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 ( 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.

Bell Versus Horn
July 2, 2013

Two very symbolic and perhaps widely known components of the locomotive are the bell and the horn. Both are vital safety features, however, the bell's use predates the locomotive to the days of horse-drawn street cars and carriages. Quite simply, it alerts those nearby to the fact that the vehicle in which it is affixed is moving.

As the horn is very loud and used for widespread alert, the bell, being quieter is more practical for a constant reminder when the locomotive is nearby.

Originally, locomotives in America were very primitive. As they were steam powered, the horn was generally a brass whistle activated by steam releasing from the boiler and the bell was mounted on the top of the locomotive and connected to a long rope that allowed locomotive engineer or fireman to pull on it to ring it manually.

These days, the technology has advanced significantly. The bells are sounded by activating a pneumatic valve fed by the locomotive's compressed air reservoir.

Another significant development in the locomotive bell completely eliminates the bell altogether. New generation locomotives such as the ones at VRE use electronic recordings of a ringing bell that projects from a high volume sound projector affixed to the locomotive.

History of Railroad Signaling
July 2, 2013

signalblogSince its birth, the railroad has employed a variety of signaling methods to communicate with locomotive crews as to what course of action they must take, mile by mile, in order to safeguard themselves from possible collision.

In the early years, when railroading was in its infancy, one train might be the only one running on a specific track for a day or more. During this time, rail signaling reflected the form being used in England and parts of Western Europe. These countries were using steam power, a copper ball and a flagpole. The copper ball was raised when a train was fueled up, passengers and freight were loaded, and the track was properly switched. This “highball” was the “ready to go” signal.

As rail traffic increased, however, multiple trains began to use the same track. As a result, there became a sudden need for more stringent traffic control, and the concept of a “block” was developed.

The blocking system broke a line of track into smaller segments able to be controlled with signals. This meant, that at a certain interval along a given track, these early chain and ball signals would be placed to secure a section of track along with an operator to maintain the signal. While one train cleared a section of track, another train waited at the signal for it to clear. Then when everything was cleared, the ball signal was raised and the train proceeded.

The dawning of reliable electricity led to the invention of a coded track circuit which used common principles of conductivity. A box of circuits and electromagnets called a “relay” was placed at each end of a section of track. Each rail was then electrified by a supplied current. At the ends of each section of track, or “block”, a strip of insulation was placed between the rails so that the next block could have its own circuit and not interfere with the circuits of surrounding blocks.

When a train passed into an electrified block, the circuit from one rail would travel over the steel axles of the train to the other rail and create a connection. The relays would then detect this loss of electricity and a series of electromagnets would become demagnetized. This created a new circuit that then directed power to the railroad signal which rotated a pivot and illuminated a lens from green to the red. Thus creating electrified block territories that are still used today.

Some track territory featured more than one track, with some tracks going in all different directions, such as yards, crossings with other railroads, or high traffic regions. This was where manned signal operators remained necessary. Manned interlocking towers were used on the railroad to control these points. Each tower was given two letters to identify itself on the telegraph wire. The letters usually involved some relation to the name of the town but were ordered so they weren't confused with other letter codes used on the telegraph. For example, the tower at Alexandria positioned to control movement to Fredericksburg was identified as “AF”, or Alexandria-Fredericksburg (currently the dividing point between Manassas and Fredericksburg lines). Each tower operator was responsible for switching the appropriate tracks by hand and telegraphing the dispatcher when a certain train had passed.

In the mid 20th-century, Centralized Traffic Control system (or CTC) was developed. This was a large console with a series of lines depicting tracks, switches and other miscellaneous track structures. At each track switch depicted on the console, there was a small light bulb and a small lever. When the light bulb was lit, that meant a train was occupying that “block” and if the train's destination required transfer to another track, the operator, miles away could simply turn the lever or push a button and instantly a signal created an impulse in a relay box that then in turn operated a motor and switched the track. With this amazing new technology, manned signal towers were no longer needed, and the railroad companies began to demolish some of these towers and installed traffic control consoles in centralized locations.

With some technological advances in the signal systems themselves, this is largely how our trains are dispatched today.

A Reminder to Validate Your Tickets
June 19, 2013

We know sometimes people forget to validate, especially if one is a monthly ticket holder who has to buy a Ten-Trip ticket for one reason or another. That person may simply not be in the habit of validating. However, the conductors have no way of knowing who is trying to get away with something or who simply forgot or did not know.

