Gov. Ralph Northam announced the Commonwealth has finalized agreements with Amtrak, CSX, and Virginia Railway Express, launching a $3.7 billion investment to expand and improve passenger, commuter, and freight rail in Virginia and create a vital connection in America’s national rail network between the Northeast and Southeast corridors.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined the event at Alexandria’s Amtrak/Virginia Railway Express station, highlighting the American Rescue Plan recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The American Rescue Plan includes $1.7 billion to get Amtrak employees furloughed due to the pandemic back to work, restore daily long-distance service, and help states cover lost revenue in state-supported routes. It also includes critical funding for transit and rail networks and to keep people connected to jobs, health care, and essential needs and services during the pandemic.
The finalization of the agreements announced today represents a major milestone that will allow construction to advance on significant rail infrastructure projects in Virginia. The partnering agreements support the construction of a $1.9 billion bridge over the Potomac River dedicated to passenger rail, acquisition of 386 miles of railroad right-of-way and 223 miles of track from CSX, and an investment of more than $1 billion in additional infrastructure improvements by the Commonwealth. These investments will allow Virginia to expand Amtrak and VRE services, create a pathway for the separation of freight and passenger rail in Virginia, and preserve future rail corridors.
Over the next 10 years, this unique partnership will:
- Double Virginia-supported Amtrak trains providing nearly hourly service;
- Increase VRE commuter service by 60 percent;
- Lay the foundation for a Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor;
- Preserve an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge for future east-west passenger service; and
- Create the potential to expand rail to all parts of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is bringing together Amtrak, state, and regional partners to fund the initiative. The $944 million commitment from Amtrak to be provided over the next decade is nearly 30 percent of the cost of the improvements that will be delivered by the Transforming Rail in Virginia program. In addition, the Commonwealth and Amtrak are entering into a long-term partnership for six new state-supported daily roundtrips, and Amtrak will be Virginia’s exclusive provider of intercity passenger rail service along the I-95 corridor for at least 30 years.
The Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative is the Commonwealth’s answer to growing traffic congestion. The population of Virginia is expected to grow from 8.5 million to 10 million over the next 25 years, with 20 percent of that growth expected in Northern Virginia, only compounding congestion problems and putting more pressure on the transportation network.
A recent study of I-95 found that adding just one lane in each direction for 50 miles would cost $12.5 billion, and by the time construction was completed in 10 years, the corridor would be just as congested as it is today. This finding is what led Virginia to rail—a solution that can provide the needed capacity at a third of the cost. Increased passenger rail service will meet the increasing demand not only among Virginians, but throughout the eastern seaboard as an alternative to traveling the heavily congested I-95 corridor.
Passenger rail performance cannot improve, and service cannot grow, without expanding existing infrastructure. Owned and operated by CSX, the existing Long Bridge over the Potomac River is the only railroad bridge connecting Virginia to the District of Columbia. It is one of the most significant passenger and freight rail bottlenecks along the entire East Coast of the United States and is at 98 percent capacity during peak hours. This program of improvements will directly address these constraints.
A new, Virginia-owned, two-track bridge will be built across the Potomac River adjacent to the CSX freight bridge and will be dedicated to passenger and commuter rail. This partnership will expand service and enhance reliability on Virginia’s rail lines, creating a pathway to separate passenger and freight operations along the Richmond to Washington, D.C. corridor. The new bridge will also reduce congestion and improve fluidity for CSX and its customers. This additional efficiency is expected to translate to increased freight rail, removing an additional one million trucks from Virginia and Washington, D.C. roadways each year.
Beyond the new Long Bridge, Virginia will acquire half of the rail corridor right-of-way from Washington, D.C., to Petersburg, Va., the full extent of CSX ownership from Petersburg to Ridgeway, North Carolina, and the entire corridor from Doswell to Clifton Forge. With the exception of Ashland, the right-of-way from Washington, D.C., to Richmond is wide enough to construct a four-track corridor, with two tracks dedicated to passenger rail, and when fully built out will allow separate passenger and freight movement. The CSX agreement also defines the roles and responsibilities of the parties supporting the 10-year build out of the infrastructure improvements.
The Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative will grow Virginia’s economy by $2 billion annually and improve the mobility of passenger and freight rail. According to the American Public Transportation Association, every $1 billion invested in rail creates 24,000 highly skilled jobs, and every $1 invested generates $4 in wider economic benefits.
In 2020, the General Assembly passed, and Governor Northam signed, legislation creating the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) to manage and govern statewide passenger and commuter rail service. Moving forward, the VRPA will also administer all capital expansion projects, infrastructure, and land acquisitions related to Governor Northam’s Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative.
-via Press Release