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Norfolk Southern, Virginia agree to expand passenger-rail service

Virginia and Norfolk Southern worked cooperatively to reach the commonwealth’s goal of expanding passenger rail service in the New River Valley," said NS Chair, President and CEO James Squires.
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Gov. Ralph Northam yesterday announced that Virginia has reached an agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway to extend passenger-rail service to the New River Valley for the first time since 1979.

Known as the Western Rail Initiative, the $257.2 million agreement is designed to increase intercity passenger-rail service from Roanoke to the Northeast Corridor and is an expansion of the Transforming Rail in Virginia program to build a 21st-century rail network, Virginia government officials said in a press release.

The initiative includes $38.2 million for acquisition of right-of-way and track for approximately 28.5 miles of the Virginian Line from the Salem Crossovers west of Roanoke to Merrimac (Christiansburg).

The initiative also calls for $219 million in infrastructure investments along the corridor that includes:
• Roanoke Yard improvements;
• a 7-mile siding from Nokesville to Calverton, creating a continuous two-track corridor for 22 miles from Manassas to Remington;
• improvements from Salem to Christiansburg, including signaling and track upgrades, a maintenance facility and passenger platform; and
• infrastructure improvements along the Route 29/Interstate 81 corridor.

The agreement includes both an increase of existing service and expansion of service to the New River Valley. In 2022, an additional round-trip train to Roanoke will depart Washington, D.C., in the morning and serve Alexandria, Burke, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Roanoke.

The expansion complements the existing Amtrak Northeast Corridor service, which travels northbound from Roanoke in the morning and returns in the afternoon, Virginia officials said. The two Northeast Corridor round trips will be extended from Roanoke to Christiansburg upon completion of the infrastructure improvements in 2025.

The commonwealth and NS will continue to work to finalize definitive legal agreements, with execution planned by the end of the year.

NS is looking forward to working with all stakeholders on the agreement, said NS Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer James Squires.

“Virginia and Norfolk Southern worked cooperatively to reach the commonwealth’s goal of expanding passenger rail service in the New River Valley, while also preserving the vital role these lines play in delivering goods and materials that drive the regional economy,” Squires said in the press release.

Also yesterday, Northam in a ceremony signed Senate Bill 1212 that created the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority to assist the commonwealth with the creation of, and support for, passenger rail in the region. The authority is being established in Planning District 4 and will be governed by a board consisting of members of each participating locality and institution of higher education.

The commonwealth plans to partner with the members of the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority to fund the construction of a station building, parking and roadway access for the station.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/6/2021