If you were in a grocery store and suddenly forgot all your money, you wouldn't just walk out of that store thinking “I come here all the time, so I'll just pay next time” or worse yet, walk out with groceries in hand because the line is too long and you don't have time to pay.

Well, it's the same with VRE, you don't pay until you validate your ticket, and if you don't validate, you're not entitled to the service we offer. We ask only two things from our riders: get to the station before your train is scheduled to depart and have a valid ticket. Validating is one of those things required if you want to use VRE and we don't accept forgetfulness or running late as reasons not to pay.

What is “Validating”?

Validating a ticket is the process of applying the value of one ride from your ticket to your current trip on the train. For example, if you purchased a 10-Ride ticket, you have the value of 10 rides stored on that ticket. The value for a single ride is not deducted from the ticket until you validate. Once you have validated 10 times, there is no remaining value on that ticket. Likewise, if you fail to validate your ticket for a ride, the value of that ride has not been deducted, and you may receive a summons to appear in court for riding on a ticket that has not been validated.

An analogy from the world outside of transit would be a Gift Card. For example, if you purchase a $50 Gift Card from Lowe's, you cannot go into Lowe's and simply take $50 worth of merchandise and leave without using the gift card. Since that card still has value it could be used again. Validating your ticket at a VRE TVM is analogous to taking your merchandise at Lowe's to the checkout stand and swiping your gift card to use those funds for the purchase. Without validating, you may have paid for your gift card, but you did not pay for your merchandise.

In all of our communications about the need to validate tickets prior to boarding the train (and these communications include Train Talk emails, Facebook and Twitter notices, reminders in our RIDE magazine, sign notices at our stations, written and audio notices on our station message screens, notices on our ticket machines and on the tickets themselves, information on our website, pop-ups on our website, information in our Rider's Guides and now in this blog), we emphasize that if you have a ticket issue, please see the conductor before you get on the train. Otherwise you have boarded a train without a valid ticket. The issues could range anywhere from your ticket not being read properly by the TVM, or the communication lines were down so you were unable to complete your purchase. Again, running late for your train or simply forgetting to validate are not the types of ticket issues we are referring to.

U.S.N.O. Time
October 22, 2012

VRE's trains run not by the time it says on your watch, but by the time that the U.S. Naval Observatory Time Services Department says it is.

Why are we telling you this?

Because we've been finding that many people miss their trains because their watches are set a few minutes behind the “real railroad time”. Not all watches or cell phones, or even our validation stamps for our ticket machines are properly synchronized to this time, but the watches our conductors and engineers use are and since our train crews synch up with the Naval Observatory clock before each and every run, anyone with a slow watch has a good chance of missing the train. We can't board people once the signal has been given for the train to leave the station, so it's very important that everyone is running by the same time clock.

Getting yourself tuned on the same time is thankfully very easy: you can call the Observatory's voice announcer at 202-762-1401, or you can visit their Web site at to get the exact time, down to the second.

Don't Rush - Take Your Time Detraining
October 16, 2012

Either you’re rushing to that early morning meeting, or it’s been a long day and you can’t wait to get home. We realize that you are anxious to get to your final destination after reaching your station, but rushing to get on or off the train is unsafe.

As the steps on most trains are steep, it is easy to lose your balance if you do not board or detrain in a slow or orderly fashion.

Most slips, trips and falls happen when people are moving too fast. Stay safe—don’t rush.

And since we're on the topic of taking one's time, please take the time and read some more safety reminders:

Stay Behind the Yellow Line

We have seen many instances of our passengers crowding along the edge of the platform as the train approaches. Many of them are standing on the yellow tactile edge as the train is coming into the station. This is a dangerous practice as it leaves no margin for error.

Think of it this way: If a person is bumped, they could easily fall into the path of the train. Or, if a bag or other item is at large, it could get hooked by part of the engine and a terrible accident could occur.

Passengers not only need to stay behind the yellow tactile edge to ensure their safety, they should stay well behind the line. There are many other reasons, but the point remains the same. Standing back may not get you on the train first, but it will ensure that you can board the train.

Parking Lot Safety

General parking lot safety reminders include driving slowly and cautiously while watching out for both pedestrians and vehicles. Also, be sure to obey all traffic signs, signals, and directional pointers.

For those passengers using the parking garage in Woodbridge, Burke Centre and Manassas,  it is always a good idea to have your lights on inside the garage. This way you can see (and are seen by) others.

Also, parking lots are not international raceways. Whether you are backing up, pulling in, or driving through, be on the look out for people in every direction. If you’re zipping around a lot at top speeds, an accident is bound to occur. Then think of the time you’ll really lose.

