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Receive Alert Messages: Tips for Registering for Train Talk

Still not a member of VRE’s Train Talk news service? Why not? It only takes a couple of minutes to join.

To register, visit us here (https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/VAVRE/subscriber/new). The program takes you through a series of steps so that you can customize your account and only receive alerts that are important to you. Once registration is complete, you will receive the latest information on schedule changes, service disruptions, seat notices and other news via email and phone.

There are two types of Train Talk messages: urgent service-related messages and newsletter-type information. The service messages can be sent so that you can receive longer messages through email or shorter versions on your cell phone. The newsletter is only sent in a long format.

When editing your account information, make sure you also tell the program which email address or phone number should receive the message and when. In the previous step, you created your contact information, but now, we need to know which one should get which messages.

Finally, the preference page allows you to choose some other important features. Would you like to know when an elevator is out of service? Choose the appropriate email address under the elevator notification.

Still confused? Feel free to contact VRE for assistance with signing on or troubleshooting at (703) 684-1001.

Crossing Tracks Can Be A Deadly Choice
August 7, 2017

Whether you’re an archetypal A-type or a Zen master, there are times when just about all of us have wanted to shave a few minutes off our commutes. Unfortunately, an increasing number of VRE’s passengers have chosen one of the most dangerous and ill-advised methods out there: crossing railroad tracks at a place where there is no crosswalk, or dashing across the tracks even when the signal lights are flashing and the horizontal warning bar has lowered.

The problem is particularly worrisome at our Quantico, Burke, Manassas and Fredericksburg stations. At Burke Centre, people using the parking garage on the north side of the tracks cut across to access the shopping center located on the southside of the tracks, and then cross again to get back to their vehicles. They’re crossing at a very sharp curve in the track with zero sight warnings of an approaching train, and because there’s not road crossing there either, there’s no whistle warning.

It’s an extremely dangerous situation, and it’s illegal too—in the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is illegal to cross a railroad track outside of a marked crosswalk. Doing so is considered trespassing and puts you at risk of citation or, of course, worse.

Track improvements allow track speeds to increase, so approaching trains move at an extremely fast pace. People may feel inclined to walk around the end of a stopped train, not realizing a second train is approaching. Or, they’ll see one train pass and start to cross, oblivious to a second approaching train because they’re so focused on the one they see right in front of them, which has lead to tragedy.

When people walk with lowered heads, headphones jammed into their ears, or are focused on a cell phone conversation, situational awareness is lost. Never ignore or go around flashing red lights and a horizontal gate. Never cross a railroad track anywhere but a crosswalk. Always look and listen if you want to live.

Our Passengers: The Eyes and Ears of VRE
August 7, 2017

Life’s busy. Trains can be crowded. People lose stuff. The news is full of scary headlines. It’s enough to make you want to bury your head in a pillow sometimes. But before you do that, keep in mind that paying attention to the environment around you—and helping serve as VRE’s eyes and ears—could make an enormous difference.

Thankfully, the day-to-day reasons for staying alert are fairly innocuous, but they could easily make you a hero. Noticing that someone left behind their memory stick may have saved their big presentation; returning a misplaced ticket or keyring surely saves its holder a lot of aggravation; and keeping on top of how the trains are operating goes a long way in helping VRE staff correct minor issues.

We can’t be everywhere all the time, so it’s always helpful having our passengers keep us posted every time they discover a problem. If a door sticks, if the heater is acting cranky, or if a bathroom needs servicing, we want to know about it so that we can fix it as soon as possible.

Of course, the other major reason to pay attention is for security reasons, particularly since transit systems have become a terrorist target. Trains in particular can be at risk, since they have no gates and checkpoints as airports do.

The first line of defense lies with the people who ride the train every day. VRE passengers know each other, and as people become familiar with regular passengers, they become familiar with that is typically carried on board. When a familiar face brings something different on board, that’s rarely cause of concern. But, when a strange face boards, it’s important to pay particular attention to them and what they’re bringing on to the train. We rely on the fact that the same people are on the same trains every day, for weeks, months, and years. Terrorists won’t ride hundreds of times merely to conduct surveillance, so it makes sense for the regulars to scrutinize the few people who are new and different until they, too, become regulars. It takes a village.

Another important step is to watch unusual packages to make sure they’re carried off by the same person who carried them on. If you ever see a package left behind by someone you know brought it onboard, bring it to their attention. If they say it isn’t theirs even though you know they brought it on, immediately contact a conductor and explain the situation fully so that the appropriate action is taken. At the stations, be alert for suspicious vehicles idling adjacent to station entrances and stairways.

