Agreement made to expand passenger rail service to southwest Virginia

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 1:19 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ/Governor’s Office Release) - The Commonwealth of Virginia has finalized a definitive agreement with Norfolk Southern Corporation to expand passenger rail service to the New River Valley for the first time since 1979, according to Governor Ralph Northam.

The Western Rail Initiative expands passenger rail service to the New River Valley and complements the state’s $3.7 billion Transforming Rail in Virginia program, the Commonwealth’s roadmap for building a 21st-century rail network, according to Northam. The agreement was executed after authorization from the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority Board of Directors.

Transforming Rail in Virginia is an investment not only in our rail system, but also in the residents and businesses along the corridor and in the New River Valley,” said Northam.Together with our partners at Norfolk Southern, we are making essential improvements that modernize our transportation infrastructure and connect communities across the Commonwealth. We look forward to continuing this important work to help move people and goods efficiently, reduce congestion and pollution, fuel tourism, and drive economic growth.”

The initiative will add a second state-supported round-trip train between Roanoke and Boston later this year, and will be extended to the New River Valley upon completion of a new station, track and signal improvements, according to Northam. The agreement also allows for a third train to operate in the future between Roanoke and the New River Valley.

The expanded intercity rail service, designed to create economic benefits and provide additional multimodal options for travelers along the Interstate 81 and Route 29 corridor, is expected to add about 80,000 passengers in the first year after service is extended to the New River Valley, said Northam.

In an agreement with Norfolk Southern, the Commonwealth is acquiring approximately 28 miles of the Norfolk Southern-owned “V line” right-of-way and existing tracks from Christiansburg to the Salem Crossovers, plus a passenger rail easement between the Salem Crossovers and the Amtrak Roanoke station platform. Norfolk Southern will continue to provide freight service on the line.

In addition, Northam said, the Commonwealth will invest in infrastructure improvements between Manassas and the Roanoke Yard to improve the reliability of passenger rail service over Norfolk Southern Railway-owned right-of-way.

The acquisition and infrastructure improvements are partially funded by contributions from the I-81 Corridor Multimodal Improvements Fund, Commonwealth Rail funds, and the General Assembly’s 2021 Transportation Initiatives. The Commonwealth anticipates reaching financial close with Norfolk Southern in mid-2022, according to Northam.

The finalization of the agreement allows construction to advance on rail infrastructure projects along the corridor between Manassas and the New River Valley, resulting in “more frequent and more reliable passenger rail service,” said Northam.

“This agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia is a great example of government and business partnership,” said James A. Squires, Chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern. “Together, we have created a path forward to increase passenger rail service and ensure that freight rail customers continue to move the goods that power our economy. Importantly, this will yield economic dividends from Northern to Southwest Virginia, both through the necessary infrastructure improvements and additional use of the rail lines.”

“The Commonwealth’s historic investment in this region’s passenger rail network is a significant milestone in our commitment to elevating the economic competitiveness of Southwest Virginia,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, who led the legislative effort to launch the first state-supported passenger train anchored in Lynchburg. “This cooperative agreement builds on the highly-successful passenger rail service in the corridor and enhances vital connectivity to the New River Valley with the rest of Virginia, adding additional transportation options for the region’s residents, tourists and college students alike.”

Amtrak regional daily service in southwest Virginia began in October 2009 with one round trip between Lynchburg and Washington, DC. During the first year of operations, ridership more than tripled projections, according to the governor. In November 2017, the Commonwealth expanded service to Roanoke.

Like the current state-supported Roanoke train, the second train, for which service is expected to commence in 2022, will serve Alexandria, Burke Centre, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Roanoke, and travel to and from Washington, DC, and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The agreement also acknowledges the potential for a future station in Bedford.

“VPRA was designed specifically to own and acquire rail infrastructure across the Commonwealth that aligns with Virginia’s transportation goals and policies to advance Virginia businesses, attract a 21st century workforce, and promote healthy communities where Virginians of all ages and abilities can thrive,” said Jennifer Mitchell, VPRA Board Chair. “We value our partnership with Norfolk Southern and look forward to implementing this agreement with them to improve and expand passenger rail service.”

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