A Virginia Railway Express director recently wrote a lengthy and firm letter to riders, after he received reports of people shoving and threatening conductors who asked them not to queue before their stops and avoid standing in exits.
Chris Henry, director of VRE Rail Operations said in the company's "Train Talk" newsletter that the railway has asked passengers numerous times not to push or shove each other, or stand in the aisles before their stop so they can rush off the train.
" ... I ride the train daily, usually from Brooke, Fredericksburg, or Broad Run. I have seen the passengers alight at Broad Run and sprint to their cars so that they don't get stuck in the inevitable long line of traffic on Piper Lane. I have seen passengers run to the stairs at Rippon to make sure they are first up and across the bridge to the parking lot," Henry said in the Oct. 26 letter. "I have seen the Leeland passengers do the same because the parking lot exits on to Leeland Road and Primmer House Road tend to back-up."
Despite reminders, passengers continue to stand in the vestibules, the area near the train car doors, he said.
Standing in the vestibules is safe and sometimes necessary, but it is not as safe as sitting in a seat or standing in the main part of the cars, officials said.
Keeping the vestibules clear allow people to quickly exit the train at the southern stops in the evening, Henry said.
In response to the numerous complaints received about this, train conductors have tried to resolve the issue, but were insulted by some passengers in return.
" ... we have had a conductor threatened with bodily harm, a conductor cursed at and verbally harassed, and a conductor physically shoved by a passenger," Henry said.
He understands that working and commuting hours keep some people, including himself, away from their homes for 12 hours or more a day, but that is the price paid for working in the city and living so far south, Henry said.
VRE conductors are charged with getting everyone on board home safely and on time, he said. They also have the power to decide what is and isn't acceptable on the train.
" ... He or she also has the authority to remove passengers from the train if they choose to ignore or defy a request," Henry said. "We obviously do not want a situation to ever get to that point, but we will also not tolerate the kind of behavior that a very small minority of our passengers has exhibited in the past few weeks. It would be a shame to have to change our procedures and inconvenience an entire trainload of passengers just to deal with a few who refuse to comply with our requests."
Failure to comply on any one of these issues could result in the conductor stopping the train, not departing a station until everyone is in a safe position, or removing passengers from the train, Henry said in his letter.
" ... We have now, what I believe is one of those situations where we need to protect some folks from themselves," Henry said.