The same goes tenfold during winter weather. People are driving about with windows still fogged. Slick spots dapple the ground front frost, rain, and snow. You want to be able to stop on a dine, and driving slowly will be the only way to do that. In wintry conditions, give yourself that extra bit of time. Never be in a hurry. It’s hard to be careful when you’re in a hurry.

Handheld Distractions

For many of us, cell phones and other electronic devices have become appendages of necessity. It is therefore, a good idea to occasionally remind oneself that these items are, for better or for worse, devices of distraction. Just as anything that causes a distraction, they can factor in slips, trips and falls. As a simple reminder, when boarding, moving about the train, or detraining, please refrain from using these devices. Not only will you be able to hear what is going on around you, but you will have your hands free to catch yourself should you stumble.

Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs)

Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) are located within a three minute response time on all of our trains (in the cab car of all trains with 5 or less cars, or in the first and fourth cars of all trains with more than 5 cars).

Prominently displayed brochure racks mounted inside all railcars carry a brochure instructing passengers to notify a crewmember immediately if they or someone near them needs help. It also describes early symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, which includes unresponsiveness, loss of consciousness, loss of pulse or loss of breathing.

For your safety and for the safety of others, please familiarize yourself with the brochure and with the location of your train’s AED.

VRE's Undercover Law Enforcement Officers Program
October 15, 2012

Transit systems across the country have different ways of handling their security needs. The LEO program is just one of the ways VRE is addressing this issue.

VRE's Undercover Law Enforcement Offficer program has been in effect since 2001. The program is designed to be one component in VRE's security strategy to increase the level of security provided on our system. The program enables VRE passengers who are members of various law enforcement agencies and are members of this program to ride VRE for free. To be eligible for this program these law enforcement agents have to be active duty, sworn law enforcement officers with the power of arrest. Additionally, they declare that they are armed while onboard VRE and are authorized to carry a concealed weapon. These Undercover Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) agree to assist VRE train crews if there is a possible felony on board VRE, or the train crew considers an incident hazardous to themselves or to the passengers on board the train.

The VRE Undercover Law Enforcement Officer Program has members from the US Marshal Service, US Park Police, NCIS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), DEA, and several others. VRE train crews are trained on the protocol to be used to request assistance from these LEOs on board the trains. Crews have also been trained on how to identify LEOs.

Because so many members of these various agencies commute to Washington, the program has become a huge success. Currently we have 130 members in the program and, at this time, the program is closed to new applicants.

This program is ongoing and will continue to be improved regularly for the security of our passengers. Remember, someone sitting right next to you may just be undercover.

Accessibility/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
October 12, 2012

VRE seeks to make its transportation easy for all its passengers. VRE is equipped with wheelchair lifts, accessible parking, access ramps, audio/visual public address system, talking ticket vending machines, TTY phones, Braille signage, large formatted schedules for both the Manassas and Fredericksburg lines and most of all courteous, helpful personnel. VRE wants to make everyone's trip smooth and uneventful. We would love to help, please contact us if we can be of service planning your next trip! E-mail us your trip plans or call the VRE offices at (703) 684-1001 or TTY (703) 684-0551. Also, if you are interested in other transportation agencies that connect to VRE, check out our


Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is committed to ensuring both a reliable and accessible experience for all of our customers. In doing so, VRE will make (in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Federal Transit Administration requirements) every effort to provide reasonable accommodations and/or modifications to our policies, practices, and procedures to ensure program accessibility for all. 


If you experience any issue with access to our service, please submit a request for reasonable accommodation/modification to mail to:, or by calling our office at 703-684-1001/TTY 703-684-0551.


While we will do our best to accommodate all requests, VRE cannot alter the fundamental nature of our services, or create a situation that interferes with the health and safety of others.


Wheelchair Access


All VRE stations are wheelchair accessible with ramps that lead to the platforms and motorized lifts on each train. Passengers needing to use the lift should move to the North (Washington) end of the platform to board. In addition, special seats are prioritized for passengers with disabilities.


Elevator Access


All VRE stations are completely accessible. The following stations do have elevators to access to the platforms:


• Franconia-Springfield

• Rippon

• Fredericksburg

• Union Station


TTY Phones


TTY telephones are located at the Woodbridge and Fredericksburg station. In addition our phones are staffed from 7 a.m.- 7 p.m. Monday through Friday so relay calls are always welcome.


