Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’

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.

FRA OKs Virginia Project Environmental Study

September 11, 2019

An environmental impact statement for the proposed higher-speed intercity passenger-rail project between Washington and Richmond, Virginia, has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration .

FRA approval completes the EIS study process and makes the project eligible for federal funding to continue planning the project.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation won a $44 million federal grant in 2014 that paid for nearly 80 percent of environmental study.

Other funding was provided by the state and CSX. The latter owns most of the 123-mile corridor that hosts trains of Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express.

Virginia transportation officials have said that once completed, the work will increase passenger train speed and capacity parallel to the congested Interstate 95 corridor, as well as accommodating future freight-rail growth opportunities at the Port of Virginia in Norfolk.

Ridership Up in May on Virginia Trains

July 12, 2019

Ridership of Amtrak Northeast Regional trains serving Virginia increased by 10 percent in May 2019 when compared with the same month a year ago.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which funds the service, said the ridership numbers also mark a year-to-date increase of more than 5 percent over the same travel period last year.

In a news release, DRPT officials attributed the ridership increase to discounted ticket prices for last-minute trips to Virginia destinations, a promotion for Lyft riders to receive a discount to Amtrak stations, improved communications, cleaner trains and the offering of Virginia-based food options.

“Passenger rail is a critical component of Virginia’s multimodal transportation network,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine in a statement. “More affordable tickets, improved on-board amenities and better ground transportation connections are making travel by rail more reliable and enjoyable.”

The agency said upgrades are coming to the onboard Wi-Fi service.

Virginia-funded trains link Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor with the Virginia cities of Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke.

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.

Bedford’s Efforts to Get Amtrak Station Derailed

April 25, 2019

Effort to create an Amtrak station in Bedford, Virginia, suffered a setback when a state transportation official recommended against funding the $10 million project.

Michael McLaughlin, the chief of rail for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation opposed building a boarding platform in in Bedford because of projected low ridership.

McLaughlin said studies found a Bedford station would generate a net gain of 2,800 additional riders passengers on the Northeast Regional service that operates through the city.

Those trains also serve stations in Roanoke and Lynchburg, and creating a Bedford stop could potentially divert passengers from those stations, he said.

“Our data shows a lot of those riders would come from the Roanoke and Lynchburg areas,” McLaughlin said. “It would not be a wise return on the investment to have another station in Bedford.”

A final decision on Bedford’s bid for state funding for an Amtrak station will be made in June by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Members of the Bedford/Franklin Regional Rail Initiative committee are continuing to lobby for funding of a Bedford station.

“We are just trying to process this new development,” Bedford’s Economic Development Coordinator Mary Zirkle said of the recommendation that funding be denied. “We thought things were going in one direction and now it looks like it could be going in another.”

McLaughlin said the state is expected to spent $1.6 billion for rail projects and Bedford authorities want a share of that.

They contend that Bedford’s location between Lynchburg and Roanoke makes sense for a station.

The BFRRI said its feasibility studies showed more than 12,000 new passengers would be generated each year if there were a station in Bedford.

Virginia Amtrak Extension Stalls

December 10, 2018

A proposal to extend Amtrak service west of Roanoke, Virginia, has stalled due to the noncooperation of Norfolk Southern.

NS has withdrawn from the study, citing a need to untangle service issues in its network, particularly in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is conducting the $350,000 study of the feasibility to extend one Northeast Regional train to Christiansburg, which is located 28 miles southwest of Roanoke.

“They have told us that they are reluctant to talk to us now about extending passenger rail,” said Michael McLaughlin, the department’s chief of rail transportation.

Virginia May Seek Amtrak Fare Cuts

December 7, 2018

In an effort to boost ridership, Virginia officials are mulling a fare cut for Amtrak travel within the state.

A study found that a 15 percent fare reduction would draw an estimated 51,000 additional riders onto trains, a 7 percent increase.

It also would cost the state $683,000 annually, which is about 1.3 percent of what the state collects in ticket revenues.

Fares would only be reduced for trips within Virginia and Washington on the four trains funded by the state for travel to Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke.

The proposed fare cut was one recommendation of a larger marketing study commissioned by the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation to study sagging ridership.

Ridership on Amtrak trains funded by Virginia fell 1.4 percent to 839,446 during Amtrak’s fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30.

The lost revenue would be considered modest, a consultant said, when seen in the context of the desire of transit officials to maximize ridership over ticket revenue in an effort to get more cars off the road.

Although state officials still need to discuss the fare cuts with Amtrak, they hope to lower fares within the first three months of 2019.

They blamed the falling ridership on train cancellations caused by construction and extreme weather.

The ridership loss also occurred during a time when Amtrak was removing a number of fare discount programs.

“They used to have AAA and student discounts and all kinds of other things, and they got rid of that, and we thought, well, there are fewer people riding the train, how price sensitive are Virginia customers?” said Chris Smith, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s policy director.

The marketing study conducted for Virginia included a passenger survey and focus groups.

It suggested a 25-percent-off “saver” fare for tickets purchased two-weeks or more in advance as well as creating other fare bargains for Virginia-sponsored trains.

The reduced fares, if implemented, would drop the price of a trip from Roanoke to from $49 to $41.

Amtrak saver fares would still be less expensive for travelers who can plan trips in advance.

The fare cut idea was presented this week to the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s rail subcommittee where it received a largely favorable reaction.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t even think about using this as a transportation mode,” said Hampton Roads District board member John Malbon. “During a time when you have the capacity, why don’t you just fill the trains up and it’s a new customer?”

Roanoke District board member Ray Smoot concurred.

“The train’s running anyway,” he said.

Virginia officials are also seeking to prod Amtrak into making improvements, such as more reliable on-board WiFi and better food offerings.

They also want to see Amtrak do better in cleaning its trains.

Virginia to Study Amtrak Expansion West of Roanoke

June 1, 2018

Virginia is studying expansion of Amtrak service west of Roanoke.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is expected to begin the study during fiscal year 2018-2019, which also will focus on service to the New River Valley.

The agency has budgeted $350,000 for the study, which will be undertaken in cooperation with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern

DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell said the New River Valley/Bristol intercity passenger rail and operating capital funding application will conduct modeling analysis of passenger rail between Roanoke and Bristol, Virginia.

DRPT wants to incorporate two years of ridership data from Amtrak’s Roanoke extension, which began in October 2017, before further expansion is considered.

New River Valley residents and visitors currently travel can connect by bus to the Amtrak station in Roanoke.

Mitchell said NS has made improvements on parallel routes to add capacity as part of the Roanoke passenger extension.

Virginia Wants More Service to Richmond

May 22, 2018

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation wants to see additional Amtrak service between Washington and Richmond, Virginia.

To provide that service, the agency said that two new tracks need to be constructed between Washington and Arlington, Virginia, after separate plans for an expanded Long Bridge are completed.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation are expected to recommended a design and layout for the project later this year.

The recommendation for increased service to Richmond, which would also include an increase in service provided by Virginia Railway Express, was presented to  a Commonwealth Transportation Board subcommittee.