Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Virginia’

Virginia Rail Service Set Record in December

February 15, 2020

Amtrak Northeast Regional routes serving Virginia saw record ridership of 100,511 passengers in December 2019, a 27 percent increase over the December 2018 ridership levels.

A news release credited the increased ridership to holiday season travel.

Amtrak serves Virginia on four routes, some of which also have long-distance service to Florida, Chicago and New Orleans.

Northeast Regional service links the Virginia cities of Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond, Lynchburg and Roanoke with Washington with some trains continuing on to New York and Boston.

The news release noted that since 2009, Amtrak service in Virginia has grown from one to four routes with multiple daily round-trip trains.

Virginia Plan Doesn’t Specify Expansion to Bristol

January 2, 2020

Amtrak and the state of Virginia made a big splash recently with their announcement of an agreement that included host railroad CSX about a $3.7 billion plan that will lead to expanded rail passenger service.

But it is not clear if that also includes a proposal to extend Northeast Regional Service to Bristol, Virginia.

The plan as announced said nothing about expanding Amtrak service to Bristol.

The City of Bristol and the Bristol Chamber of Commerce have been working in recent years to seek to get Amtrak service extended from its current terminus in Roanoke, Virginia.

“We are very pleased to see that passenger rail in Virginia continues to be a part of an ongoing conversation and budgetary priorities,” said Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber.

“We were, however, disappointed that an extension to and through Bristol was not included in the recent report from the governor’s office.”

She said extending rail passenger service to Bristol and into Tennessee, “would make a huge positive impact on the economies of these communities and a great alternative for travel — for both business and leisure travelers across the Commonwealth.”

A study released last May by the Community Transportation Association of America predicted that extending Amtrak service to Bristol would draw 23,600 annual riders from Bristol, 16,800 at Wytheville and 40,200 at Christiansburg.

Roanoke, which serves 97,600 riders annually, would likely lose about 8,400 annually if the other stops are added.

Amtrak figures show patronage between Lynchburg/Roanoke and Washington increased by 7.1 percent during fiscal 2019, from 206,000 to nearly 221,000.

A major stumbling block to the extension to Bristol has been the lack of cooperation from host railroad Norfolk Southern.

The freight carrier withdrew in late 2018 from negotiations with the state and Amtrak to use its tracks between Roanoke and Bristol.

At the time, NS said it wanted to focus on other aspects of its business most notably its shift to the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

A study found that $30 million in track improvements would be needed to enable passenger service between Bristol and Roanoke.

Another hurdle, which the recent Virginia expansion plan does address, was a moratorium on passenger rail expansion due to capacity constraints on the Long Bridge over the Potomac River between Virginia and Washington.

The agreement with CSX and Amtrak that Virginia has reached calls for construction of a passenger-only bridge over the Potomac.

Although service to Bristol was not specifically mentioned in the announcement of the pact with CSX and Amtrak, a statement issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam referenced unspecified future expansion of passenger rail service.

That could potentially include service to Bristol.

Virginia Announces $3.7B Rail Passenger Expansion Pact

December 21, 2019

An agreement involving Amtrak, CSX and the Commonwealth of Virginia would result in hourly rail service within 10 years between Washington and Richmond.

The $3.7 billion pact will also pave the way for expansion of intercity rail passenger service to other parts of the state.

CSX will get increased capacity on its lines that are used by Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express commuter trains.

State officials said the agreement will give Virginia control over 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 of existing track in three rail corridors.

This includes the former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac line now owned by CSX between Richmond and Washington.

As part of the agreement, the double-track mainline through Ashland, Virginia, will remain unchanged.

Central to the agreement is the Long Bridge, a two-track structure over the Potomac River at Washington that is used by CSX, VRE and Amtrak and is at near capacity during peak times.

Virginia will be allowed to build and own a new bridge parallel to the existing structure that will be used only for passenger trains.

That bridge, which is now undergoing an environmental review, will also contain a span for bicycles and pedestrians.

The existing Long Bridge, which is 115 years old, will be reserved for use by CSX.

Virginia will build and own separate tracks for passenger service between Alexandria and L’Enfant Station in Washington.

The state also plans to build a flyover near Springfield and Franconia to allow passenger trains to cross from the east side of the rail line to the west to cross the new bridge.

The bridge project is expected to be completed by 2030 although it could open as early as 2028.

The first phase of the expansion project will involve building four miles of track in Fairfax County from Franconia south to Lorton by 2024.

The second phase will add by 2026, adds 19 miles of track, including the flyover in Fairfax and a third track in Hanover County north of Ashland that would serve as a siding for coordinating rail traffic.

