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Virginia Association of Railway Patrons

Modern Transportation for the Virginias

The Virginia Association of Railway Patrons held its annual meeting on March 5 at the Lyceum in Alexandria.

Mayor Euille
Mayor William Euille of Alexandria greeted the association members and welcomed them to Alexandria. He thanked them for being patrons and advocates of rail service. He mentioned that he himself is a transit rider. He serves on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, chairs the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, is vice chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and is chairman of the Virginia Transit Association. He said he’s pleased that we’re making headway.

Tim Lovain
Tim Lovain, former Alexandria city council member, is an advocate of transit-oriented development and chairs a transit industry group in the Washington, DC, area. He wants to see Arlington’s planned Columbia Pike streetcar line extended to Alexandria. Construction on that line should begin in a few years, he said, and it will be tied to redevelopment of the area. Northern Virginia Community College, near the southern end of the line, would like to see the streetcar line extended onto the campus and a maintenance facility built there. An extension beyond that is possible to Southern Towers and Mark Center. Landmark Mall is also to be redeveloped, and a streetcar line to that area is possible too. Mall owners like transit-oriented development, said Lovain, and would help pay for streetcar service. The choice of what transportation to build drives development, he said, and he invited VARP members to learn more on the website.

Patty Nicoson
Patty Nicoson, head of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, gave the association members an update on construction of the Dulles rail line, the first phase of which is under construction. After the Bush administration turned against the project, the Dulles Corridor Rail Association showed public support for it, and the airports authority got to use toll road revenue to build the line. The Federal Transit Administration eventually funded construction of phase one.

The difficulties, risks, and costs of tunneling through Tysons Corner were underestimated, she said. Each shopping mall there will get a station, and developers on the north and south sides of the area wanted stations too. Huge growth in employment and in the number of residents is expected to follow the opening of the Metro to Tysons Corner.

When the phase one extension opens, it will add trains to the Metro orange line. To free up some capacity between Rosslyn and Washington, some blue line trains will be diverted to the yellow line route across the Potomac.

Costs for phase two are still being developed. Station development and access planning are under way. Once the estimates are complete, the Dulles Corridor Rail Association will lobby Congress for capital funding to build the line. At the time Nicoson gave her presentation, the design and location of the Dulles International Airport station were still being discussed, and a decision whether to build it above or below ground had not been made. Since then the airports authority, after looking at the costs and benefits, chose an underground station, but the Commonwealth of Virginia quickly objected because it would cost far more than a station above ground.

In preparation for phase two, Loudoun County is planning for development, and Reston is looking at air-rights development at the station (bridging the rail line and highways) to knit the community back together. At present Reston is split by the Dulles access and toll roads. Many passengers on the airport extension will be Herndon and Reston residents, including many airport employees.

A possible omission in the planning is lack of provision to connect with a possible extension of the silver line across the Potomac River from Maryland.

James Dougherty
James Dougherty, Chief Safety Officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, discussed Metro’s efforts to make the system safe after a 2009 accident—the worst in the agency’s history—killed nine people and injured 75 others in a crash near the Fort Totten station in Washington. A “safety culture must be led, not imposed,” he said. The agency is working to build safety from the top down and the bottom up, emphasizing management accountability and employee responsibility. Metro is being assisted by the Federal Transit Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Safety Council, and other transit agencies. Dougherty meets daily with the general manager, to whom he reports directly.

The Tri-State Oversight Committee is getting better access to Metro property and operations—something recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Metro has revised its accident investigation policy and its system safety plans, increased the safety staff, and instituted a close-call reporting system so that causes of accidents can be better identified. The agency is also measuring incidents and safety, and it has a safety hotline. Employees were given 30 minutes of paid time to take a safety survey, and 98% participated. Metro is also recognizing employees who have gone 20 years without a preventable accident.

To protect track workers, Metro has implemented weekend shutdowns of segments of Metro rail lines, and work crews are accompanied by safety personnel. The agency has published a worker protection manual.

To address another problem area, Metro has a full-time escalator safety officer. Metro maintains its own escalators.

Metro’s bus operations are getting attention too, and Metro is strictly enforcing its policy on distracted driving.

Elections. Jim Bayley, Allan Carpenter, Jim Churchill, Steve Dunham, Bill Forster, Herbert Richwine, Dick Peacock, and Michael Testerman were unanimously reelected to the board of directors. Steve Dunham was unanimously reelected chairman of the board. Testerman, Churchill, Peacock, Richwine, and Carpenter agreed to continue serving in their posts as, respectively, president, executive vice president, secretary, treasurer, and assistant treasurer.