Friday, February 19, 2010

VRE study to examine proposed rail extension

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Virginia Railway Express is expected to award a $2.5 million contract Feb. 19 to a firm that will study the environmental impact of extending the commuter rail line to Gainesville and Haymarket, Va., local media report.

The commuter railroad's board could award the contract to the firm of STV/Ralph Whitehead and Associates. During the study, the firm would examine the possible location of at least three stations that could be built in Prince William County, west of Manassas, as well as what endangered species, wetlands or flood plains are in the path of the proposed extension.

The study will also look at historical sites along the route and how the proposed rail extension-which would also increase the amount of freight rail traffic in the area if built-would affect air quality in the region.

A Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation grant, as well as $837,000 in funding from Norfolk Southern, will be used to pay for the study. A separate DRPT study completed in May identified Gainesville and Haymarket as prime locations for new VRE stations.

While western Prince William County's population has exploded over the past 10 years, Haymarket officials say they don't want a commuter rail station built in or near their town.

"The extension route runs along a creek, and if the line is extended, they will have to improve the lane in the area while disturbing the wetlands, to add the new track the extension calls for," said Haymarket Town Manager Gene Swearingen.

According to plans, a second track would be constructed along Norfolk Southern's B Line, where now only a single track runs west of Old Town Manassas, into Gainesville, through Haymarket and to Fauquier County.

If VRE hopes one day to extend its commuter rail service to Fauquier County, Swearingen said Haymarket hopes VRE will bypass the town.

Also adding to the town's woes, a station in Haymarket would increase traffic in the small town and put parking at a premium, said Swearingen. Commuters driving on Interstate 66 to get to Haymarket could just as easily drive a few miles farther to a Gainesville station, added Swearingen.

If approved, the study would also explore the possibility of a phased extension, where a station could be built first in Gainesville and later near Haymarket, said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

Any new stations built on the proposed line would be similar to existing VRE stations, and would accommodate trains of eight to 10 cars, said Roeber.

Built into the study's budget is a $250,000 contingency fund in the event of cost overruns.

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