Trains For America

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New Amtrak Service Begins Virginia’s Quest for High-Speed Rail

This came in from Virginians for High Speed Rail.

Richmond, Virginia- Today, Governor Timothy Kaine announced the final agreement with Amtrak to officially launch the first Virginia sponsored Northeast Regional Train connecting Staples-Mill Richmond to the highly traveled Northeast Corridor with destinations such as Washington, New York, and Boston.

According to preliminary guidelines by the Federal Railroad Administration, two key prerequisites for project selection are Stakeholder Agreements and a Financial Plan for operations. The completion of this stakeholder agreement with Amtrak puts Virginia in a strong position of advancing high-speed rail through the Commonwealth having already completed other stakeholder agreements with CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern, and Virginia Railway Express.

While the new Virginia sponsored passenger rail services are three-year demonstrations and a dedicated long-term funding source for operational costs have not been identified, nonetheless, Virginia is one step closer for having launched these new services.

“High-speed rail is on the horizon for Virginia.” stated Daniel L. Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, “Having traveled to both Charlotte, NC and Philadelphia, PA for the Federal Railroad Administration’s stakeholder meetings regarding the $8 billion for intercity and high-speed passenger rail, I have noticed that Virginia is in a strong position to take full advantage of these federal resources for passenger rail.” Mr. Plaugher continued “The Northeast is looking to extend to Richmond to relieve congestion on their corridor and the Southeast begins at Washington extending through Virginia.

The stakeholder agreements with the host railroads, Virginia Railway Express, and Amtrak along with the leadership of Governor Kaine, his Secretary of Transportation, and Chip Badger and Kevin Page at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation have put Virginia in a great position to properly utilize these federal resources to advance high-speed rail in Virginia.” Mr. Plaugher finished “Simply put, the leg work that Governor Kaine and his transportation team have completed will stimulate our economy, create jobs, alleviate congestion on our highways, reduce gas consumption, and promote economic development and smart growth all the while advancing the Commonwealth’s high-speed rail aspirations.”

The next step is for the release of the official Federal Railroad Administration guidelines which is expected before June 17, 2009.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

4 Responses

  1. Allan says:

    This is wonderful news, on top of the announcement for additional service back in April. It is nice to see progress slowly being made here in VA. SEHSR and HSR to Hampton Roads is next!!

  2. Woody says:

    Virginia has had a long range plan to improve rail service in the Richmond-D.C. corridor for several years. Working with the freight line, it’s been making incremental progress, widening a bridge or two, doubletracking here, straightening a curve there. Adding a new train frequency will be a positive and tangible step.

    By the Va. plan, really heavy lifting is ahead– some serious de-bottlenecking, costly electrification, and more bridge work and perhaps tunneling to get capacity to Union Station in D.C. But they have stuck to it so far and I hope it pays off.

  3. Nathanael says:

    Virginia has a lot of overlapping and related plans. The VRE priority list (“Strategic Plan”) in the downtown DC area (“run through service” section) is by far the most important:
    (1) Freight bypass track at L’Enfant Plaza
    (2) Two passenger tracks and a handicapped-accessible island platform linked to the Metro station at L’Enfant Plaza
    These would allow MARC-VRE run-through service.

    (3) Improvements to Crystal City (island platform) and Union Station
    (4) Full cab signalling on the Arlington-Union Station segment.
    (5) Union Station layout and platform improvements.

    Freight trains are planned to be separated from passenger trains from a point west of L’Enfant station most of the time (passenger trains having two tracks at peak times, one at off-peak times); they split east of L’Enfant, with freight into the Virginia Avenue tunnel and passengers into Union Station, and this would eliminate most conflicts.

    Unfortunately not all, which leads to the single biggest-ticket item:
    (6) New Potomac River bridge (to increase capacity to three or four tracks). This costs a genuine bundle.

    Meanwhile, the entire line from the Potomac River to Richmond is being incrementally three-tracked (with bits of four-tracking in the critical Alexandria-Arlington area) for the benefit of VRE, Amtrak, and SEHSR. The interlockings are also being rearranged for efficiency.

    The next really expensive project is proper access to Richmond Main Street Station, which requires great masses of work on both the north and south sides of town and at the station itself; but it also bypasses the freight yards, so it has a huge number of benefits. At that point intensive fast service from downtown Richmond to DC can start.

    These projects are independent of the DC-area projects, but until *both* the Richmond *and* the DC projects are finished, there will be “bottlenecks”. When both are finished, there will be just enough capacity for all the planned service. Including Southeast High Speed rail, which needs to finish its Tier II EIS and build the Richmond-Raleigh tracks.

    Electrification can be done at leisure from Washington southwards after the full third track is in end-to-end and Richmond Main Street access is present, because then even with two electrified tracks, there will always be one non-electric track on the main freight route.

    Luckily, all the projects appear to be running in parallel, which may mean a huge boom in rail in Virginia if none of critical ones get delayed.

  4. Woody says:

    Nathanael, Thanks for laying out all the heavy lifting ahead in the Va program I’d referred to. Your Comment is a very informative report.

    I read this stuff online a couple of years back, mouth agape to see the thorough planning. (And forgot half the details since, so thanks again for the refresher.)

    The incremental improvements will mean better passenger service every year, for those who are patient. But for Richmond-D.C. to become effectively part of the Northeast Corridor will take time and plenty of money, state, federal, and private. Then on to Raleigh, and the Tidewater cities, oh my.

    The Va planning is a great lesson for us who are citizens of other states. If your re-named Dept of Highways isn’t doing similar work now (and it probably isn’t), you aren’t going to see much better rail service, freight or passenger, for many years to come. It also shows that yes we can speed up our trains and add frequency. It will take more than $8 billion, but at least in Va they have begun.

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