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Rail News: Passenger Rail

CSX, Virginia reach $3.7B deal to expand passenger-rail service

The improvements will include doubling the number of Virginia Amtrak trains and provide nearly hourly Amtrak service between Richmond and Washington, D.C.
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CSX Corp. and Virginia officials have reached a 10-year, $3.7 billion agreement that calls for expansion of passenger-rail service, construction of a new bridge over the Potomac River and the acquisition of more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track.

The agreement aims to expand reliability and service on Virginia's rail lines, creating a pathway to separate passenger and freight operations between Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., Virginia officials said yesterday in a press release issued by Gov. Ralph Northam's office.

"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. "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."

The agreement with CSX outlines a $3.7 billion investment that includes building a new Long Bridge across the Potomac, with tracks dedicated exclusively to passenger and commuter rail; the acquisition of the rail right-of-way and track; and 37 miles of new track improvements, including a Franconia-Springfield bypass.

Built in 1904 and owned by CSX, Long Bridge carries every passenger, commuter and CSX freight train that crosses the Potomac River. But it has just two tracks, and is at 98 percent capacity in peak times. The new bridge will relieve the traffic bottleneck, providing track for passenger and commuter trains while freight trains exclusively use the existing Long Bridge, Virginia officials said.

“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 Interstate 95 corridor,” said CSX President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Foote.

Virginia will send $525 million to CSX for the right-of-way and existing track on three rail lines, the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper reported.

Virginia officials negotiated improvements with CSX to increase service levels. The improvements, which will be phased in over 10 years, will result in the following:
• doubling the number of Virginia Amtrak trains;
• providing nearly hourly Amtrak service between Richmond and 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 that runs from Petersburg  into North Carolina; and
• preserving an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge for future east-west passenger service.

Virginia is bringing federal, state and regional partners will fund the proposal, with Amtrak playing a critical role, Virginia officials said. Amtrak's board has approved a memorandum of understanding with Virginia that outlines the railroad's commitment to the program.

"Amtrak is thrilled to be supporting this game-changing rail investment program as an investor and partner,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak's 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."

The various agreements enable Virginia officials to move forward with confirming commitments from potential partners and give Virginia the opening to bring more partners to the table.

The Long Bridge expansion will enable VRE to expand service to include new riders, said Katie Cristol, chair of VRE's operations board.

"[Yesterday's] announcement represents the start of an exciting new chapter for commuter rail in Virginia," Cristol said.

The rail service expansion is expected to remove 5 million cars and 1 million trucks off Virginia highways each year, and propel the Port of Virginia toward its goal of moving 40 percent of containers by rail, Virginia officials said.