And at any time, if something doesn’t “sit right,” passengers are urged to summon a conductor so that they can further investigate the situation. In the absence of a crew member, call 911 (calling VRE’s headquarters in Alexandria is the last thing you should do, because it won’t elicit an immediate emergency response like calling 911 or notifying a conductor would).

Collectively, we have an immense intelligence system. Together, we can work to safeguard our rail lines.

Station Histories
August 4, 2017

Alexandria Union Station

Alexandria VRE Executive Offices

Backlick Road

Burke Centre

Fredericksburg

Manassas Station

Quantico Station

VRE: A Civil War Perspective - Infographic

Washington D.C. Union Station

VRE: Past, Present & Future - Infographic
August 3, 2017

Onboard Restrooms
July 5, 2017

In the past, we have received comments and complaints regarding water washing onto the tracks from our restroom cars. Because of this, we feel it may be helpful to clarify what exactly is occurring when this happens.

First, the water released from the car is not sewage. It is treated water. Bacteria has been used to turn what was sewage into liquid and mostly CO2 gas. This by-product, known as gray water, meets antipollution recommendations of the Association of American Railroads, which exceeds the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.

Once treated, this gray water can then be recycled and returned into the environment. The tanks onboard our trains which house this water are designed to seep over the tank when full, and will naturally seep more based on the motion and how level the train is. The discharged valve of the tanks is not timed or controlled and it discharges cleaned water randomly.

Here is a more technical write-up about how this system works:

The toilet and waste treatment tank assembly uses compressed air to flush toilet water and waste into an underfloor-mounted waste treatment tank, where it is chemically treated and then discharged directly to the roadbed. Water for toilet flushing is provided from a storage tank mounted above the toilet room. Upon manual actuation of the flush pushbutton, air is supplied into a valve, combined with fresh water, and the toilet is flushed.

Waste is washed into a hopper. The toilet is hermetically sealed from the hopper by a flapper valve, and gravitational pressure forces the water downward into the bowl. A charge of compressed air then moves the waste water into the waste treatment tank for processing. In the treatment tank, solid waste and toilet paper are broken down by bacteria into liquid and gas. The gas escapes out of the tank vent. Through a filter, the liquid flows to the bottom of the treatment tank, then into the chlorinator (which holds chlorinating slugs and is located next to the treatment tank). The bacteria in the effluent are killed as the effluent flows around the chlorine slugs. The effluent then flows into the secondary chlorinator, allowing the chlorine to have sufficient contact time to kill the bacteria.

The secondary chlorinator contains a series of baffles which extends the time of contact for the chlorinated effluent, thus insuring the bacteria is killed. This total bacteria kill allows the Microphor system to, as previously stated, meet antipollution recommendations of the Association of American Railroads, which exceeds the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. The treatment of effluent is then discharged directly on the roadbed.

That's our waste treatment system in a nutshell. Hopefully, this helps to clarify what riders witness on the railroad tracks.

Standing Means Detraining (or, Please Don't Queue)
June 2, 2017

It seems we've been talking about queuing for as long as we've been in operation. When it has become an issue, we have asked passengers to please remain seated until their train has left the station stop prior to their own, but sometimes people insist on queuing in the aisles two and even three stations early. The result is crowded aisle ways that make it impossible for others to detrain and often causes riders to completely miss their stop.

Certainly, we understand that some riders like to stand, and, with the exception of standing in the vestibule, standing is allowed onboard VRE trains (crowding does occur and trains are designed to hold standing passengers). However, the conductor is the sole authority onboard the train and we rely upon them to determine how best to run the train in the safest most efficient manner. If they feel that available seating will help reduce crowding thus making it easier for them to patrol a train, or to clear the aisles for detraining passengers then they have the right to move passengers from one car to another and ask riders to find a seat. (Note: sitting on the stairs to the upper level is not allowed for safety reasons).

Our crews have always had the option to invoke our “Standing Means Detraining” policy, allowing crews to stop a train or refuse to open train doors until all those riders standing have either detrained or have found a seat.

This system was put into place on a few trains with particularly bad queuing issues with excellent results: when people stayed in their seats until their train had physically left the station one prior to the one where they detrain, the trains ran on time.

When people queued and the trains were held as a result, the passengers ultimately created their own delay, and the incentive to remain seated quickly outweighed the desire to queue.

What we really want is to allow detraining passengers an easy exit, and since you can still stand just before your stop, you'll still manage to get off your train in a timely manner. However, if the conductor asks you to find a seat, please do so.

