(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced a major expansion of passenger rail service at an event in Crystal City Thursday afternoon.
Northam announced a $3.7 billion deal between the state and CSX that would:
- Build a state-owned, passenger-only rail bridge over the Potomac, next to the existing, aging CSX-owned Long Bridge near Crystal City
- Expand Virginia Railway Express (VRE) service by 75%, including by adding additional hours, more frequent trains, and weekend service
- Expand Amtrak service from D.C. to points south
- Build 37 miles of new track
- Remove 5 million cars and 1 million trucks from Virginia highways each year, via increased passenger and freight rail service
Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol called the announcement “an exciting new chapter for passenger rail in Virginia” that will “improve the quality of life and economic opportunity” for thousands of Northern Virginia residents.
Cristol cited the example of rail commuters who will now be able to attend workforce training at night and take the train home, and families that will be able to take the train to the Air and Space Museum while avoiding traffic on I-95.
The deal “will contribute an additional $2 billion annually to Virginia due to expanded commuter activity made possible by a new Long Bridge,” estimated the the Stephen F. Fuller Institute at George Mason University.
The Greater Washington Partnership, a regional business organization, lauded the announcement as “game changing” for the region and “one of the biggest achievements for passenger rail service in the United States” in nearly half a century.
Today’s announcement made by Governor Northam to acquire rail right-of-way from Washington to Richmond and through to North Carolina and fund the expansion of Long Bridge, is game changing for the Capital Region’s transportation system, and represents a key achievement in implementing the Partnership’s Blueprint for Regional Mobility. This deal will establish near hourly rail service between Washington and Richmond, expand peak VRE service, initiate VRE weekend operations, and unlock run-through service for MARC trains into Northern Virginia. This is one of the biggest achievements for passenger rail in the United States since Amtrak was created almost 50 years ago. We commend Governor Northam and his team for their vision, leadership and execution of this historic effort. By working in partnership with Mayor Bowser, Governor Hogan and Amtrak President Richard Anderson, we can leverage this investment to radically improve the reliability and performance of our transportation network for all our residents and ensure the Capital Region from Baltimore to Richmond continues to be globally competitive.
Amazon’s locally-based Vice President of Public Policy also hailed the agreement.
We welcome the announcement of the expansion of rail service and the groundbreaking of the new Potomac Yard metro. Virginia keeps raising the bar with investments in its long term infrastructure Thank you @GovernorVA! https://t.co/69VjYoo4I2
— Brian Huseman (@b_huseman) December 19, 2019
The full press release from the governor’s office about the deal is below, after the jump.
Governor Ralph Northam today announced a landmark agreement to expand reliability and service on Virginia’s rail lines, creating a pathway to separate passenger and freight operations along the Richmond to Washington, D.C. corridor. The parties will continue work to finalize definitive agreements with execution planned in the second half of 2020.
The agreement between the Commonwealth and CSX outlines a $3.7 billion investment that includes:
- Building a new Virginia-owned Long Bridge across the Potomac River, with tracks dedicated exclusively to passenger and commuter rail;
- Acquisition of more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track; and
- 37 miles of new track improvements, including a Franconia-Springfield bypass.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our rail system work better for everyone, both in Virginia and along the entire East Coast,” said Governor Northam. “This agreement will change the future of transportation in Virginia, improving our ability to move people and goods across the state, and opening up potential rail service in underserved parts of the Commonwealth.”
Currently Long Bridge, built in 1904 and owned by CSX, carries every passenger, commuter, and CSX freight train that crosses the Potomac River. But it has only two tracks, and is at 98 percent capacity in peak times. The new bridge will relieve this bottleneck, providing track for passenger and commuter trains while freight trains exclusively use the existing Long Bridge.
“CSX is proud of the innovative agreement reached with the Commonwealth of Virginia which will advance our goals for increased safety, efficiency, and volume growth while meeting the public’s desire for more passenger rail service to relieve commuter traffic congestion in the I-95 corridor,” said Jim Foote, President and Chief Executive Officer of CSX. “We thank Governor Northam, Secretary Valentine, and her team for their leadership on this partnership that will benefit CSX and the people of Virginia for many years to come.”
The Commonwealth has negotiated improvements with CSX to increase service levels. These improvements will be phased in over 10 years, resulting in the additional service:
- Doubling the number of Virginia Amtrak trains;
- Providing nearly hourly Amtrak service between Richmond and Washington, D.C.;
- Increasing Virginia Railway Express (VRE) service by 75 percent along the I-95 corridor, with 15-minute intervals during peak periods and adding weekend service;
- Increasing Amtrak service to Newport News and allowing for improved schedule of the third Amtrak train to Norfolk;
- Laying the foundation for Southeast High Speed Rail through the acquisition of the abandoned S-Line which runs from Petersburg into North Carolina; and
- Preserving an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge for future east-west passenger service.
The Commonwealth is bringing together federal, state, and regional partners to fund the proposal, with Amtrak playing a critical role. The Amtrak Board of Directors has approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth that outlines their commitment to this program.
“Amtrak is thrilled to be supporting this game-changing rail investment program as an investor and partner,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating and Commercial Officer. “This program is a model for the nation of how to grow passenger and freight service together in order to relieve congestion, protect our environment, and enhance mobility.”
These agreements allow the Commonwealth to move forward with confirming commitments from potential partners and give Virginia the opening to bring more partners to the table.
“Today’s announcement represents the start of an exciting new chapter for commuter rail in Virginia,” said Katie Cristol, Chair of VRE’s Operations Board. “Expansion of the Long Bridge will enable us to grow VRE service to include new riders, new hours, and new weekend service–in short, to improve the quality of life and economic opportunities for tens of thousands more Northern Virginians. That vision is truly within reach, with the Commonwealth now in a position to own and manage this major passenger rail asset.”
Studies show that highway expansion is increasingly unable to alleviate gridlock and congestion in Northern Virginia. The Commonwealth’s Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment is completing a study of the I-95 Corridor. One preliminary finding estimates a $12.5 billion cost to build one additional lane in each direction for approximately 50 miles–with congestion returning in the peak period the day it opens.
“As we work to maximize investments in highways, transit, and Metro, this partnership creates an unprecedented opportunity to unlock the potential of rail and commuter rail, and allows Virginia to focus on customer service, reliability, and performance,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “This also provides the critical infrastructure needed to explore options to expand rail to other corridors in the Commonwealth.”
This rail expansion is expected to remove five million cars and one million trucks off Virginia highways each year, and propel the Port of Virginia toward its goal of moving 40 percent of containers by rail. In addition, the acquisition of portions of the Buckingham Branch will preserve a future opportunity to create an east-west “college” corridor.
“VRE already moves the equivalent of one lane of traffic off I-95 and I-395 each day,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Director of Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation. “This agreement will allow Virginia to move double the number of people at a fraction of the cost.”
The Stephen F. Fuller Institute at George Mason University estimates rail commuters will contribute an additional $2 billion annually to Virginia due to expanded commuter activity made possible by a new Long Bridge.