Public transit plays a vital role in local communities, and National Transportation Week provides an opportunity to highlight some of the dedicated individuals who contribute to the success of public transportation by ensuring passengers reach their destinations safely, reliably, and on time.
The Virginia Rail Express (VRE), operated by Keolis since 2010, serves approximately 20,0001 daily passengers, and connects the small, outlying cities of Northern Virginia to Union Station in Washington, D.C. In the last decade, ridership has surged, and customer service scores have significantly improved.
In honor of National Transportation Week 2023, Keolis is spotlighting several team members to reflect a diverse and skilled group of professionals – engineers, conductors, mechanics, and more – who operate the VRE and have been instrumental in Keolis’ success on the contract, which was extended in 2020 to run through at least 2025.
For many on the Keolis team, working with the VRE aligns with their existing pastimes and recreational activities. Nicholas Winter, a Periodic Maintenance Mechanic at Keolis, has always possessed a natural aptitude for tinkering and repair. The transition to working with trains and heavy equipment was a logical next step for him. Winter explains, “I’m a mechanical type of guy, a fixer, so it turned out to be the perfect job for me.” Joshua Emmons, a Periodic Maintenance (PM) Foreman, feels similarly about why he enjoys his job: “I get to work with my hands and we learn new things all the time. There’s always something going on.”
Despite their varied backgrounds, Keolis employees share a common focus on passenger well-being and safety. The key to operationalizing this focus is to establish a safety-centric culture and link safety to other key metrics like sustainability and innovation. Nicholas Winter reiterates how safety also plays an important role in instilling confidence in the public transit system and revitalizing ridership: “It’s a safety thing. People have to have trust in the public transportation system. You have to feel safe riding the equipment. You don’t want to have any worries about breaking down. People have schedules to follow, so it’s crucial for a healthy community.”
Maintaining the safety and smooth operation of a fleet of 20 diesel locomotives and 100 coaches is no small feat. Nevertheless, Keolis has significantly improved on-time performance on the VRE. Stanley Roberts, a Periodic Maintenance Mechanic Assistant, recognizes the connection between safety and reliability as a critical aspect of the maintenance team’s function. Roberts states, “The big thing is the safety of our passengers. We want to make sure that the locomotives are running well so that there aren’t any delays or breakdowns while they’re trying to get to their locations.” Thanks to collaborative efforts across the organization to prioritize safety, the VRE, under Keolis’ management, has maintained an impeccable safety record across its 29 daily trains across 18 stations on a two-line network.
Ultimately, public transportation is about serving communities and facilitating mobility. Even for Keolis employees who work behind the scenes and do not directly interact with passengers, the broader significance of the VRE remains evident. “There’s a lot of people that don’t have transportation, especially on rainy days,” Stanley Roberts acknowledges. “Not everyone has a car, so a lot of people depend on buses and trains,” adds Nicholas Winter. For commuters, the VRE can be faster, more efficient, and more eco-friendly. And for communities across Virginia, the VRE can also play an essential role in helping people get to the grocery store, make their medical appointments, and take other necessary trips. “So many people rely on [public transportation] for their everyday needs,” says Michael Mills, Assistant Conductor & Engineer, who interfaces daily with the passengers on the VRE.
This National Transportation Week, we celebrate the entire VRE team at Keolis and salute their efforts in providing safe, reliable service that strengthens communities. Be sure to watch the video to hear more insights from Nicholas, Joshua, Stanley, and Michael at Keolis!