Virginia Railway Express officials will begin replacing more railcars in their aging fleet, a move that will improve efficiency and pave the way for expansion.

VRE Chief Executive Dale Zehner was authorized by the VRE Operations Board on Friday to send a request for proposal out to begin replacing railcars built between 1956 and 1969. Although there are 30 of the aging cars in the fleet, the request will be to purchase nine, with the option to purchase as many as 41 more if funding becomes available.

In the past three years, the commuter-rail service has replaced 71 bi-level gallery railcars in its fleet, VRE officials said. Ten of the 30 railcars that still need to be replaced were sold to the Army this year, but with “aggressive preventative maintenance,” the rest should be able to operate through 2013 when the new cars are scheduled to arrive, VRE officials said.

VRE has budgeted $2.5 million for new railcars and is scheduled to receive $34 million in the next three years in state and federal funding. Zehner said right now there is enough funding for the nine railcars, which cost about $2.4 million a piece.

“The [older railcars] are still used but a lot of customers don’t like them as well,” Zehner said, noting one complaint is the air conditioning doesn’t work as well. “They are also a challenge because we can’t mix the old cars with the new ones and the maintenance issues on them make them expensive to maintain.”

Zehner said he will put a request out in the coming days for the procurement of the new railcars. Last time a request for new railcars went out in March 2008, VRE contracted with Sumitomo Corp. of America, which was the sole bidder. According to Sumitomo’s Web site, the company has 50 years of contract management experience with transportation systems.