Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Virginia expands passenger rail service



RICHMOND- Governor Bob McDonnell announced today that the Commonwealth of Virginia and Norfolk Southern Railway Company have signed a landmark agreement that is an important step toward bringing daily intercity passenger rail service back to Norfolk for the first time since 1977. The round-trip train will link Norfolk with a single-seat ride to Richmond, Washington, D.C., and cities as far north as Boston.

Speaking about the agreement, Governor McDonnell noted, "The new service will bring direct intercity passenger rail service to one of Virginia's largest population centers. The Hampton Roads region is home to over a million Virginians, including thousands of Federal employees and military personnel, who currently have limited transportation choices for travel to Richmond, Washington, D.C., and into the Northeast. This service will provide an alternative to the heavily congested I-64 and I-95 corridors."

The agreement provides for the speedy upgrading of Norfolk Southern tracks between Norfolk and Petersburg so that they are suitable for use by passenger trains. Funded by an $87 million Rail Enhancement Fund grant, the projects include upgraded signaling, track extensions and connections, passenger train turning and servicing facilities, and a track and platform near Norfolk's Harbor Park for the passenger train. Also included is construction of a new connection between Norfolk Southern and CSXT tracks near Petersburg. These improvements will enable passenger trains to run on Norfolk Southern's busy Heartland Corridor route.

"The partnership between the Commonwealth and Norfolk Southern is a perfect example of business and government working creatively, cooperatively, and quickly to meet a challenge," said Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman. "We are proud to be part of a timely and forward-looking response to a pressing public issue."

"Connecting Norfolk to the Amtrak network and the Northeast is a major step forward for the mobility of the region," said Thelma Drake, Director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Norfolk Southern will work with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) to complete the work outlined in the agreement. The project is already being designed, and construction will begin in 2011.

The Commonwealth continues to make progress on the necessary agreements for improvements to CSX track and with Amtrak. These agreements must be in place before new intercity passenger rail service can begin.
At least there's on Republican governor besides Arnold who gets the necessity of rail passenger service and is willing to continue investing in it. Of course, since the Washington D.C.-Lynchburg, VA route runs an operational profit, this is a very easy choice politically. At $87 million, capital costs are also far cheaper than what it would cost to expand the highways along the route. With any luck, the citizens of Virginia will vote for continued improvements to the rail route, including electrification and upgrading to Class 7 track to allow for 125mph service.

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