State, CSX announce $3.7B in passenger rail improvements
Agreement would bring hourly service between Richmond and Washington
The state and Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX Corp. announced Thursday they would invest $3.7 billion in improving train service between Richmond and Washington, D.C., including building a new bridge across the Potomac River dedicated to passenger and commuter rail.
The improvements are set to start in the second half of 2020 and be phased in over the next 10 years, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said in a statement. The agreement will double the number of Amtrak trains in Virginia and provide nearly hourly service between the state’s and the nation’s capitals.
Virginia would own the new Long Bridge across the river, which would parallel the current Long Bridge, built in 1904 and owned by CSX. That bridge, with only two tracks, carries all trains from Northern Virginia to Washington’s Union Station. With the addition of the new bridge for passenger trains, the old one would just carry freight trains, the statement says.
The agreement also includes the purchase of more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track, plus 37 miles of track improvements, including a Franconia-Springfield bypass. CSX and the state expect to finalize details in coming months.
Also, the plans call for increased Virginia Railway Express service by 75% along the Interstate 95 corridor and more Amtrak service to Newport News. Ultimately, there could be future east-west passenger service along an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge, as well as a foundation for Southeast High Speed Rail with the purchase of the abandoned S-Line, which runs from Petersburg into North Carolina.
“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,” Northam said in a statement. “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.”
In fiscal year 2018, Amtrak operated about 25 trains daily in Virginia, with five routes running between Richmond and Washington. According to Amtrak’s FY18 report on Virginia’s rail service, on-time performance (meaning the train arrives within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time) ranged from 85.6% to 37.6% on those routes.
The state anticipates that the rail improvements could take 5 million cars and 1 million trucks off Virginia highways each year and help the Port of Virginia move toward its goal of delivering 40% of containers by rail, according to the statement.
“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, in a statement. “This agreement will allow Virginia to move double the number of people at a fraction of the cost.”
Amtrak’s Board of Directors approved a Memorandum of Understanding with Virginia that outlines its commitment to the improvements, the governor’s office said Thursday.