Virginia rail advocates advance innovative vision for passenger rail network

Passenger rail trips across Virginia have increased 75 percent since 2006. (© Doug Riddle)

As Governor-elect Ralph Northam's administration prepares to be sworn in and Virginia’s General Assembly readies to convene next week, SELC and partners are sharing a bold vision for the state’s rail future, outlined in a new report.

Together, the groups outline a vision for the next generation of steps to improve our passenger rail, with goals to triple the amount of passenger rail service we have, reduce trip times by up to 35 percent, increase on-time reliability to more than 90 percent, and expand passenger rail service to reach 85 percent of Virginians. Already, the Commonwealth’s passenger rail network is experiencing continued growth, with ridership increasing 75 percent between 2006 and 2017, with 675,000 more annual rail trips taken than a decade ago. Additionally, our passenger trains now reach 80.5 percent of Virginians and 84.4 percent of our jobs, as well as 48 institutions of higher education, which enroll 87.6 percent of our college students, and nearly 10 percent of our nation’s armed forces.

“Virginia will never manage to pave its way out of congestion, nor can we afford the cost to taxpayers or the environment of attempting to do so,” said report co-author Trip Pollard, Director of SELC’s Land and Community Program. “Our vision will help remove nearly a billion passenger miles from our roads, prevent the release of 696 million pounds of carbon pollution, and eliminate the need to burn 35 million gallons of fuel each year.”

The report includes facts and data pertaining to Virginia’s current passenger rail service, discusses the economic, environmental, and social benefits of this service, and outlines the next steps that should be taken to further grow passenger rail service across Virginia.

"The citizens of today, and the companies of tomorrow, both want better passenger rail service because it strengthens our economy and better connects our communities to new economic opportunities,” stated Danny Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail. “We have to look no further than the Amazon HQ2 RFP to see the role that passenger rail and public transportation will play in the future decisions that companies make on where to grow their businesses. The incremental investments that we envision will generate an estimated $3.2 billion in annual economic benefits, which will create or sustain nearly 33,000 jobs. ”

SELC partnered with Virginians for High Speed Rail, The Hampton Roads Chamber, and New River Valley Rail 2020 in developing the report.

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