Va. finalizes $3.7B rail expansion agreement
VRE, Amtrak, CSX sign agreement to increase passenger service, east-west rail
Virginia will have more train service in the next decade, as Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday the formalization of a $3.7 billion rail expansion package in Virginia, the tenets of which were announced in late 2019. The state signed agreements with Amtrak, CSX and Virginia Railway Express at a ceremony Tuesday.
According to the governor’s office, the number of Amtrak trains serving Virginia will double over the next 10 years, providing nearly hourly service, and increase VRE commuter service by 60%. An existing east-west freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge will be preserved to provide passenger service, and the project creates the possibility of rail serving the entire state. Some of the funding comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan legislation Congress passed in December toward pandemic relief.
Northam, who signed the agreements Tuesday while accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at the Amtrak/Virginia Railway Express station in Alexandria, called the agreements a historic initiative “that will fundamentally transform our transportation infrastructure, delivering long-term economic benefits for our workers and communities as we rebound from the pandemic and into the future.”
The pandemic relief bill includes $1.7 billion to bring furloughed Amtrak workers back to work, restore service and help states cover lost revenue, Buttigieg said. One of the biggest hurdles to Virginia’s railway challenges has been the sole rail connection between Virginia and Washington, D.C., an East Coast bottleneck owned and operated by CSX. Constructing an adjacent $1.9 billion, two-track, Virginia-owned Long Bridge over the Potomac River will help solve that issue, officials say.
Tuesday’s set of agreements includes a 10-year, $944 million commitment from Amtrak. The company will become the exclusive provider of intercity passenger rail service along Interstate 95 for at least 30 years, according to the announcement.
“Virginia is a model for the nation in recognizing the role passenger rail plays in connecting people and economies,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement. “Expanding our state-supported intercity corridors gives us greater opportunities to meaningfully address the carbon crisis and enhance mobility as our population continues to grow.”
The state says its Transforming Rail in Virginia Initiative is meant to address growing traffic congestion, with Virginia’s population expected to increase from 8.5 million to 10 million during the next decade — a fifth of which is expected in Northern Virginia. The governor also projects that the initiative will grow the state economy by $2 billion annually.