Civil Rights - Title VI


VRE is committed to non-discrimination in the conduct of its business, including its Title VI responsibilities – the delivery of equitable and accessible transportation services. VRE recognizes its responsibilities to the communities in which it operates and to the society it services. It is VRE’s policy to utilize its best efforts to assure that no person shall, on the grounds of race, color, income or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under its program of transit service delivery and related benefits.


Any individual, group of individuals, or entity that believes they have been subjected to discrimination prohibited under Title VI and the related statutes may file a complaint.


If your complaint concerns discrimination due to accessibility issues, VRE will respond to ADA complaints within 10 business days of receipt of the complaint. VRE will complete an investigation of the issue within 60 calendar days of the complaint and notify the complainant the result of the investigation. The complainant will have 5 business days from receipt VRE's response to submit an appeal.

The Summons Process
October 9, 2012

What is the rider's responsibility? We have long stated that we expect only two things from our riders: to be on the platform and ready to board before the train's arrival and to validate one's ticket before boarding the train. If one boards the train without a validated ticket, then that individual is at risk of receiving a citation for fare evasion.

What is fare evasion? - The Code of the Commonwealth of Virginia §18.2-160.1 states any person who boards or rides a train when they fail to properly validate a train ticket is in violation of the law, and any person who violates this provision is subject to a civil penalty. Therefore, all tickets must be validated PRIOR to boarding the train. The moment a passenger steps aboard the train without a valid ticket, fare evasion has been committed.

What constitutes as a valid ticket? - VRE offers a variety of tickets: a Monthly pass, a Transit Link Card, a Ten Ride ticket, a Five Day Pass, a Two Ride ticket, a Single Ride ticket and a Free Ride Certificate. So how do you know how to validate your ticket type?

For a Monthly Ticket or a Transit Link Card (TLC) you simply sign the back of the ticket and it is considered valid.

For a Ten-Ride, Two-Ride, Single-Ride and Free Ride Certificates, you must place these tickets into a ticket vending machine (TVM) located on the platform. When the TVM prints a date stamp, the available ride is removed from your ticket and a validation is printed on the face of the ticket. These tickets must be validated each time you board.

To validate a Five Day Pass, place your ticket into the TVM located on the platform. Then the machine will print an expiration validation across the front of your ticket. This ticket only needs to validate the first time it is used. Note: This ticket is AM/PM sensitive.

Remember: All tickets are only valid between their designated zones.

What is the conductor's responsibility? - If a conductor checks a ticket and finds that it has not been validated, or you are found to be riding outside of your zones, the conductor is required by VRE to issue a summons. As we first mentioned, it is the rider's responsibility to make sure they validate their ticket prior to boarding the train, and by boarding our trains the rider has consented to our policies.

We understand there may be reasons why someone may not validate a ticket, but the summons issuing process is not the time to state your case. In the conductor's eyes, you either have a valid ticket or you don't.

Why does the conductor take my ticket? - As the plaintiff VRE has the burden of evidence, therefore, your ticket will be confiscated so that the can examine the ticket in question.

Why does VRE insist on having the Conductor issue a summons? - Our goal is to keep our fares as low as possible, while continuing to maintain our current level of service. Passenger fares cover 55% of our operating costs. If riders do not validate their tickets or don't have a ticket, then VRE's revenue goes down. Keep in mind that your fare pays for more than just your trip. We use those funds to pay for parking lot leases, station maintenance, and all the other items that go along with providing train service. Unfortunately, the best way to ensure that everyone takes this seriously is to enforce the policy. And we enforce the policy by writing summons'. The best way to not get a summons is to make sure you have a valid ticket every time you board the train.

Under what circumstances can I be issued a summons?

  • Failure to validate any type of ticket, including FRCs
  • Traveling outside the designated zones
  • No remaining rides for travel
  • No ticket
  • Counterfeit ticket

Is this policy customer service friendly? - Those who receive a summons probably don't think so. However, with a ridership around 20,000, if we can police a policy that helps to prevent an increase in fares for those 20,000, then for the majority of our ridership we are being customer service friendly.

What happens if I receive a fare evasion summons? - Once a fare evasion summons is written there are a few options: 1. Prepayment - Fare evasion prepayments are accepted by the general district court until 3:30 p.m. (Eastern Time) on the last business day before your court date. Payment in the amount of $100 fine + $94 court cost.

Note: Pre-court payments are deemed a waiver of a court hearing and entry of a guilty plea.

A. District courts accept personal checks, money orders, certified checks and credit cards.

B. Prepayments can only be made by mailing in your payment or paying at the court.

C. Mail your payment to the Alexandria General District Court, P.O. Box 320489, Alexandria, VA 22320-4489. Visit the Court: 520 King Street, Second Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.

