The document that guides the planning activities of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is recommending that daily passenger service from Lynchburg to Washington be implemented as the first phase of the TransDominion Express, with a potential start date of 2010 for operations. The Draft Statewide Rail Plan was released this week, and DRPT will be taking public comment until August 25, 2008.
The plan’s inclusion of the service stems from a January 2008 report from AMTRAK on how to boost ridership in Virginia in the short-term. DRPT had requested the report at the urging of groups like the Piedmont Rail Coalition (PRC). The AMTRAK report describes a four-car train that would depart Lynchburg at 5:05 AM each weekday with stops in Charlottesville, Culpeper, Manassas and Alexandria before Washington. The return train would leave Washington each day at 4:52 PM and would stay over night in Lynchburg.
The new service is listed as a “potential rail investment location” in Chapter 4 of the plan, which also details the investments that freight operators Norfolk Southern and CSX are planning on making throughout the state over the next couple of decades. Some of those improvements will facilitate passenger service by upgrading switching technology in order to allow passenger and freight trains to share the same tracks without delay. Another project in the State Rail Plan is to upgrade the Virginia Railway Express between Manassas and Alexandria, an initiative that will also contribute improvements to allow the daily service from Lynchburg.
The key challenge will be finding funding to implement the services. The state rail plan only lists cost estimates, and does not describe how costs will be shared between state, federal and local governments. More details will be included in the State Rail Action Plan, which is scheduled for publication in fall 2008.
The new passenger rail line is described in the plan as Phase 1 of the TransDominion Express (TDX) project, which would eventually connect Bristol to Richmond. The service has been in the planning states for a decade, partly because legislators have disagreed how the project should be implemented.
“This is a phase that has all the ridership,” says Meredith Richards, Chair of the Piedmont Rail Coalition and an advocate for passenger rail to Charlottesville. “It makes so much sense to fund this phase first, establish it, and use it as a starting place to jump start the TDX.”
The plan cites a growing demand for ridership as one reason to implement the service. The plan states that: “With no service improvements, annual Amtrak ridership between the Washington, DC area and Lynchburg is estimated to be between 71,800 and 90,900 by 2030… Adding one daily round trip each day could increase ridership up to 149,300 by 2030.”
The TDX project will not happen unless there is a public private partnership between Virginia, Amtrak, other federal agencies, as well as Norfolk Southern. Three of Norfolk Southern ‘s corridors would be involved in the project.
Richards said the project would require $14 million in capital costs, 70% of which would be paid for through Virginia’s Rail Enhancement Fund. Norfolk Southern will need to match the rest.
Richards told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the project is far from a done deal.
“We have to keep up the advocacy because the DRPT still has the action plan to produce and we still have to get funding for the operating costs,” Richards said. The AMTRAK report says the service will cost $3.8 million a year, of which $2 million will be covered by fares. That leaves a $1.86 million gap that will need to be subsidized by state and local government.
The elected bodies of many communities along the corridor have passed resolutions expressing their support for the corridor.