Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

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.

Rail Partnership Reached in Virginia

April 9, 2021

Agreements have been reached on a $3.7 million partnership to expand rail passenger service in Virginia.

The parties to the pact, CSX, Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express, will work toward improving passenger, commuter, and freight railroad service in the state.

The improvements include construction of a new $1.9 billion, double-track bridge over the Potomac River to handle passenger and commuter trains. The existing bridge will be used only for freight trains.

The state plans to acquire 386 miles of rail right-of-way and 223 miles of track from CSX with an eye toward passenger service expansion over the next decade.

In some instances freight and passenger operations will have their own dedicated routes in the Interstate 95 corridor.

State officials said this will lay the groundwork for a high-speed route into North Carolina.

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.

Va. Legislators OK Funding for Amtrak Expansion Project

March 5, 2021

Virginia legislators have approved a budget that includes $83.5 million to extend Amtrak service to the New River Valley and the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area.

The figure is a compromise between the $50 million originally approved by the House of Delegates and $137 million approved by the Senate.

As part of the project, a study will be conducted to consider extending Amtrak service to Bristol on the Virginia-Tennessee border.

The state is negotiating with Norfolk Southern on a contract to host the train.

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.

Environmental Review Completed for New Bridge Over Potomac River Near Washington

September 11, 2020

An eEnvironmental plan for replacement of a bridge in Washington has been completed.

The Long Bridge, which is owned by CSX, is used by Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express, CSX and Norfolk Southern to cross the Potomac River between Washington and Virginia.

The bridge has long been a rail chokepoint and has just two tracks.

Built in 1904, it is operating at 98 percent capacity during peak traffic periods, a fact that has precluded expansion of rail passenger service.

Plans are in the works for Virginia to fund construction of a new two-track bridge over the Potomac that will be used only by passenger trains.

Officials said the completion of environmental work means the project can advance to the final engineering, design, financing and construction phases.

The $1.9 billion project now is eligible for additional federal financing opportunities.

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.