D. Online payment is not available at this time.

If you have any questions, call the clerk's office at 703-746-4030.

2. Attend court on your scheduled date to plead your case before a judge. This is when you have the chance to state your case. Writing emails to gotrains and calling our office will only get you a standarized response, which is “Once the summons is written, it is out of our hands”. A judge is the only authority that can reduce the fine or dismiss the case. The conductor who issued the summons will also appear and the judge will make a ruling.

3. A request for waiver may be submitted only if you were the owner of valid monthly ticket at the time the summons was issued. Pursuant to the Tariff of the VRE 04.07.00, you must send a clear copy of the front and back of the ticket, proof of purchase along with a copy of the summons within 3 business days of the issue date on the citation. Request for waivers can be mailed, faxed, or emailed. Requests for waivers should be mailed to:

Virginia Railway Express
Attn: Fare Evasion Waiver
1500 King Street, Suite 202
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax: 703-684-1313

What happens when I go to court? - Court will be held on the scheduled date at the Alexandria General District. The issuing conductor will also be in attendance. Once the judge hears both sides, a ruling will be issued. If found guilty, the rider will need to pay the fine and court costs, which go to the Commonwealth and not to VRE. If dismissed, there are no fines or fees that need to be paid.

What happens after court? — Tickets are not automatically sent back to the rider. Passengers may send a request for the remaining value of the ticket once all fines are paid. Please email your request to be sure to include your name, mailing address, and summons number.

VRE's Plan B
October 3, 2012

When rail traffic stops unexpectedly, we have one plan B and that B stands for Buses. Unfortunately, buses are not always easy to get and the lead time to ask area transit services for any of their extra buses is about three hours. The simple reality is that we are a rail system and we do not run buses, we get buses from companies that aren't using them and during a rush hour buses simply may not be available.

When things are delayed on the railroad, we are very limited with what we can do. We can't turn our trains around and we can't take them off of the rails to go a different route. Logistically, it is impossible for us to have equipment stationed at various stations (buses or trains) waiting just in case something happens somewhere. One, we don't have the equipment, two, we don't have the storage, and three, we do not have the money. It simply is not a reality.

When things go wrong trains just sit. We work hard to correct whatever the problem happens to be and we do try to get buses if we can. Eventually trains will begin running again and we will eventually get you home. However, we do not always initially know how long service is going to be affected because there are several other authorities involved who make decisions and VRE has to defer to those decisions.

So now you know our plan B. We highly recommend that you as a rider also come up with your own plan B, one that works best for you.

We strongly encourage all of our passengers to look at a variety of different transit methods to see what might work best for them, should our trains be severely delayed. Is there a local or regional bus service, such as Fairfax Connector or OMNI, that could be helpful in the event of an emergency? Are there fellow passengers that you see in the parking lots every day with whom you could carpool with? Do you know where slug lines form near your home? Is there a group of “passenger pals” who you ride and chat with during every commute and with whom you could exchange contact information to ensure that getting home at night isn't a solo adventure? Can you ride Metro to an end point and then have someone pick you up? No matter what you decide will best work for your circumstances, the important thing is to put some serious thought in to it, do some research, and have a plan so that if something goes awry on the rails, you're prepared.

Our goal at VRE is to always provide the best and safest service we can possibly provide. But some things do remain out of our control, and while it doesn't happen very often, there are occasions when unforeseen circumstances simply don't allow us to have our trains run as well as we wish.

Remembering the Golden Rule - Keeping Courtesy Alive and Well on VRE Trains
October 2, 2012

  • Use just one seat per person; your stuff goes in the storage bins or in your lap.
  • Drippy umbrellas and boots belong firmly on the floor.
  • Cell phone conversations are best kept short and quiet—or not at all if you’re riding in the Quiet Car.
  • Personal grooming is easier done at home.
  • Bring your food containers, newspapers and other unmentionables off the train with you.
  • Eagerness is a good trait, unless it blocks others from detraining. Please, don’t queue.
  • Strike your matches and blow your smoke in designated smoking areas only.
  • Watch your back[pack]. Bonking people on the head and shoulders as you make your way down the aisle is a bummer.
  • Everyone wants to get home just as badly as you do; please drive safely in our parking lots and watch out for pedestrians.

Being courteous and respectful of other riders doesn’t take much effort, but it makes everyone’s ride much more enjoyable. Try it. You’ll like it!