Governor Northam Announces Agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway to Expand Passenger Rail to Southwest Virginia

Governor Ralph Northam today announced that the Commonwealth has reached an agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway to extend passenger rail service to the New River Valley for the first time since 1979. Known as the Western Rail Initiative, this agreement will increase intercity passenger rail service from Roanoke to the Northeast Corridor and is an expansion of the Transforming Rail in Virginia program to build a 21st-century rail network.

“Bringing passenger rail service back to the New River Valley will fuel tourism, drive economic growth, and create new opportunities for the region’s 180,000 residents and 40,000 college students,” said Governor Northam. “A key part of our Transforming Rail in Virginia program, the Western Rail Initiative will support critical infrastructure improvements necessary to modernize our transportation system and connect communities across the Commonwealth. This agreement is the result of collaboration among many partners, and we look forward to continuing this important work to enhance mobility in an equitable and environmentally sustainable way.”

The $257.2 million Western Rail Initiative includes:

  • $38.2 million for acquisition of right-of-way and track for approximately 28.5 miles of the Virginian Line from the Salem Crossovers west of Roanoke to Merrimac (Christiansburg)
  • $219 million in infrastructure investments along the corridor that includes:
    • Roanoke Yard improvements,
    • a 7-mile siding from Nokesville to Calverton, creating a continuous two-track corridor for 22 miles from Manassas to Remington,
    • improvements from Salem to Christiansburg, including signaling and track upgrades, a maintenance facility, and passenger platform, and
    • infrastructure improvements along the Route 29/Interstate 81 corridor.

The agreement includes both an increase of existing service and expansion of service to the New River Valley. In 2022, an additional round-trip train to Roanoke will depart Washington, D.C., in the morning and serve Alexandria, Burke, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Roanoke. The expansion complements the existing Amtrak Northeast Corridor service, which travels northbound from Roanoke in the morning and returns in the afternoon. The two Northeast Corridor round trips will be extended from Roanoke to Christiansburg upon completion of the infrastructure improvements in 2025.

The Commonwealth and Norfolk Southern will continue to work to finalize definitive legal agreements, with execution planned by the end of 2021.

The Governor also ceremonially signed Senate Bill 1212, sponsored by Senator John Edwards, and House Bill 1893, sponsored by Delegate Chris Hurst, which created the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority to assist the Commonwealth with the creation of and support for passenger rail in the region. The Authority is being established in Planning District 4 and will be governed by a board consisting of members of each participating locality and institution of higher education.

The Commonwealth plans to partner with the members of the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority to fund the construction of a station building, parking, and roadway access for the station.

Ridership forecasts for the region indicate a healthy demand for service. Today, the Roanoke train provides 220,000 passenger trips per year. The new service is expected to add approximately 80,000 new passengers in the first year. This service will provide multimodal alternatives to travelers along the Interstate 81 and Route 29 corridor, serving tens of thousands of residents and visitors to the region.

The 2021 state budget provided $83.5 million to support the extension of intercity passenger rail service from Roanoke to the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area and increase the frequency of intercity passenger rail service along the I-81/Route 29 corridor from Washington, D.C. To meet the requirements of the provided funding, Norfolk Southern will conduct an operational analysis of potential infrastructure improvements required for a future station at Bedford, which would be subject to future funding availability, and the Commonwealth will assess the cost of extending intercity passenger rail to Bristol.

The Commonwealth’s previously announced $3.7 billion Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative will 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. The initiative is expected to 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.

-via Press Release

This article was posted on: May 6, 2021