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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Challenges lie ahead for VRE's new top dog


On Aug. 21, Pete Sklannik Jr. took the reins as Virginia Railway Express’ (VRE) chief operating officer, continuing his long-abiding fondness for trains and buses.

"[Transit’s] always been an interest since I was a little kid," he says. "Then you reach a point where you can pull all your experience together and run your own property."

Before VRE, Sklannik spent 10 years at Long Island Rail Road, where duties ranged from coordinating capital programs and projects to managing ridership to sitting on rolling stock procurement committees. Prior to that, he worked at New Jersey Transit in equipment procurement and as special assistant to the executive director.

One month into his VRE tenure, Sklannik says the biggest challenge he faces is to find ways to expand service. Northern Virginia has the second-worse traffic congestion after Los Angeles, he says, and VRE needs to provide the service the region demands.

Sklannik and his team are meeting part of that need on several fronts. As trains become more crowded, some customers are logging on to VRE’s Web site for help. VRE is posting seat capacity for individual trains, enabling customers with flexible schedules to choose a train less likely to be crowded. And, in responding to complaints of trains lacking legroom, VRE is respacing seats to 36 inch pitch on all Mafersa trains. Also, VRE is refurbishing 18 double-decker cars purchased from Chicago’s Metra commuter rail. The cars have greater seating capacity than the Heritage coaches VRE leased from Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC), and would begin replacing the MARC cars in late spring.

Meanwhile, Sklannik has plenty of planning and administrative items on his plate, including renewing VRE’s operating agreement with CSX Transportation. Amtrak operates VRE’s passenger service under contract. And, VRE contracts with CSXT and Norfolk Southern Railway Co. for access to their lines. Sklannik refers to VRE’s Class I relationships as partnerships.

"We provide capital dollars to make infrastructure improvements," he says. "We respect that it’s their railroad and they need to run freight on it."

Studies are underway to discern what would be required to increase capacity on the lines.

Team VRE also is creating a strategic plan to identify future service and equipment needs to meet rapidly increasing ridership.

"We have to be ready to meet the demand," he says. "And we will be ready."

Kathi Kube

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 9/29/2000