A $3.7 billion agreement between the Commonwealth of Virginia and freight railroad CSX announced on December 19 will transfer track and bridge ownership to the state, creating a pathway to separate passenger and freight operations along the Richmond to Washington, D.C., corridor.
[Above photo by the Virginia DOT.]
In a statement, Governor Ralph Northam (D) said both the state and CSX will continue work to finalize definitive agreements, with execution of this agreement planned in the second half of 2020.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our rail system work better for everyone, both in Virginia and along the entire East Coast,” he said. “This agreement will change the future of transportation in Virginia, improving our ability to move people and goods across the state, and opening up potential rail service in underserved parts of the Commonwealth.”
The agreement between Virginia and CSX includes: building a new Virginia-owned railroad bridge next to the existing Long Bridge across the Potomac River, with tracks dedicated exclusively to passenger and commuter rail; the acquisition of more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track; and 37 miles of new track improvements, including a Franconia-Springfield bypass.
Currently Long Bridge – built in 1904 and owned by CSX – carries every passenger, commuter, and CSX freight train that crosses the Potomac River. But it has only two tracks, and is at 98 percent capacity in peak times, the governor noted. The new bridge will relieve this bottleneck, providing track for passenger and commuter trains while freight trains exclusively use the existing Long Bridge, he said.
The deal also incorporates negotiated improvements with CSX to increase passenger and commuter service levels that will be phased in over the next decade:
- Doubling the number of Virginia Amtrak trains.
- Providing nearly hourly Amtrak service between Richmond and Washington, D.C.
- Increasing Virginia Railway Express service by 75 percent along the I-95 corridor, with 15-minute intervals during peak periods and adding weekend service.
- Increasing Amtrak service to Newport News and allowing for improved schedule of the third Amtrak train to Norfolk.
- Laying the foundation for Southeast High Speed Rail through the acquisition of the abandoned S-Line which runs from Petersburg into North Carolina.
- Preserving an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge for future east-west passenger service.
“As we work to maximize investments in highways, transit, and Metro, this partnership creates an unprecedented opportunity to unlock the potential of rail and commuter rail, and allows Virginia to focus on customer service, reliability, and performance,” noted Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s secretary of transportation. “This also provides the critical infrastructure needed to explore options to expand rail to other corridors in the Commonwealth.”
The governor’s office cited studies that show that highway expansion is increasingly unable to alleviate gridlock and congestion in Northern Virginia. The Commonwealth’s Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment is completing a study of the I-95 Corridor and one preliminary finding estimates a $12.5 billion cost to build one additional lane in each direction for approximately 50 miles – with congestion returning in the peak period the day it opens.
However, the Virginia/CSX deal that will expand passenger and commuter rail service is expected to remove five million cars and one million trucks off Virginia highways each year, and propel the Port of Virginia toward its goal of moving 40 percent of containers by rail.