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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


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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