freight units that VRE bought more than a decade ago when it began offering service. VRE officials said the new locomotives are more efficient and will have fewer mechanical issues. A central diagnostic system is also being added so VRE officials can monitor the locomotives' efficiency, said Richard Brilz with Motive Power.
Brilz said the new locomotives are more environmentally friendly and reduce overall emissions by more than 50 percent. They meet all safety requirements of the American Public Transportation Association and the Federal Railroad Administration.
VRE officials said the new units will allow for adding capacity in the future, as they can carry up to 10 cars instead of six. VRE is the 10th-largest commuter rail system in the nation, with average daily ridership of more than 17,000. VRE officials want to add more trains, but a lack of funding and storage space are halting such plans.
Although the first locomotive is in place, the next two will not arrive until November. The units will then come at a rate of two per a month through May, with the last four arriving in 2012.
"This symbolizes an important new beginning for VRE," spokesman Mark Roeber said. "We feel honored that Senator Webb and so many of our elected officials have seen fit to embrace the mission of VRE, and the acquisition of these new locomotives is a testament to that commitment."