Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Track extension to pave way for VRE express trains

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Virginia will apply for $72 million in federal stimulus money this month to build a third set of rails between Prince William and Stafford counties, Inside NoVa.com reports. The state is expected to file for the money Aug. 24, and if approved, it will go to fund a third set of train tracks between Powell's Creek in Dumfries and the Widewater area of Stafford County.

 

The project is part of the state's comprehensive vision to bring high-speed rail to the Northern Virginia from Petersburg, and in part will pave the way for Virginia Railway Express to start running express trains on its Fredericksburg line. The express trains will be 10 cars long and originate during the mornings in Fredericksburg and from Washington in the evenings. The trains would run during peak travel times and stop at only two stations along the route before reaching the end of the line, said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

 

"Those trains would take as much as one lane's worth of traffic off the highway in one fell swoop, and anyone who boarded the express service would be guaranteed to beat any car on the road and get to work faster," said Roeber.

 

The trains would travel at speeds of 90 mph, which is considered the standard for high-speed rail in the U.S. But officials are working to increase the speeds to 110 mph while negotiating with the company, which currently owns the tracks, CSX Transportation. Higher speeds would require obtaining a wider swath of land and providing more banking along the tracks, said Roeber.

 

The third track would run north from Stafford County as far as the bridge at Powell's Creek, where two tracks currently carry rail traffic over the water. Roeber said extending a third set of rails across the bridge would be far too costly and that existing tracks can handle the anticipated traffic without creating a bottleneck. Roeber said the third rail would continue on the other side of the bridge, but would not be part of the $72-million construction project. While the state will apply for the money, Roeber said VRE will be responsible for managing the project.

 

Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said the state would use $17.2 million to fund new weekday high-speed rail service. Beginning in October, a train will begin running from Lynchburg to Washington, and, in December, a train will begin service from Richmond to Washington. The trains are part of a three-year pilot project and will cease if a dedicated source of funding is not found.

 

While the Lynchburg train will travel through Manassas, state transportation officials have focused much of their attention on the rail line between Washington and Petersburg because it links to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor - the busiest rail corridor in the nation.

 

The two state-funded trains, operated by Amtrak, will also stop at a "handful" of VRE stations along the two lines where passengers can use the commuter railroad's ticket step-up option to board the train, according to a spokeswoman for Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

 

The state last month applied for $1.5 billion in stimulus funds to extend a third rail from Petersburg to Washington, and for extending the platforms at VRE stations from Leeland Road in Stafford County to the Franconia-Springfield station in Fairfax County, among other transit-related improvements along the rail line.

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