Albemarle County Supervisors endorse idea for Crozet to Charlottesville commuter train

Encouraged by the reality of daily passenger service from Lynchburg to Washington, D.C., Albemarle County Supervisor

Ann Mallek

(White Hall) sought the full Board’s support for a feasibility study for daily commuter service from Crozet to Charlottesville. The Board agreed on April 1, 2009 to send a letter to Senator

Mark Warner

(D-VA) officially seeking grant opportunities to study the idea further.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast:

Download 20090401-BOS-Crozet-Train

The service is proposed to be run on rails operated  by the Buckingham Branch Rail Road (BBRR) , according to Mallek. She has met with Charlottesville Mayor

Dave Norris

to discuss the idea with the railroad company’s officials. Buckingham Branch operates a railroad line that runs nearly 200 miles from Clifton Forge to Richmond on its Piedmont Branch.

A CSX train running on BBRR-operated tracks near Crozet

The idea sprung up from a conversation between City resident John Pfaltz and Gale Wilson, the General Manager of the BBRR’s Richmond-Alleghany Division. Wilson identified three challenges, according to Pfaltz:

Pfaltz said the second item could be overcome by extending a “passing track” that currently exists in Ivy. This extra track would allow either the CSX train or the commuter train to park while the other train passes by. He estimates the start-up costs would be around $5 million.

“Is it worth [the] capital costs and some operating subsidy to get 100-200 cars off US 250 and I-64 every day, and to bring employees into UVa. and the city who do not need parking?” Pfaltz asked in a March 2008 letter that circulated among transportation activists and officials.

Mallek’s letter to Senator Warner lays out the case for the east-west service and asks for Warner’s advice on grant opportunities. Mallek suggested that the next step is to hire a consultant at a cost of $95,000 to determine whether the $5 million price-tag is realistic. In the letter, she asks Warner for advice on a federal agency that could offer assistance.  BBRR would use the feasibility study in its negotiations with CSX and Amtrak should the project be shown to be viable.

“We are convinced that such a commuter service would be successful (i.e. pay for itself), would relieve current congestion on US 250, and provide a low cost demonstration of the potential for alternative rail transit in the Commonwealth,” she writes.

After the Board’s approval, the letter now goes to City Council for their endorsement. Gale Wilson has also signed the letter.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Mayor Norris said he would support adding the project to the MPO’s long-range transportation program if the service can be shown to be viable.

“In my mind, anything we can do to promote viable mass transit and take more cars off the road is worth exploring,” Norris said.

Sean Tubbs