Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Northam’

NS, Virginia Reach Agreement on New Amtrak Route

May 10, 2021

Norfolk Southern and the state of Virginia recently reached an agreement that will extend Amtrak into the New River Valley region of the state.

The Western Rail Initiative is a $257.2 million project to extend an Amtrak Northeast Direct route beyond Roanoke, Virginia.

The funding includes $38.2 million for acquisition of 28.5 miles of right-of-way and track of the Virginian Line from the Salem Crossovers west of Roanoke to Merrimac in Christiansburg.

Another $219 million in infrastructure investments include improvements to the NS yard in Roanoke; a 7-mile siding from Nokesville to Calverton that will create a continuous two-track corridor for 22 miles from Manassas to Remington; signaling and track upgrades between Salem to Christiansburg; a maintenance facility and passenger platform; and infrastructure improvements along the Route 29/Interstate 81 corridor.

NS has agreed to allow Amtrak to add an additional round-trip train in 2022 between Roanoke and Washington.

Virginia officials said the Roanoke trains will be extended from Roanoke to Christiansburg upon completion of the infrastructure improvements in 2025.

Earlier this year. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation to create the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority.

The agency will assist the commonwealth with the development of passenger rail service in the region.

It will be directed by a board consisting of members of each participating locality and institution of higher education.

The commonwealth plans to partner with the agency to fund the construction of a station building, parking and roadway access for the station.

Passenger Authority Created in Virginia

April 9, 2021

Virginia lawmakers have approved legislation to create a rail authority in the New River Valley region of the state.

The legislation, which has been signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, would create a regional passenger-rail station authority to assist in the creation and maintenance of passenger rail in the New River region

The authority will be able to to enter into revenue sharing agreements and to issue revenue bonds.

It will be governed by a board consisting of members of each participating municipality and institution of higher education.

The efforts to create the authority began more than six years ago.

Virginia Lawmakers OK New Passenger Agency

February 26, 2021

Virginia lawmakers have approved creation of a passenger rail authority that would promote extending Amtrak service to the New River Valley region of the state.

The new service would be achieved by extending an existing Amtrak Northeast Regional train to Christiansburg, Virginia.

The new passenger authority would include government bodies and universities that are expected to share the cost of building and maintaining a station in Christiansburg.

Virginia legislators are still negotiating the funding for the new service.

Gov. Ralph Northam is seeking $50 million for rail passenger service, which is what the House of Delegates has approved. The Virginia Senate has approved $137 million.

Officials expect the cost of starting the service could reach $200 million.

Virginia Governor Seeks $50M for New Amtrak Service

February 18, 2021

A proposal by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam for a $50 million one-time general fund allocation for intercity passenger-rail service has heartened residents of the New River Valley region of the state.

Northam wants to use the funding to establish a rail passenger corridor along U.S. Route 29 and Interstate 81.

The proposal would add a second daily round trip to Roanoke and provide new service to the New River Valley.

If adopted, the plan would extend the current and new Roanoke service to the New River Valley.

Virginia transportation officials say they are negotiating with host railroad Norfolk Southern for the additional service.

The state said the existing Amtrak service to Roanoke has been “very successful,” with ridership increasing from its inception in 2009 to more than 220,000 riders in 2019.

The currentl single daily roundtrip between Washington and Roanoke is covering all of its operating costs through ticket revenue.

A feasibility study found the New River Valley has a population of more than 180,000, including more than 40,000 university students.

Ridership for intercity rail passenger service to the region was projected to draw 80,000 riders.

Rail passenger advocates are seeking to form the New River Valley Passenger Rail Authority to oversee the service.

“Clearly this is a step forward because having an authority for example will allow us to do certain things that we can’t otherwise do,” said advocate Larry Hincker about the governor’s funding request.

The authority would bring the local governments together under a state-recognized umbrella.

Va. Officials Say Agreement Close With NS on New Train

January 25, 2021

Virginia officials say they are close to reaching an agreement with Norfolk Southern that would allow additional Amtrak service.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine told members of the House Appropriations Committee that the state has been talking with NS about new Amtrak service to the New River Valley.

“I will tell you that this has been a dream, really since the first train was launched in Lynchburg in 2009,” Valentine said. “And I can say to you we have never been as close as we are to getting this accomplished.”

Governor Ralph Northam has proposed a $50 million budget amendment to help pay for the new service.

Valentine noted that the Amtrak Northeast Regional service to Roanoke is the only Amtrak service in Virginia that covers all of its operating costs through ticket sales.

The extension of service to the New River Valley would add a second train.

The legislature is also considering a bill that would create a rail authority in the New River Valley. That legislation would help finance construction of a passenger rail station.

Proposed Virginia Gas Tax Hike Would Benefit Rail

January 28, 2020

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed an increase in gasoline taxes to help pay for an ambitious expansion of rail passenger service.

The increase of 4 cents per gallon would raise revenue for an expansion of track capacity that in turn would lead the way to increase service provided by Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak.

