US rail operator Virginia Railway Express (VRE) has selected French firm Keolis for its new train maintenance and operations contract.

The company will replace Amtrak, which has been running the rail services for 17 years since the commuter railroad began operations in 1992.

The new five-year deal, with an option of two renewals, requires VRE to pay $18.4m to Keolis for the first year and $17m per year for the remaining four years.

The contract will be awarded after approval by VRE’s parent company the Potomac and Rappahannock transportation commission.

If approved, the company will begin work in July 2010 through its US subsidiary Keolis America.

The company hopes to recruit 70% of the existing Amtrak staff of 110 people.

VRE provides commuter rail services from the Northern Virginia suburbs to Alexandria, Crystal City and downtown Washington, DC.