From past experience, we know that this policy will sometimes delay a train, but for the non-queuers on the train, rest assured it will quickly resolve itself and you should never have to elbow your way past another queuer again. 

Leaf Oil
November 9, 2016

For those passengers who aren’t familiar with leaf oil season, when the leaves begin to fall, those that land on the damp surface of the rails are crushed under thousands of tons of steel. An oily, gelatinous chemical compound called pectin, which is the chief component of the cell walls in these leaves, coat the surface of the rails and eliminate the frictional forces between the steel train wheels and the steel railhead, resulting in slow, slippery climbs up hills and difficulties pulling into and out of station stops. 

While we try to compensate for the slippage by adding an additional locomotive to our trains, leaf oil season (all of autumn) can often result in train delays. 

More information can be found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_rail

Mobile Ticket and Ticket Machine FAQs
September 19, 2016

Mobile Tickets:

I have a new mobile phone. How do I recall my tickets onto the new phone?

  1. Log into your online account at https://vre.transitsherpa.com/rider-web.
  2. Go to “My Tickets”
  3. Click the “Move Tickets From” box and select your old device
  4. Then click the “Move Tickets To” box and select “New Device”
  5. Click “Transfer Tickets”
  6. Go to “My Tickets” in the app on your old device and hit “Refresh” (all tickets should have been removed).
  7. On the new device, go into “My Tickets” and hit “Refresh”. All tickets will now be on your new device.

**   You will need both devices in order to transfer tickets. If your phone has been lost or stolen, you will need to contact VRE to help transfer your tickets.

I’m trying to buy a monthly pass with mobile, why isn’t the monthly showing up?

Mobile monthly tickets can be purchased for the next month on the 23rd of the current month. If you are using SmartBenefits for the first time, you can only purchase your monthly ticket on the 1st day of the new month.

I bought a mobile day pass and it says it expires today?

Tickets should expire one year from purchase, unless they are immediately validated. Check to make sure that it doesn't say "expires 2018". If it does say 2018, you should be able to validate that ticket on the specific day you wish to travel.

I bought a mobile ticket but I need to exchange it for another ticket.

We cannot do a ticket exchange in the mobile app. We can refund tickets you purchased with your personal credit card and then you can repurchase the correct tickets you need. We cannot refund tickets in the mobile app if purchased with SmartBenefits.

How do I purchase a mobile VRE ticket with electronic SmartBenefits?

Go to www.SmarTrip.com/sbftp/vplpat.login and allocate your benefits before the 21st of the previous month to either VRE Mobile, a VRE vendor or Commuter Direct. For a visual of how to allocate, visit our website at www.vre.org/service/vre-mobile and click on “How To” videos.

For further assistance please call WMATA SmartBenefits helpline at 202-962-1326 (option 3).

How do I get a reduced fare ticket on my mobile phone?

Please fill out this application:  http://www.vre.org/communicate-with-vre/contact/vre-senior-citizens-reduce-fare-application and email it to jyoung@vre.org. (Make sure to include a headshot for your ID.) Once approved we will send you an ID, then you can enter the ID number into the app. Reduced fares will then be available for purchase under “Select Fare.”

Paper Tickets:

My credit card was charged but no ticket was issued from the ticket vending machine (TVM).

If your ticket does not print you usually will not be charged. Your bank will show a pending transaction but it will drop off in a few days. If it does not drop off after a couple of days, please contact us and we will research your claim and if applicable we will issue a refund back to the original credit card that you purchased your ticket with.

Can I get a refund for SmartBenefits that have been used?

We cannot refund SmartBenefits.

I didn’t use all of my benefits and now they are missing.

Any unused benefits will be sent back to the government at the end of the month.

I need to refund a ticket.

For a refund request, we need your original ticket(s), receipt of your purchase and your phone number.

My ticket was captured/eaten by the ticket machine.

When you contact us to make a report, please make sure you get the number of the ticket machine (located in the upper right hand corner of the machine) that captured your ticket. Once verified, we will mail you a replacement ticket.

The Many Ways VRE Communicates with Passengers - Infographic
September 2, 2016

VRE and Security
September 1, 2016

VRE's security strategy takes a system wide approach and considers the following as our security assets: passengers, train crews, VRE staff, law enforcement partners, host railroads, special programs and community. All of these facets combine to create one community dedicated to the safety of VRE as a rail system.

Passengers At VRE, our top priority is your safety. This is an issue we take very seriously and we take every step we can to make your commute safe. However, as with everything, in life there are things that you, as a passenger, can and should do to keep one's self out of harm's way.