An additional six daily Amtrak Northeast Regional trains will be added between Richmond and Washington with the first additional train launching in 2020.

Additional trains are planned to Norfolk in 2010 and to Newport News by 2026.

Amtrak now has five Northeast Regional trains that serve Richmond via the Staples Mill Road Station in Henrico County.

But just two of them stop at Richmond’s Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom.

Four more Amtrak long-distance trains stop at Staples Mill and Virginia wants to see those trains able to serve Main Street Station.

In announcing the rail expansion plan, Virginia transportation officials said its purpose is to relieve traffic gridlock on Interstate 95.

They said that the cost of expanding rail service is one-third of the cost of adding a new I-95 lane.

VRE service to Northern Virginia, including additional trains through Manassas, are expected to relieve rush-hour traffic on I-95 and I-66.

CSX will receive $525 million from the state for the right-of-way and existing track on three rail lines.

That includes half of the 112 miles of right-of-way and 39 miles of track that CSX owns between Richmond and Washington, passenger train rights to 30 miles of track between Richmond and Petersburg, 75 miles of right-of-way on CSX’s abandoned S-Line between Petersburg and Ridgeway, North Carolina, and 173 miles of right-of-way and 186 miles of track on the Buckingham Branch Line between Doswell and Clifton Forge.

Amtrak is expected to contribute $944 million to the project, which also would be financed by the state and regional partners, including the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, co-owners of VRE.

State funding will come from Virginia’s partnership with the federal government on the Atlantic Gateway project in the I-95 corridor, and regional toll revenues from the I-66 expansion inside the Capital Beltway. The project would require authorization of bonds, but not for tax-supported debt.

VRE capacity would increase by 75 percent, leading to 15-minute headways during peak service hours. Additional service will be added on weekends.

The additional VRE service will include five daily VRE trains between Spotsylvania County and Washington and four additional VRE trains on the Manassas Line between Washington and Broad Run in Prince William County.

Virginia officials will need to reach an agreement with Norfolk Southern, which owns a portion of the Manassas Line.

The agreement also has the potential to enable Maryland-funded commuter rail service MARC to expand service from Baltimore into Northern Virginia once the new Potomac River bridge is completed.

MARC service now operates no farther south than Washington Union Station.

Virginia Marking 10th Anniversary of Funding Amtrak

October 7, 2019

Virginia is marking the 10th anniversary of funding intercity rail passenger service with a special deal on Amtrak tickets.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which sponsors Amtrak corridor service in the state to Roanoke, Newport News and Norfolk, is is partnering with Amtrak to offer $10 tickets on the Northwest Regional trains until Oct. 10.

Over 10,000 tickets already have been booked for the 10-day celebratory deal, DRPT officials said.

Virginia began funding Amtrak service on Oct. 1, 2009, with the launch of a daily round-trip from Lynchburg to Washington.

That train was later extended to Roanoke with state funding.

Coalition Seeks East-West Route in Virginia

September 12, 2019

A coalition of rail passenger advocates is pushing for the development of east-west intercity service in Virginia.

Those involved in the coalition point out that most rail service in the state operates north and south and connects with Washington and points south.

Danny Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, said an east-west service would reduce highway traffic and better serve Virginia tourists.

“If somebody is visiting Virginia and they come down to the beach on a train today they have no opportunity to go out and see the trees and the leaves change or try out the breweries in western Virginia,” he said.

The coalition is proposing a service that links Hampton Roads, Richmond, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Roanoke.

In its early years some of those cities were on a route of the George Washington/James Whitcomb Riley that ran west to Chicago.

That train is now Amtrak’s Cardinal and operates between Chicago and New York via Washington.

The first step toward reviving east-west service would be a feasibility study that the coalition is asking the state legislature to fund.

Plaugher believes an east-west train can be operational in five years.

Supporting the proposal are the Chambers of Commerce in Roanoke and Hampton Roads as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Petersburg Bus Route Now Serves Amtrak Station

September 12, 2019

Public transportation to the Amtrak station in Ettrick, Virginia, has been started by Petersburg Area Transit.

The route to the state is the Ettrick/Virginia State/Amtrak route, which leaves 15 minutes after the hour every hour beginning at 6:15 a.m. and arrives at the station 32 minutes after the hour every hour until 6:32 p.m.

“Our goal is to have a true multimodal Station where residents can access any place in the country from right here in Petersburg,” said Petersburg Area Transit General Manager Charles L. Koonce Jr. “Soon Amtrak customers will be able to park at Transit’s Park and Ride Facility and take the bus to Amtrak.”

The Petersburg City Council earlier this year directed the city manager to proceed with the $8 million Smart Scale Park and Ride Project to provide 215 parking spaces next to the transit facility.

