Since VRE implemented Postive Train Control last month, all VRE trains have been experiencing lengthy delays causing commuters to be late to work and home.
On-time performance has dropped from 90% to below 80%, barely over 70%.
As discussed in previous Train Talks, VRE began the rollout phase of our Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation on February 14th. We spent the remainder of February and all of March getting PTC fully operational on all Fredericksburg Line trains. PTC is a new and very complex technology and has required changes in operating practices and procedures. As the train crews, mechanical crews, host railroad dispatchers and everyone else involved in the daily operation of VRE trains were gaining familiarity with the new system and procedures, it affected our on-time performance. In mid-March, we saw OTP drop to around 60%, and for the month of March we finished at 76%.
Rollout on the Manassas Line trains began April 1st. This part of the rollout brought additional challenges. First, we have train sets that operate multiple trips, so they “turn” at the completion of one trip, re-initialize PTC along with the other procedures involved in swapping controls of the train to the other end, and operate back in the opposite direction. Any delay on the initial trip or in the processes involved in “turning” the train can cause a cascading of delay, not just for that train, but throughout the system.
Over the past few weeks, enhancements to the re-initialization process and procedures followed by the train crews have improved the turn time. While we may ultimately have to make slight schedule adjustments to accommodate the new procedures, delays directly attributable to the turn process should be minimal going forward.
A second challenge for the Manassas Line trains is the transition from the Norfolk Southern railroad to the CSX railroad. Currently, as trains move between the two host railroads, we must slow down. In some cases, we have seen this transition take an additional 5-8 additional minutes. We are working with our host railroads to enable this transition to be more “seamless” without the need to slow down and hope to have that improvement in place by early May.
Finally, both lines are experiencing a PTC/Cab Signal synchronization issue as a result of implementing PTC. The issue has resulted in trains operating at slower speeds at certain points even though the conditions ahead are favorable for higher speeds. A software update due out as soon as next week should result in improving the timely synchronization of both systems.
We continue to focus on completing the PTC rollout phase and working with our host railroads on minimizing the negative effects of congestion to VRE trains. We appreciate you taking the time to read this explanation of why VRE’s reliability has been off for the last several weeks, but we want to be clear about the challenges we have been facing and what we are doing to improve. We understand the frustration and empathize with those who have been impacted by this necessary change. Please know we have teams from VRE, Keolis, and our host railroads working around the clock to resolve each issue as quickly as possible so we can get back to the reliable service our riders deserve and have come to expect.
We appreciate having the opportunity to speak with you at our Meet the Management event at Union Station on Wednesday, May 1st. Most of the discussion we had was about your concerns and frustration with VRE’s performance. We listened and will continue to work to improve our performance and reliability.
We also wanted to give you an update on our progress of implementing Positive Train Control (PTC). Our update on April 26th identified a few challenges we were working through. We experienced an increase in normal trip times due to Manassas line trains having to slow down while making the transition between the Norfolk Southern and CSX railroad. Our host railroads have been working with the PTC system provider to implement a solution to make this transition “seamless” and eliminate the need for trains to slow down. We should see this change to the system later this week or next week. In the meantime, we have modified our rollout plan to mitigate the delays until the full solution can be implemented.
We also described an issue we have been experiencing with PTC/Cab Signal synchronization. We are happy to report we implemented a software change late Wednesday on select Fredericksburg line trains and the results were very positive. We plan to rollout the enhancement to the rest of the Fredericksburg line trains this weekend in time for Monday’s service.
You should see other improvements to reliability this week. The track maintenance work on the Manassas line should be completed before the start of Monday’s service. We thank our host railroad, Norfolk Southern, for performing this important work safely and expeditiously.
We look forward to seeing you at this week’s Meet the Management event on Wednesday, May 8th, at the L’Enfant Station.