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Virginia Railway Express can sell railcars and locomotives to the Army

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Virginia Railway Express Operations Board has given commuter-rail officials the green light to sell rail cars and locomotives to the Army, which is looking for new ways to move military personnel between bases.

VRE Chief Executive Officer Dale Zehner received the board's permission Friday to sell 10 rail cars and three locomotives to the Army for $250,000. The equipment would be used to move 800 to 1,100 soldiers between Fort Lee in Virginia and Fort A.P. Hill for training.

Military personnel currently are transported between facilities by bus. Army officials say they think passenger rail is safer, Fort Lee spokesman Keith Desbois said.

"We wanted to find a way to say yes [to the Army's request], and we did," VRE Board Chairman Paul Milde said. "Taking these soldiers off the crowded highways makes sense, and we want to help the Army with its mission."

Army officials approached VRE this year, looking for equipment to move soldiers about 37 weeks a year. If the Army makes the purchase, it would limit VRE from expanding service until 2015 but wouldn't affect service now, VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said.

Because VRE's decision came only Friday, Desbois said it is too soon to know whether the Army will accept the equipment. Army officials need to look at all factors before determining any further action, he said.

The selling price VRE has proposed is on the low side, Roeber said, because of the age of the equipment and the fact that VRE bought the railcars for $1 each from Chicago's commuter-rail system. The rail cars were 40-plus years old when bought, and it would cost VRE several hundred thousand to dispose of the cars.

Roeber said that VRE has 30 old railcars it plans to replace but that the rail agency can dispose of only 10 now to ensure that enough backup equipment is available.

Zehner plans to bring a motion to the VRE board next month to begin the procurement process for 30 new rail cars. Once those are purchased, VRE can sell the other 20 rail cars, Roeber said.

VRE recently added a new locomotive to its fleet and plans to add 18 more by 2012 at a total cost of about $77 million. The locomotives will replace aging freight units that VRE brought more than a decade ago when it began offering service.

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