"Whether you like
rail or not, it is the future," said Thelma Drake, the new director of the
Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. "It's all about
mobility and how you serve the maximum number of people," The Richmond Times
The state suffered a
setback in the recent announcement of federal stimulus grants for high-speed
passenger-rail projects across the nation. Virginia sought $1.8 billion but got
just $75 million for its top rail initiative. But state and local officials
were undaunted in their efforts to improve rail service between Washington and
Richmond, and on into the rest of the state.
"Our job is to go
find the money we're going to need," Drake said. And that money is in
Washington. She said that as a former member of the U.S. House of
Representatives from Norfolk, "a big part of my job is the Washington
component," convincing federal officials of the value of investing in the
state's rail plans.
"The Richmond region
is perfectly situated in the middle of the federal government's efforts to
connect Washington, D.C., to a true Southeast high-speed rail corridor,"
said Robert A. Crum Jr., executive director of the Richmond Regional Planning
District Commission. Or, as Drake put it, "we are key. You can't get there
without going through us."
Building a high-speed
rail system is a matter of putting in place a large number of individually
small, if expensive, improvements that gradually add up to the ability to
regularly - and reliably - run a lot of passenger trains at speeds of 90 to 110
mph. The fastest that passenger trains run in Virginia is 79 mph.
As a result, said Kim
Scheeler, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Chamber, even a small
federal stimulus grant is valuable. "We've got $75 million more than we
had," Scheeler said. "We see it as Step One. . . . There are still
more opportunities" for federal funds."
In fact, "the
investments south of Richmond will improve the reliability of Amtrak's Silver,
Carolinian and Palmetto services," said Daniel L. Plaugher, executive
director of Virginians for High Speed Rail and the Southeast High Speed Rail
Association. "And the improvements north of Richmond will improve on-time
performance and reduce trip time of all Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express
service using the corridor."
An additional $2.5
billion will be available from the federal government this year for high-speed
rail projects, Drake said: "We're going to be applying for it." And
Congress also is considering providing $1 billion a year for five years for
Railroads loom large in
the state's transportation future as Virginia runs out of capacity on its
roads. The Northern Virginia metro area is the fifth most-congested region in
the nation, and Interstates 95, 64 and 81 have become the state's intercity
Main Streets, with traffic jams to match.
From 1987 to 2007,
Virginia's population increased by 30 percent, while the number of miles
traveled on the state's roads grew by 50 percent, according to the state's
long-range transportation plan. Highway mileage, however, grew by only 8
The age of go-go highway
construction is over. Keeping Virginia's transportation systems running is
becoming more difficult as demands increase and financial resources shrink.
Since spring 2008, Virginia's six-year transportation revenue has dwindled by
$4.6 billion, down to $22.5 billion for 2010-2015.
Meanwhile, more and
better passenger-rail service can relieve highway congestion while helping the
economy by encouraging tourism, supporting jobs and promoting local investment,
rail proponents say. Passengers cannot ride on a high-speed train in Virginia.
The closest is Amtrak's Acela service for Washington, New York and Boston.
Virginia has two
passenger railroads, the Amtrak national rail passenger service and the
Virginia Railway Express commuter system. Last year, just more than 1 million
Virginia travelers took Amtrak, which operates more than 20 trains daily in the
state, including seven long-distance trains and the regional service to
Richmond and Newport News. More than 3.8 million passengers rode VRE from
either Fredericksburg or Manassas to Washington during 2009.
The Staples Mill Station
in Henrico County is Virginia's busiest Amtrak stop, handling 256,006 travelers
last year, while the Main Street Station in downtown Richmond served 23,576.
In the past year,
Virginia invested in Amtrak service for the first time in its history. The
state's three-year pilot program will pay to run two new trains: a
Lynchburg-to-Washington service and a Richmond-to-Washington train. Both trains
connect with the Northeast Corridor. The Lynchburg train represents the first
part of improvements aimed at expanding service to Roanoke and Bristol. Additionally,
the state has invested more than $197 million to upgrade the Interstate 95 rail
Virginia also has finished
work on enhancing railroad tunnel clearances for the Heartland Corridor multi-state
freight-rail initiative, running along U.S. 460. The tunnel clearance project
will reduce rail-shipping time between Hampton Roads and the Midwest by a day
and a half.
