- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

Northern Virginia's commuter rail system is projecting a 15 percent increase in ridership in the upcoming fiscal year.
The Virginia Railway Express, which runs commuter trains into Washington from Manassas and Fredericksburg, is projecting weekday ridership of 13,100 as part of its $56.4 million fiscal 2003 budget.
Current ridership hovers between 11,300 and 11,600, said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.
The projected jump in rail commuters is partly the result of increased use of Metrochek, a federal subsidy for workers who use public transportation. The Metrochek subsidy jumps from $65 a month to $100 a month starting in January. It is particularly popular with government workers an executive order signed last year by President Clinton requires federal agencies to provide the subsidies in most cases.
"People who looked at it before who were hesitant would probably look at it and say, 'Well, I can at least try it,'" Mr. Roeber said. "So we expect a jump in January as well."
In the past three years, VRE has averaged ridership increases of 19 percent, Mr. Roeber said. The trend is expected to continue over the next few years as the population increases and traffic worsens.
The increase is expected to provide enough revenue so VRE will be able to increase its budget by $7 million without raising fares. The railway also expects continued operation of 32 daily trains and free parking for VRE customers.
The budget includes $18.4 million in capital improvements to existing stations and storage facilities.
Increasing parking is a top priority of the proposed capital budget. Proposed items include $2.8 million for 300 new parking spaces at Burke Center; $600,000 for a second platform at the Woodbridge station; and $500,000 for parking expansion at the Rippon station.
The budget also includes $6.4 million toward the construction of a new rail bridge in Quantico, which will increase the number of tracks available from one to three when work is completed in 2005.
Right now, the Quantico bridge "is a bottleneck," Mr. Roeber said. "If one train is going through, others have to be held back."
VRE fare revenue jumps by about 15 percent per year through ridership growth. When ticket prices go up there are scheduled 7 percent increases in 2004 and 2007 revenues increase another 4.9 percent.
The proposed budget will now go through a series of revisions by local jurisdictions and VRE's co-owners, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, before its expected approval in the spring.
VRE's budget is funded primarily through fare income, local subsidies and state and federal grants. It receives an annual subsidy from jurisdictions along its two lines that makes up nearly 10 percent of its budget.

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