That project is expected to be finished in 2021.


Funding Approved to Rehab Petersburg Station

July 5, 2019

The Commonwealth Transportation Board of Virginia has approved funding to upgrade the Ettrick Station used by Amtrak near Petersburg, Virginia.

The board approved a Six-Year Transportation Improvement Plan that includes $5.7 million to rehabilitate the station.

The action came after the Federal Railroad Administration dropped a study study that had recommended a future Amtrak station be located on the Boulevard in Colonial Heights.

Peterburg is served by Amtrak’s Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Palmetto, Carolinian and Northeast Regional train to and from Norfolk, Virginia.

The transportation improvement plan also includes funding for another Norfolk train.

Virginia City to Buy Land for Amtrak Station

May 21, 2019

The town council of Christiansburg, Virginia, has agreed to buy nearly 7 acres of land for a proposed Amtrak station.

The land is located between Mill Lane and the Norfolk Southern tracks and is being purchased from Community Housing Partners.

The city is seeking to become a stop for a Northeast Regional train that now terminates and originates in Roanoke, Virginia.

It has sponsored a study that found establishing an Amtrak station in Christiansburg would attract 40,000 new passengers a year.

“We’re hopeful of economic development impacts and tourism impacts in Christiansburg and the whole New River Valley region,” said Town Manager Randy Wingfield. “I think we are very hopeful, otherwise we wouldn’t be buying the property.”

Bridge Project Halts Rail Expansion Planning

May 2, 2019

A railroad bridge project in the Washington area has put on hold planning for additional Amtrak service to Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation said it has shelved for an indefinite period of time any thoughts about paying for additional intercity rail service.

The department is also taking part in the environmental impact study of rebuilding the Long Bridge, the only rail line between Washington and Virginia that feeds Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

Officials say the bridge in Arlington, Virginia, is at 98 percent capacity.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said the study will examine expanding capacity of the two-track bridge, which is used by Amtrak, CSX, and Virginia Railway Express.

The project is being led by the Department of Transportation of the District of Columbia. Also involved in the project is the Federal Railway Administration.

Built in 1904, the bridge spans the Potomac River near the Pentagon.

A website devoted to the project notes that increasing the capacity of the bridge would also “improve the reliability of railroad service through the Long Bridge corridor.”

Virginia DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell said the project is a high priority.

“All of the passenger rail service we have today — the service that does originate in Roanoke, the service that originates in Hampton Roads, anything that comes from North Carolina — everything funnels over that bridge.

“We can’t expand any more passenger rail or get any more slots until we’re able to expand that bridge, and the cost could be from $1.6 billion to $2 billion. It’s a big project, but we’re not going to fund it ourselves,” Mitchell said.

“We’ll clearly need other sources of funding, federal funding, other state funding. In this six-year plan, we’ve really prioritized that project and some of the Virginia approaches into that project because we recognize how important it is for the whole state. That’s really where we’ve directed a lot of our funding.”

The environmental study began in 2016 and hearing on a draft of it is expected to be held this summer with the final report released in early 2020.

One interested observer is Ellen Tolton, the community development block grant coordinator and the project leader for the efforts in Bristol, Virginia, to bring Amtrak service to that community.

Bristol has not had scheduled intercity rail passenger service since 1971.

“The city knew from the beginning this would be a long process and we will continue our efforts to advocate for bringing passenger rail back to Bristol,” Tolton said. “We do not know at this time how this new information will affect our progress, but we have demonstrated the benefits and need for rail in Bristol through the recent Economic Impact Study and we will continue to move forward, working with local stakeholders, state officials and vested localities.”

Bristol officials want to see an existing Northeast Regional train extended from Roanoke, where it now originates and terminates to Bristol.

A study found that extending service to Bristol would net between 75,400 and 99,300 additional passengers.

Although extending Amtrak service from Roanoke to Bristol would not be directly affected by the Long Bridge project, a decision by Norfolk Southern, the would-be host railroad between the two cities, to halt its involvement in the process has stymied the expansion.

NS said it was focusing on other parts of its business.

“We’re still working with Norfolk-Southern on the status of getting that advanced,” Mitchell said. “Right now, it is still something we’re looking very closely at — particularly incrementally to be able to get to the New River Valley as well.”

Virginia Offering Discounted Fares

May 2, 2019

Discount fares are being offered for Amtrak travel in Virginia.

Sponsored by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Virginia Anytime Fare allow passengers to receive 15 percent off on travel within Virginia and to and from Washington.

The fares are only applicable on Northeast Regional trains. Passengers booking at the Amtrak website should use the promo code V552.

Northeast Regional trains link Washington with Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond, and Roanoke.