[This post has been updated]
Virginia Railway Express officials offered an apology to the riders who faced major delays Tuesday night when a freight train broke down and blocked the tracks heading south from Washington.
“VRE deeply apologizes for the delays last night,” the commuter rail service said in a message to riders. “While we know that words are of little comfort when you have felt stranded, we know we need to at least start there.”
VRE officials said a CSX freight train broke down just past Alexandria station around 4:30 p.m., blocking the tracks for both the Fredericksburg and Manassas lines. VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said an air hose, critical for operations, ruptured, causing the train to be stuck for three hours.
“Are we irked about the fact something like this completely spun out of control? Absolutely,” Roeber said. “But again, this was out of our control. You had a very big train completely blocking all access. And, when their crew went to look for a replacement air hose [of the kind specifically used on freight trains], they did not have a spare.”
Crews from VRE and Keolis, VRE’s operator, went to the scene to help CSX. However, riders still experienced delays of up to two and a half hours. VRE passed out certificatesfor free riders and offered to pay for cab rides for people looking for another way home.
VRE officials said the biggest challenge was estimating how long the repairs would take. Because there was an area with a third track, VRE was able to eventually back up trains and move around the broken train, instead of canceling service.
Through VRE, CSX issued the following statement: “CSX personnel were in constant communication with VRE and Amtrak officials so they could provide timely information to commuters. We sincerely regret the inconvenience this unusual situation caused and we will continue to work hard to avoid anything like it in the future.”
VRE officials said eligible riders who did not get a free ride certificate can visit http://vre/org/programs/PDF/frc-request.pdf. Roeber said that until Tuesday night, the commuter-rail service’s on-time performance for the month of May was 94.6 percent.