On an average weekday there are about 20,000 passenger trips on VRE. This means 20,000 pairs of eyes. VRE reminds our passengers to contact a VRE conductor if they notice:

  • Unattended packages
  • Suspicious behavior
  • People in bulky, seasonally inappropriate clothing
  • Exposed wiring or other irregularities on luggage
  • Anyone tampering with surveillance cameras or entering unauthorized areas
  • Trust your INSTINCTS — If SOMETHING DOES NOT SEEM RIGHT — Alert a VRE Conductor!

If you see a practice that you feel may be unsafe, please report it to your conductor or to VRE. All safety and security concerns are sent directly to our Manager of Safety and Security.

You're our eyes and ears and we want to know what you see!

Train Crews

VRE Conductors and Engineers operate across our tracks in virtually the same manner every day. Their ability to memorize the territory is paramount to our operational success as well as safety. Our crews are experienced rail veterans who are well versed in knowing how the railroad runs and how a safe railroad should appear. In addition to this experience, they are regularly trained and briefed on various security awareness practices, and are continuously kept informed of possible safety and security concerns based on incidents that may have occurred in or outside the US.

In addition, our crews are trained on appropriate responses to daily incidents such a medical emergencies and situations requiring non-medical intervention. They are also heavily trained in large scale incidents that could adversely impact other passengers and trains, such as fires, explosions and derailments.

In order to reinforce these safety practices VRE's train crews receive AED/CPR training and participate in an annual full scale emergency simulation that is conducted by VRE.

VRE Staff

VRE's staff possess multifaceted knowledge of the stations, communications and parking facilities across the system.

Detailed routine inspections and consultations with regional law enforcement and federal agencies assist us in staying informed of any security concerns that might affect us — either at our offices, rail yards, stations or on our trains.

VRE staff are in constant contact with various governing agencies, enforcement personnel and other organizations to keep our passengers safe.

In addition, to better handle security issues if they arise, members of VRE staff conduct and participate annually in full scale emergency simulations.

All staff are AED and CPR trained.

Law Enforcement Partners

VRE does not have its own police personnel. However, we are fully supported by law enforcement partners from all levels of government throughout the VRE service region as well as through full cooperation from official railroad police forces employed by Norfolk Southern, CSXT and Amtrak.

Local and federal law enforcement officers, in conjunction with the Visual Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) team, conduct joint security exercises on board VRE trains and at VRE stations throughout the year.

This allows law enforcement agencies to gain familiarity with our system and maintain a security presence.

VRE also gathers crime data from local law enforcement agencies so that passengers can be kept up to date on recommended practices for staying safe while at our stations and at nearby parking lots.

In addition, VRE offers in-depth system familiarization training to local first responders. Local police patrol VRE properties located within their respective jurisdictions and VRE also offers in depth system familiarization to federal agencies such as the Customs and Border Patrol Canine Teams.

As a further measure of preparedness and cooperation, VRE invites local, state and federal law enforcement partners to participate in our annual full scale emergency simulations conducted by VRE. Here, members of the previously mentioned authorities can gain complete familiarity with the environment in which we operate, the rail equipment's emergency access and evacuation features and a variety of other situations that responders may face that are unique to passenger rail.

Host Railroads

VRE works closely with our host railroads and their law enforcement units to increase security of VRE operations.

As a facet in the National Capitol Region's transportation system, we aggressively share security, safety and service related information with our host railroad systems and invite them to participate in our full scale emergency simulations that we conduct each year.

Special Programs

                                             

VRE currently has 100 non-uniformed law enforcement officers in its Undercover LEO program.

These sworn officers are regular VRE riders and are represented on all VRE trains. In addition to carrying the official capacity to make arrests at any locality within the VRE system, they travel armed and are available to assist VRE Train Crews in the event of a possible emergency or felony taking place on board our trains.

VRE also contracts armed private security guards for our rail yards located at Crossroads and Broad Run. These guards provide asset protection and access control, as well as maintain perimeter security throughout the day and night. They also assist local and regional law enforcement.

A network of visible, as well as concealed, closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) at select stations and other locations throughout the VRE system have proven invaluable to VRE, law enforcement and our host railroad companies at assisting passengers, deterring criminal acts as well as providing clear witness to activities occurring through the VRE system. Given our great success with the CCTV program, we will continue to expand this camera network as additional funding becomes available.

Community

Community security, especially those that surround VRE, is very important to us.

We maintain strict standards for passenger and parking facilities which ensure they are well-lit, properly monitored, maintained, and patrolled.

As VRE changes and grows we continue to seek input from these communities to ensure that VRE's expansion plans never compromise their safety.