Between 2010 and 2035,
Virginia's population is expected to grow by about one-third, from roughly 8
million to 10.3 million-10.9 million, according to the state's 2035
transportation plan. More than three-quarters of that growth will occur in the
state's urban crescent from Northern Virginia through the Fredericksburg area
to Richmond and Hampton Roads - prime territory for rail and transit service,
which thrives where population densities are high.
Virginia has 54
public-transit systems - from very large to very small - across the state, and
construction has begun on two major transit initiatives in the most-congested
regions of Virginia: the Dulles Metrorail project in Northern Virginia and The
Tide light-rail system in Hampton Roads. Meanwhile, transit ridership - 192
million passenger trips a year in 2007 - could grow by as much as 4 percent a
year, climbing to as many as 586.6 million passenger trips in 2035. Balanced
against that, the state's budget for rail and public transit has been averaging
about $450 million a year and will drop to about $350 million next year because
the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has taken over the Dulles
At the same time, the state
is faced with an increasing demand for transit and rail operating funds as new
services begin running. For instance, the state rail agency said, Virginia does
not yet have money nailed down to operate the new Lynchburg and Richmond Amtrak
trains after the pilot program ends in three years.
Central Oregon &
Pacific Railroad is sending bills totaling more than $1.4 million to Salem, Ore.
It will be the second step in resuming construction of a rail yard in Roseburg.
The first was settling a lawsuit with the state, local media report. A formal
agreement is still in the works, but Scott Williams, general counsel for CORP's
parent company, RailAmerica, said the railroad and Oregon have settled the
dispute that erupted when CORP closed the Coos Bay rail line.
regulators approved funding to improve the safety of traffic signals at three
railroad crossings in Auburn, Wash., local media report. The Washington
Utilities and Transportation Commission approved $20,000 from the Grade Crossing
Protection Fund for the City of Auburn to install battery backup power systems
between the railroad and traffic signals at three crossings located in Auburn.
It may not be as much fun. It's
not what was promised. But it will be open, and that's undoubtedly a success,
the Kansas City Star reports. A decade after voters rejuvenated the
architectural corpse of Union Station - helping to infuse $263 million into its
bloodstream - leaders of the former train depot are moving forward with a new
business plan to save the life of the grand building that has been hemorrhaging
millions of dollars since the day of its rebirth.
March 1-4, between 8 p.m.
and 4 a.m., crews will be finishing up work on Caltrain's Grade Crossing
Improvement Program. Work will take place in Redwood City at Main Street and Chestnut
Street; in Menlo Park at Encinal Avenue, Glenwood Avenue, Oak Grove Avenue and Ravenswood
Avenue; and in Atherton at Fair Oaks Lane.
The Port Authority Board of
Commissioners today awarded the largest contract to date for the World Trade
Center Transportation Hub, which will allow a critical portion of the major
transportation facility to be built that will eventually serve more than 200,000
commuters. The contract came in on budget.
Transportation said it has won a contract to supply TriMet, Portland, Oregon's
Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District transit network, with an
advanced voice radio and data communications system to help increase safety and
efficiency for TriMet's 115 million annual passengers.
Sound Transit contractors
begin work Feb. 27-28 to make light rail tracks in Seattle and Tukwila quieter.
The work will take place overnight, mostly on weekends and may cause service
delays between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Information on service interruptions will be
available at all stations.
Cost overruns on Norfolk's
light-rail project have created a potential cash-flow crunch for the $338-million
starter line, Hampton Roads Transit's board learned Feb. 25, The
Virginian-Pilot reports. The increasing costs rolled out over the past couple
of months prompted the Federal Transit Administration to hold up $26.8 million
of federal money already approved for the project, HRT President and CEO Philip
has been chosen to complete the Yard Automation System at Transnet's Kimberley
Yard in South Africa. The
automation system will be comprised of RailComm's DOC® (Domain Operations
Controller) server- based central control system and 11 associated
outdoor-rated control panels.