The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Spotsy VRE station won’t open this year
The new Spotsylvania County Virginia Railway Express station came another step closer to becoming reality on Friday, but it won’t be opening at the end of the year as hoped.
The VRE Operations Board on Friday approved two inspection contracts and a $20 million agreement with CSX Transportation, which allows construction of the station and a new third track to begin.
The groundbreaking on the station to be built in the Crossroads Business Park off the U.S. 17 bypass could be held as early as Friday.
VRE and Spotsylvania officials had hoped to open the station by December, but it now looks like March will be the earliest opening date.
The $32.5 million third track, a 2-mile stretch of rail that will connect the new Spotsylvania station to the main line, likely won’t be ready until a few months after the station opens. VRE trains will be able to use the station before the third track is completed.
Spotsylvania Supervisor and VRE representative Gary Skinner said there “were a lot of complicating factors” involved with the process.
He said needed track improvements were the primary reason the construction of the station and third track have been delayed.
The county still has to buy the land for the station and 1,500-space parking lot.
During the meeting, Skinner thanked everyone involved for their efforts with the project.
“It’s been hard work, but it’s been pleasurable,” he said.
Also during Friday’s meeting:
VRE Operations Board Chairman Paul Smedberg said the state’s audit report is complete and will soon be released publicly.
The audit was begun late last year, following the conviction of a former VRE employee for taking kickbacks from a subcontractor as well as anonymous allegations questioning VRE’s governance.
On Friday, board members criticized the audit, saying it was sloppy and that the auditors don’t fully understand how VRE operates.
The board heard a presentation focused on VRE employee compensation. The consultant found that VRE’s pay scale was largely in line with other transit operators.
The pay scale for VRE employees ranges from $21,147 to $240,964.
The board considered a preliminary version of its fiscal 2015 budget.
At this point, that budget would come in at $118.3 million, an increase of $25.3 million compared to the current one.
Almost all of the increase is related to capital projects, including the addition of a new eight-car train for the Fredericksburg line.
The preliminary budget is $2.5 million short of being fully funded.
Though officials aren’t sure what kind of grant money VRE will get in fiscal 2015, they expect a $14.6 million increase in federal and state funds.
According to the preliminary 2015 budget, there are no plans for a fare increase. Ticket prices have been raised in each of the past two years.
Doug Allen, VRE’s CEO, told the board that Fredericksburg’s on-time performance in August was an all-time high of 99 percent.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
VRE PLANS TO HAVE MOBILE TICKET APP
BY SCOTT SHENK
THE FREE LANCE–STAR
The Virginia Railway Express is going mobile.
The VRE Operations Board on Friday agreed to a $3.1 million contract that will allow riders to use smartphones as their own ticket vending machines.
The commuter-rail system selected Portland, Ore.-based Globe Sherpa to design and administer the mobile ticketing system. The company recently launched a similar mobile ticketing service for TriMet, which provides bus and rail service in Portland.
VRE’s Mark Roeber said they plan to have a beta testing system running in about eight months and then hope to have the full system operational in a year.
The app will initially work only on iPhones and Android smartphones. Apps will later be developed for BlackBerry and Microsoft phones.
With the new mobile system, VRE passengers will be able to download a free app that will allow them to buy and validate their tickets by simply tapping on their smartphone screens.
The app also will allow riders to access their federal SmartBenefits subsidies.
VRE’s Chris Henry said 60 percent of their riders get the federal transit benefit.
Riders will be able to use the app to buy one or multiple tickets at the same time. It will also include a trip tool, so riders can do such things as track the trains in real time.
Conductors will be able to scan the digital tickets.
Riders also will be able to buy tickets using a computer. They will be able to then access the tickets on their phones.
Henry said that if enough riders use the mobile ticket system, VRE could save $500,000 annually because of decreased reliance on the current paper ticket system.
He added that VRE will always have the current paper ticket system.
Board members seemed enthusiastic with the new system, but wanted to know if it would be compatible with planned mobile ticket systems for other regional transit providers, primarily the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Henry, as well as board member Chris Zimmerman, said they believe it will.