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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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