Virginia is finally fulfilling its promise to make it cheaper to take Amtrak into D.C. every day.

The price of a step-up ticket for Virginia Railway Express riders to switch to Amtrak will drop from $5 to $3 starting March 1, thanks to a subsidy from the commonwealth. But that subsidy was planned to be in place by Dec. 1.

Officials said it took longer than expected to get a project agreement in place for the step-up tickets, which are part of a plan to encourage Northern Virginians to take the train instead of driving through highway construction on Interstate 95.

Commuter line considers fare increase
Virginia Railway Express riders will have about two months to give their two cents on a proposed 4 percent fare increase.
The commuter train service's board voted to hold public meetings in March and April on the proposed fare hike, which already has preliminary approval and would go into effect in July.
The money would pay for rising costs for fuel, track access fees, maintenance and annual contract escalations, officials said.
The meetings will be held in the District and six areas in Virginia: Crystal City, Burke, Woodbridge, Manassas, Stafford and Fredericksburg.

Riders can escape crowded VRE trains for the more roomy Amtrak trains if they buy the tickets along with their regular VRE fare.

"It helps our passengers," said VRE CEO Doug Allen. "They have the option now to use these other trains, this just encourages them to use it for less cost."

VRE started subsidizing $5 of the $10 step-up ticket in May 2011 to help alleviate crowding on its trains.

"We're trying to take advantage of a train that's already running and has plenty of capacity by making it more affordable," said Paul Milde, vice chairman of the VRE board. "We know by lowering that rate we'll eliminate the congestion on some of our regular VRE trains."

About 400 riders used the step-up tickets every day in July 2012, according to a CEO report. But trains are still crowded on the commuter trains that shuttle riders into D.C. from as far away as Manassas and Fredericksburg.

"If you get on in Stafford [County] you'll be in good shape, but most of the trains, if you get on at Woodbridge, you have to stand up. And the projections are much worse than that," Milde said. "We need to add trains."

But adding trains -- and finding daytime storage for them in D.C. -- is expensive, Milde said. In the meantime, VRE is hoping riders take advantage of the discounted Amtrak rides.