Major passenger rail improvements are on their way to Virginia

(AP photoAndrew Harnik)

By Carolyn Fiddler

December 8, 2023

Virginia is making big moves towards improving passenger rail service and access.

Political leaders from across Virginia convened recently for an event in northern Virginia to announce $729,000,000 in federal funding secured for Transforming Rail in Virginia (TRV) projects.

Additionally, the board of directors of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority voted unanimously to take a massive step forward in the building of a new Potomac River rail crossing, awarding the first contracts to design and build the Virginia-side aspects of the project, a centerpiece of the TRV initiative.

The new rail bridge project, which will help eliminate the bottleneck created by the 119-year-old Long Bridge crossing the Potomac is a key component of a $3.7 billion TRV package assembled four years ago by then-Gov. Ralph Northam to transform rail service in the commonwealth.

Upon its expected completion in 2030, Amtrak will be able to provide almost hourly passenger train service between Henrico County’s Staples Mill Road station and DC’s Union Station, as well as expand commuter rail services provided by the Virginia Railway Express.

Train passengers won’t be the only beneficiaries of these railway improvements.

“We’re unlocking a freight bottleneck, too,” said Jennifer DeBruhl, executive director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

CSX Corp. owns Long Bridge and is selling Virginia 350 miles of railroad rights-of-way and 225 of existing tracks, including 112 miles of right of way and 29 miles of track between Richmond and DC. Prior to the 2019 agreement, CSX’s ownership of most of Virginia’s railroads and rights of way had historically often been an impediment to improving passenger rail transportation in the state.

CSX director of state relations for Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia Randy Marcus said the new rail projects “are essential to expanding capacity, improving fluidity, and separating freight and passenger operations in this congested corridor.”

The day after the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority voted to approve the Potomac River crossing contracts, US Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and US Reps. Don Beyer (VA-08), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Jennifer McClellan (VA-04) held an event in Arlington announcing the $729 million federal grant further supporting the construction of an additional rail bridge across the Potomac to supplement the Long Bridge.

“Long Bridge is the connection between the Northeast and the Southeast, and there’s nothing that can really happen in terms of growing our rail usage both for passenger and freight if you don’t deal with Long Bridge,” said Kaine at the event.

The Long Bridge expansion is estimated to contribute $1.1 billion annually to the national economy and support 17,750 jobs.

The new funding comes via a passenger rail grant program as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which Warner, Kaine, Beyer, Connolly, and Spanberger helped pass in 2021 and was announced as part of a series of grants awarded by the US Department of Transportation this week for major rail projects.

In addition to the Long Bridge project, which involves constructing five rail bridges and two pedestrian/bicycle bridges between DC and Virginia, the funding will also be used for:

  • L’Enfant Fourth Track and Station Improvements: Construct approximately one mile of mainline track through and around L’Enfant Plaza in D.C., VRE’s busiest station, and make improvements to the existing station platform.
  • Neabsco Creek to Woodbridge Third Track: Design and construct three miles of a third track in Prince William County.
  • Aquia Creek Third Track South: Design and construct approximately two miles of a third track in Stafford County.
  • Crossroads Third Track: Design and construct approximately four miles of a third track in Spotsylvania County.

Finally, Virginia’s US senators closed out the week by announcing an additional $2 million in federal funding to plan new passenger rail routes all across the commonwealth, including southside and southwest Virginia, central Virginia, and the northern Virginia exurbs. The funding was awarded through the US Department of Transportation’s Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) Program and was authorized and funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“For years, we’ve been championing the expansion of rail to every corner of the Commonwealth because it’s a slam dunk for local economies, cuts traffic, and protects the environment,” said Kaine and Warner in a joint statement. “We’re thrilled the bipartisan infrastructure law is taking a big step towards expanding service across the entire Commonwealth so communities along the I-95 corridor and beyond can be connected by more convenient, consistent passenger rail.”

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

CATEGORIES: INFRASTRUCTURE | POLITICS

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