Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is backing Virginia’s $4 billion initiative to improve passenger and freight rail capacity and relieve automotive traffic congestion with a nearly $195 million contribution.
The “Transforming Rail in Virginia” initiative, which former Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled in December 2019, will “expand Amtrak and VRE rail services, create a pathway for the separation of freight and passenger rail in Virginia, and preserve future rail corridors.” Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern (NS) and VRE are working with the commonwealth to implement it.
In partnership with CSX, Virginia is slated to build 37 miles of track and implement a series of infrastructure improvements in the Richmond to Washington, D.C., corridor—including a new, two-track Long Bridge for passenger trains—to improve the reliability and frequency of passenger rail in the corridor. One new Amtrak round-trip between Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Va., and one new round-trip on VRE’s Fredericksburg Line are expected to start within the next year. Additional service is anticipated to come on line incrementally over the next decade as capacity improvements are completed. By the end of 2030, Amtrak state-supported service and VRE Fredericksburg Line service are expected to nearly double (including new late-night and weekend service).
In partnership with NS, a second state-supported Amtrak train will be added to the route between Washington, D.C., and Roanoke, Va., and passenger rail will be extended to the New River Valley. Infrastructure improvements are slated to be made in the coming years to allow for the extension to the New River Valley, as well as add a seven-mile double-track south of Manassas to improve train movements along the corridor.
VRE on June 29 reported that $119.5 million of its contribution—which comes from proceeds of a recent public “green” bond sale—would be used to purchase CSX rail-of-way in the Interstate 95 corridor.
“As a major beneficiary of ‘Transforming Rail in Virginia,’ VRE has worked to identify opportunities to support this important initiative,” said Rich Dalton, CEO of VRE, which connects central and northern Virginia with the District of Columbia. “In addition to funds from the bond issuance, VRE will contribute another $75 million over the next 10 years on a pay-as-you-go basis, bringing our total financial support to nearly $195 million.”
(According to VRE, the $75 million will come from the Commuter Rail Operating and Capital Fund, which receives $15 million annually from motor fuels tax revenues collected in the jurisdictions represented on VRE’s two parent commissions, Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission.)
All VRE funds will be distributed to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA), which manages the $4 billion “Transforming Rail in Virginia” initiative.
“This financial contribution from our VRE partners will enable us to increase and improve service, making VRE a viable option for even more Virginians,” VPRA Executive Director DJ Stadtler said. “We thank VRE for their foresight and commitment to expanding passenger rail in the commonwealth.”
Beyond VRE’s financial contributions, the commuter railroad said it will support the “Transforming Rail in Virginia” initiative through station and rail infrastructure improvements made as part of its capital improvements program. Among the projects: lengthening existing and building new platforms to accommodate longer trains and allow for the simultaneous boarding of two trains at a station.