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In a good year, Virginia Railway Express aims to recoup just over half its operating expenses through its riders.
In case it has skipped notice, the past does not qualify as a good one.
As a result, that cost-recovery figure has dropped to just 10 percent, according to new data reported by the transit agency to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
The operating board that oversees the two-line rail service has set a goal of 52 percent of operating costs shouldered by ticket sales and other charges to riders. But ever since the pandemic hit the region last March, passenger counts have plummeted – average daily ridership, which stood at 18,462 in December 2019, was just 1,057 in December 2020. Just 4 percent of peak-hour train seats were occupied in December 2020, VRE officials said.
(There was modest good news to report: 96 percent of VRE trains arrived on time in December, compared to 85 percent a year before.)
The rail system is operated by the Potomac and Rappahannock Transit Commission and the Northern Virginia Transit Commission, with its operating board made up of officials from the various jurisdictions. Using trackage owned by CSX, VRE runs commuter service from points west and south into Alexandria, Arlington and the District of Columbia weekday mornings, then back out in the afternoon.