New daily train to DC awaits Commonwealth Transportation Board approval

The proposed daily passenger train from Lynchburg to Washington took a big step forward this month.  On November 19, 2008, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) unveiled a Six-Year Improvement Plan for Rail Allocations that includes a $39.5 million subsidy to cover the full cost of the Amtrak service.  The VDRPT improvement plan fills a funding gap that had previously been reported.

Other projects included in the Six-Year Plan include engineering and construction of track upgrades for the Crescent Corridor as well as operating subsidies of $17 million to support a three-year demonstration project for both the US29 and I-95 corridors.  VDRPT expects that this proposed funding allocation will be approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) before Fall 2009.

Funding for this first phase of the Transdominion Express comes from the DRPT’s Rail Enhancement Fund, which anticipates public-private partnerships in order to achieve these improvements. Over the next six years, approximately $268 million in state rail capital funding is expected to become available.  Additional private and local matching funds are estimated to total bring the total available funding for capital projects to $481 million.

In determining the Six-Year Plan, projects were considered that deliver public benefits such as reduced congestion on highways, at ports and at airports and reduced energy consumption.  Additionally, allocations were focused on projects that improve public safety and air quality, support transit oriented development and increased mobility, create jobs and support tourism.  Allocations were directed towards improvements that provide emergency alternative transportation as well as timely and cost effective travel alternatives and freight shipping alternatives.

The new daily train running through Charlottesville is expected to remove 135,432 cars from the road saving 1,191,837 gallons of fuel.  Additionally, this train alone is expected to save 8,897 tons of CO2 emissions according to DRPT estimates.

Since railroad tracks in Virginia are privately owned by freight rail companies, the schedule and timing of improvements must conform to their business plans.  While Amtrak has the right to use freight rail lines, other commuter rail services must negotiate with private railroads for access to their tracks.

Fania Gordon