News | April 7, 2021

Historic rail deal finalized in Virginia

The Commonwealth of Virginia, CSX, Amtrak, and Virginia Railway Express have finalized a groundbreaking deal that marks a major milestone for cleaner transportation. The deal is a cornerstone of the Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative, a sweeping effort to build upon recent steps the state has taken to advance passenger, commuter, and freight rail.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg attended the signing of the agreement, highlighting the national importance of this private-public rail partnership. Outlines of the $3.7 billion deal were announced over a year ago, and lengthy negotiations followed. Among other things, the agreement will allow much more frequent passenger rail service between Richmond and Washington, D.C., reducing tailpipe pollution and providing congestion relief on the frequently clogged stretch of I-95 between the two capitals. In contrast, an analysis by the state found that adding new lanes to I-95 would be prohibitively expensive and do little to address rush-hour congestion.

“This agreement solidifies Virginia’s recent emergence as a national leader in rail policy and projects,” says Trip Pollard, SELC’s Land & Community Program leader. “The Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative can divert millions of car and truck trips from our roadways to rail each year, significantly reducing the Commonwealth’s top source of climate pollution while also reducing congestion and giving Virginians much greater control over our transportation future.”

Key elements the agreement contains or will enable over the next decade include:
  • Transferring ownership of more than 380 miles of railroad right-of-way and over 220 miles of railroad track to Virginia;
  • Doubling the capacity of Long Bridge—a rail crossing of the Potomac River that is a major choke point for passenger and freight rail along the East Coast;
  • Expanding state-supported Amtrak service by over 50%, resulting in almost hourly service between Richmond and D.C.;
  • Increasing Virginia Railway Express service up to 60% by adding more weekday runs and extending service to weekends;
  • Protecting a rail corridor that could host high speed rail from Richmond to Raleigh;
  • an additional rail line that could be a key component of a new east-west rail service SELC proposed in a report we co-authored.

“The expansion of rail infrastructure and service in the Richmond to Washington corridor is particularly important,” Pollard concluded, “since it is the backbone of rail service in Virginia, as well as the key connection between the Northeast Corridor and expanding passenger rail in the Southeast.”

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