Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

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 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.

Roanoke Ridership Continues to Grow

February 22, 2019

Amtrak ridership in Roanoke, Virginia, grew by 9.5 percent between 2018 and 2018.

That stood in contrast to ridership at other cities, which declined during that same period.

Figures released by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation showed that ridership fell in Norfolk decreased by 1.5 percent by 2.2 percent in Newport News, by 8.4 percent in Richmond and by an overall 0.7 percent level for all state-funded trains.

The state’s statistics also showed that patronage of state-funded trains is 60 percent female with most passengers of either gender traveling primarily for pleasure.

Recent figures also show that ridership in Roanoke continue to grow, with more than 15,000 passengers in January. That is an 8 percent increase over ridership in January 2019.

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.

Amtrak Special Carrying GOP Congressmen to Political Retreat Strikes Truck in Virginia, 1 Dead

January 31, 2018

One person was killed and five others injured when an Amtrak train carrying 100 Republican members of Congress, their aides and their families to a political retreat struck a garbage truck in Virginia on Wednesday.

Killed was an occupant of the truck. Three people were transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center, including one who the hospital reported was in critical condition. Two others were taken to another medical facility.

None of the members of Congress, which included House Speaker Paul Ryan, were seriously injured, although Rep. Jason Lewis of Minnesota was taken to a hospital for a possible concussion.

News reports said that three congressmen who are doctors tended to the injured before emergency personnel arrived. They included Reps. Larry Bucshon of Indiana, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio

The congressmen were traveling to a conference being held at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The accident occurred at 11:20 a.m. on the Buckingham Branch Railroad in Crozet, Virginia, near near Lanetown and Marymart Farm roads.

The route is used by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, which is scheduled to depart and arrive in New York on Wednesdays.

“Today’s incident was a terrible tragedy,” Ryan tweeted later. “We are grateful for the first responders who rushed to the scene and we pray for the victims and their families. May they all be in our thoughts right now.”

Amtrak issued a statement saying that two of its crew members and two passengers on the train were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

The train remained upright and did not derail. Photographs made at the scene showed damage to the lead locomotive.

The train had departed from Washington for the retreat, which is to start today and run through Friday.

The train was pulled by P42DC No. 145, the Phase III heritage locomotive. The train of Amfleet equipment had a trailing P42DC, No. 4

A GOP spokesman said the retreat will continue as scheduled.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it sent a Go-Team to the scene to investigate.

News reports said that U.S. Capital Police were on the scene. One account said that following the crash, police wearing dark clothing surrounded the train with weapons drawn.

They had been aboard the train and got off shortly after the train stopped.

Passengers aboard the train were put aboard buses to be taken the rest of the way to the Greenbrier.

Virginia Group Calls for Increased Rail Service

January 17, 2018

A Virginia rail passenger advocacy group is seeking to triple the number of trains serving Norfolk, Virginia.

A report released by Virginians for High Speed Rail calls for increasing the number of Amtrak trains departing Norfolk each day from one to 11. Nine of those new frequencies would operate at 90 mph to Washington, which would reduce the current travel time by an hour.

The State of Virginia recently said it plans to fund another roundtrip to Norfolk in 2019 and a third roundtrip in 2022.

The report by the passenger advocacy group said increasing rail service would reduce traffic congestion, cut pollution and grow the economy.

Also in the report is a proposal to instigate rail service to Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg and Radford University in Radford.

In their report, the Virginia group said that before service can be increased scheduling and technology issues must be addressed.

 

Roanoke Eyes Building Amtrak Station

November 20, 2017

Now that Amtrak is serving Roanoke, Virginia, the city is now talking about building a train station.

Roanoke City Manager Robert Cowell said a deal is not imminent, but the city council has meet four times in secret sessions to discuss transit facilities, including acquisition of property to build a new mass-transit passenger center that could serve Amtrak.

“It’s a pretty fairly complex set of questions that the council is really wrestling with, never mind how to pay for any of this,” Cowell said.

Roanoke city buses are currently served by the Campbell Court bus station, which belongs to Valley Metro, and is located 250 feet from the railroad tracks used by Amtrak.

The three-floor facility is largely vacant and described as antiquated.

One idea being floated in the city is to build a multi-modal facility near the tracks and repurpose Campbell Court into stores, offices and housing.

The city had budgeted $4.5 million for the intermodal station project, which is less than half of what a consultant estimated the facility would cost.

Valley Metro does not own any land adjacent to the railroad tracks used by Amtrak.

City council member David Trinkle said the council is looking at creating a public-private partnership. “There’s just no way that facility is going to be built without that,” he said.

The council has justified its closed door meetings to discuss the proposed intermodal facility as consideration of the purchase of “real property” for public use or the “disposition” of the 13 real estate parcels that make up Campbell Court, or both, according to a purpose statement for the meetings.

The council has cited a clause in Virginia’s open meetings law that allows for when meeting publicly would “adversely affect” its bargaining power or negotiating strategy.

The Roanoke Times reported that there are four obvious locations for a train and bus station near the tracks.

These properties immediately adjacent to the Amtrak boarding platform include a renovated buildings known as Warehouse Row, which are leased to tenants; the Roanoke Station Garage, a parking deck; the surface parking lot across from Campbell Court operated by Tennessee-based Premier Parking; and the corner of Jefferson Street and Norfolk Avenue, occupied by multiple commercial buildings with tenants.

Bristol Eyes Luring Amtrak to Come to Town

April 20, 2017

Public officials in Bristol, Virginia, plan to launch a study of what it would take to entice Amtrak to serve their region.

City officials plan to work with the Community Transportation Association of America in Washington to secure a consulting firm that will undertake a $450,000 economic benefit study of extending Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service from Roanoke, Virginia, to Bristol.

“We’re just about ready to prepare the RFP [request for proposals] for that study, and hopefully it will begin this summer,” CTAA spokesman Rich Sampson said Tuesday. “What we’re hoping our study will do is be a precursor to a second study, by demonstrating the need and the benefits of such a service. DRPT [Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation] would then do a study on the operational feasibility of the service.”

Amtrak expects to begin serving Roanoke later this year by extending a Northeast Regional train that now terminates in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Sampson said the state of Virginia is going to want two years of ridership data of the Roanoke service before it will participate in the Bristol study.

Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley said having Amtrak service would benefit his city in many ways.

“I look at what passenger rail could do for our downtown,” he said. “With two hotels, one hopefully opening this year, and the restaurants and entertainment, the infrastructure is there for people to come and make Bristol more of a destination.”

Some funding for the study will come from a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, a $100,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $50,000 each from the city and CTAA, with CTAA also providing services as an in-kind contribution.

Once it gets underway, the Bristol study is expected to take six to nine months to complete.

“Virginia is perhaps the leading state right now in investing in new Amtrak service,” Sampson said. “They have three examples of where they have or are going to install new service — the Lynchburg train, the Norfolk train and the extension to Roanoke. Tennessee has not had any state support for inter-city passenger rail, so their level of involvement and interest is uncertain at this point.”

Although Bristol leaders once talked about getting support for service further southward to Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then creating a connecting service to Atlanta and Louisville, those routes won’t be part of the expected study of extending service from Roanoke.

Sampson said that expansion to Tennessee point won’t happen unless rail service first comes to Bristol.