The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Students press for more VRE trains
University of Mary Washington student Maxime Devilliers is tired of driving on I–95.
It’s congested, and from the standpoint of a member of the Office of Sustainability at UMW, Devilliers sees the highway as an environmental blight.
He’d like to be able to attend events, see his family and have an internship in Washington, D.C.—and have all of it be accessible by public transport.
And his professors and fellow students from areas north of Fredericksburg complain about the road and lack of train access to Fredericksburg. So Devilliers started a petition on MoveOn.org to expand VRE service to Fredericksburg.
His petition, addressed to VRE operations board Chairman Paul Smedberg, had about 150 signatures on Monday.
It states, “Traffic on I–95 is no longer a morning and evening, weekday phenomenon—it happens at all times of the day and night. And it’s only getting worse. The best way to prevent this environmental disaster from worsening is to add more cheap, enjoyable train rides by VRE for commuters of all kinds, not just the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office workers.”
He said that UMW is an example of one of the organizations in the area that would benefit from expanded service.
According to Devilliers’ estimates, about 67 percent, or 3,350, of UMW students identify as being residents of Northern Virginia.
More than 140 other students reside in Washington and Maryland.
Forty-four faculty members live in zip codes that could benefit daily from added VRE services, according to Devilliers.
Specifically, his petition calls for at least one VRE train heading south in the mornings of every weekday, at least one VRE train heading north in the evenings of every weekday, one morning and one evening train on Saturday and Sunday, and prices more competitive than those offered by Amtrak.
Devilliers said a role model for expanded train service is Maryland’s MARC train service between Washington and Baltimore, which will begin offering weekend service on Dec. 7. MARC also runs counter rush-hour service on select lines.
Mark Roeber, spokesman for VRE, said the service is currently working on a system plan that will better outline what the train service can offer in the future.
Expanded service is one of the topics being discussed in the plan, as well as adding an additional train to the Fredericksburg line.
However, VRE’s charter states that half of operation costs must be covered by fares. Roeber said that currently, there is not enough demand for weekend service to meet that requirement.
Roeber said he has only seen a couple of petitions since he began work for VRE in 2001, and both of those involved re-establishing trains that had ceased service.
He said petitions are shared with the board and “they give us direction. It’s great to hear input but the reality of the mission is that we have to maintain the operating ratio.”
According to a systems plan presentation in July from VRE, population growth along the Fredericksburg line is expected to increase up to 67 percent between Quantico and Spotsylvania between 2010 and 2035.
Job growth is spread over a wide area, as well, increasing the potential need for reverse-commute trips.
The earliest date the operations board could vote on a system plan to implement is in December.
For Devilliers, expanding service makes economic and cultural sense as well as being environmentally friendly and convenient.
“Economically, it makes no sense to have our government funnel so much of its money into one highway,” he said.
Instead, those funds should be used to diversify the modes of transportation that commuters use along the I–95 corridor.
He said the culture of a commuter region suffers without easily accessible public transportation.
“Next-door neighbors sit in closed-off cars alongside each other as they commute to job[s] in the same building. Instead, on the train, connections are made and ideas are exchanged,” he said.
The petition needs 200 signatures to be sent.
The petition isn’t Devilliers’ only project, though. At UMW he is working with the Office of Sustainability to launch a pedestrian safety campaign on the streets around campus.
He is pushing for more crosswalks and stop signs so students will feel more comfortable walking around College Heights.
Find Devilliers’ petition here: www.petitions.moveon.org/sign/nvtc-and-rptc-add-rush
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976