Arlington, VA

(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.

The full press release from the governor’s office about the deal is below, after the jump.

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(Updated at 12:33 a.m.) A row of trees lining the railroad tracks near Long Bridge Park in Crystal City is no more after CSX crews began removing them last week, upsetting some residents who say they were an important part of the park’s aesthetic.

Dominique Williams lives nearby in Crystal City and says she comes to the park every day for an afternoon walk. After not visiting for the last week, she was shocked to see the trees gone when she went on a stroll earlier this week.

“When I saw it this morning I said what is going on?” said Williams, gesturing at the pile of broken limbs once a part of the trees she said gave a je ne sais quoi to her daily stroll.

“This takes a lot away from the park,” she said. “It had a vibe, really, and now it’s not there anymore.”

Crews could be seen cutting up stumps and gathering timber for the shredder along the train tracks on Tuesday.

Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish told ARLnow that CSX is removing the trees, not the county, as the land where the trees were growing belongs to the freight rail company.

CSX spokeswoman Sheriee S. Bowman said the company to aims to “positively impact the environment” but had to remove the trees due to an ongoing construction project to build a road running parallel to the tracks.

“This project was designed with the goal of disturbing as few trees as possible, but due to property limitations parallel to the tracks, some tree removal on CSX’s right-of-way was unavoidable,” said Bowman. “Upon completion of the road, CSX will plant 220 new trees and 188 new shrubs in the project area – more than the 217 that will be removed.”

More from CSX’s statement:

“We have chosen native tree and shrub species which will provide a more robust green space than what was previously in place. Additionally, crews will clean trash and debris that has accumulated in this area. The project has been scheduled in close coordination with Arlington County and CSX has maintained open lines of communication with the Crystal City Civic Association and local residents on local impacts. Construction for this project began on March 4th and should be completed by early May.”

Late last year the company notified the Crystal City Civic Association that it intended to remove trees for the construction of a planned access road near the park.

More from the civic association, via a December Facebook post:

CSX has submitted plans for County permits to install an access gate at the 12th Street entrance to Long Bridge Park and an access road along the tracks. This replacement is needed since the current access at the northern end of Long Bridge Park will end when the County’s construction of the Aquatics and Fitness Center starts. The issue will come before the County Board this Saturday, December 15, for approval.

CSX has shown that the gate and road will be built on its property. There will be no changes to the entrance to the park, 12th Street, or Crystal Drive. Beyond the end of the map shown, the road will run parallel to the tracks for about a half mile up to the signals. It will be asphalt from the gate down to the track level and gravel the remainder to the signals.

CSX designed the project with the goal of disturbing as few trees as possible, but due to the limited property parallel to the tracks, some removal on CSX Right of Way is unavoidable. However, the plan includes extensive tree and shrub replanting after construction with more trees and shrubs than are there today. After construction, the new access road (which will be on CSX ROW parallel to the tracks) will be used by light pickup trucks for the signal maintainers and track inspectors. Under normal circumstances, they would probably use the access road 2-3 times a week.

Another Crystal City resident said it’s important to balance business needs with the community but that her family will miss the trees when they come to the park now.

“You can’t stop progress but we would have liked if they kept the trees,” she said

Jim, a retired Fairfax resident who also uses the park, said “overall it’s a positive” that the trees are gone because it also led to the removal of litter and construction debris — what he described as a “garbage dump” — next to the tracks.

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