Virginia governor announces multi-billion dollar plan for rail expansion

Virginia News

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Tuesday that the state will be working with Amtrak, CSX and Virginia Railway Express to create a major expansion of the state’s passenger, commuter and freight rail. The $3.7 billion investment will expand the state’s use of trains and connect Virginia to national rail networks.

A release from Northam’s office explains that rail provides Virginia with a more effective answer to Virginia’s growing issues with traffic congestion.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a 21st century rail system in Virginia and along the entire East Coast,” Northam said. “This historic initiative will help get people and goods where they need to go more efficiently, reduce congestion and pollution, and create a more inclusive economy.”

The state’s new investment includes purchasing 386 miles of railroad right-of-way and 223 miles of railroad tracks from CSX. The right-of-way acquisitions stretch from Washington, D.C. to Petersburg and the newly purchased tracks will stretch from Petersburg to Ridgeway, North Carolina.

There will be over $1 billion invested into railroad infrastructure improvements which will result in expansions of Amtrak and VRE services. The new funding will also set into motion the separation of freight and passenger rail in the Commonwealth.

The announcement was made at an event at the Alexandria Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express station. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined Northam for the announcement. Buttigieg touched on what the American Rescue Plan being passed means for Amtrak workers. According to a release from the governor’s office, the bill includes $1.7 million to help furloughed employees, restore routes, cover for lost revenue and help prevent layoffs.

“The plan is helping Amtrak bring back more than 1,200 furloughed employees and restore service to 12 routes,” Buttigieg said.

Sen. Mark Warner spoke at the event, saying the additional funding for Virginia’s railways will help reduce congestion and travel times for commuters as many people get vaccinated and head back to work.

Another thing funded under the relief package will be the construction of a new “Long Bridge” across the Potomac River, adding an additional train crossing from Virginia to Washington, D.C. The release states that the bridge will cost about $1.9 billion to construct. This bridge would be owned by the state and built next to CSX’s existing freight bridge.

“Thinking big on our rail projects will not only propel us into the 21st century, but it would help ensure that the Commonwealth remains one of the best places to live and work in the country,” Warner said.

The release states that over ten years the following will be accomplished:

  • Double Virginia-supported Amtrak trains providing nearly hourly service
  • Increase VRE commuter service by 60 percent
  • Lay the foundation for a Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor
  • Preserve an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge for future east-west passenger service
  • Create the potential to expand rail to all parts of the Commonwealth

These efforts will be funded by a combination of state funding, regional funding and $944 million from Amtrak over the next ten years.

“This initiative represents a historic achievement in expanding and improving the performance of rail transportation,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Together, we are creating a path towards separating passenger and freight rail and building a vital link in our national rail network between the Northeast and Southeast corridors.”

The state is also partnering with Amtrak to create and support six new daily roundtrips. For the next 30 years, Amtrak will also be responsible for all of Virginia’s intercity passenger rail services along the I-95 corridor.

Northam’s release states that the expansion of rail services will grow the Commonwealth’s economy by $2 billion each year.

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