Northam made the proposal during a speech before a joint session of the Virginia legislature.

Earlier the state had announced that it has reached an agreement with Amtrak and CSX on a $3.7 billion program that includes a new bridge over the Potomac River to Washington and the acquisition for $525 million of 225 miles of track and 350 miles of railroad right of way from CSX.

Other components of the plan include a fourth mainline track between Crystal City and Alexandria, a third track from Franconia to Lorton, six new passing sidings, and a Franconia-to-Springfield bypass that would be used by passenger trains.

The program would be implemented over a 10-year period.

The gas tax increase, which is expected to yield $1 billion over the next four years, was among the transportation initiatives in a proposal Northam released on Monday.

Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine has said that without a gas tax increase or other new funding source the state projects a drop in funding available for road construction and other projects.

“Virginia’s transportation [funding] system is simply not sustainable the way we are going,” Valentine said.

She said that in the long term the statement might need to rely on tolls or other fees tied to the number of miles driven or the type of roads that motorists use.

However, Valentine said those fees are at least a decade away.

Virginia’s gasoline tax is currently 16.2 cents per gallon although motorist in some regions of the state pay an average of 21.9 cents.

“I think there’s going to be some challenging discussions and decisions and perhaps how we look at our multimodal platform,” Valentine said.

“The consensus seems to be that over the next 10-15 years, there will most likely be a different way of raising major transportation revenues, whether it’s from a mileage based user fee, vehicle miles traveled, there will be some different form. That is a longer term perspective.”

The Washington Post reported that Northam’s gas tax proposal will also be used for an effort to lower traffic fatalities on state highways and ensuring the state’s transportation fund remains solvent to support critical transit, including Washington Metro, and infrastructure projects.

“Our legislation will make our roads safer. It will put in place sustainable streamlined transportation funding, it will improve transit, it will help fix our roads and bridges, and expand passenger and commuter rail service throughout Virginia,” Northam said at a news conference.

A number of proposals to lower the gasoline tax in recent years have failed and former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell in 2013 proposed eliminating the tax. Instead the legislature lowered it.

The number of miles being driven by motorists in Virginia has been increasing, but gasoline tax receipts have fallen due to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has said 31 states have increased or changed their gasoline taxes in the past 10 years with 22 states imposing variable rate gas taxes as a hedge against inflation.

The Northam transportation proposal also would create a new rail authority, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, and authorize the sale of bonds backed by toll revenue collected on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway.

The new authority would have a mandate to manage the purchase and ownership of track the state plans to buy from CSX.

It will also “promote, sustain, and expand the availability of passenger and commuter rail service in the Commonwealth.”

The gas tax increase, if approved by lawmakers, would take effect July 1.

Virginia Governor Supports Extending Amtrak to Bristol But Says It Won’t be Happening in the Near Future

January 11, 2020

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is supportive of expanding Amtrak service to Bristol, Virginia, but said it won’t be happening anytime soon.

Northam has proposed a $3.7 billion passenger rail expansion plan that includes increased Amtrak service but does not superficially mention extending existing service to Bristol.

The city of nearly 18,000 on the border with Tennessee, which also has a city named Bristol, has been seeking for a decade to get intercity rail passenger service.

Bristol has not had scheduled rail passenger service since 1971.

“I’m very interested in that topic [passenger rail],” Northam told the editorial board of the Bristol Herald Courier.

“We have a significant logjam between Virginia and Maryland,” he said in reference to the span over the Potomac River between Virginia and Washington.

“The Long Bridge, right now, there are only two tracks so all the rail that travels along the East Coast has to come across the Long Bridge, and it is a true logjam.”

The Virginia passenger expansion plan includes funding to build new bridge for the use of passenger trains.

Virginia transportation officials have said there can be no Amtrak expansion in the state until the crossing of Potomac is increased.

Another stumbling block has been the refusal of host railroad Norfolk Southern to continue talking about the use of its tracks for service to Bristol.

A 2019 study said track improvements costing an estimated $30 million are needed on NS tracks between Bristol and Roanoke, Virginia.

NS indicated at the time that it withdrew from the talks that it was preoccupied with a restructuring of its freight network, an initiative known as Top21.

Service to Bristol would likely be an extension of an existing Amtrak Northeast Regional train that now originates and terminates in Roanoke.

Northam said he sees Amtrak expansion to Bristol as beneficial.

“It will really open up the Southwest for business opportunities but also for tourism,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area of Virginia, you have great tourist attractions.

Northam said Virginia needs to talk with surrounding states, including Tennessee, about working together to expand passenger rail service.

He described extending Amtrak service to Bristol as a “logical step.”
Virginia is also eyeing bringing Amtrak service to to Hampton and to Christiansburg and Blacksburg.

The governor said expansion to Bristol or other cities won’t happen overnight.

A May 2019 Community Transportation Association of America predicted that extending Amtrak service to Bristol could draw 23,600 annual riders from a Bristol stop, 16,800 at Wytheville and 40,200 at Christiansburg.