The commonwealth of Virginia, Amtrak, commuter rail Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) have formally dedicated themselves to take part in a $3.7 billion effort to divide passenger and freight rail traffic in Virginia and improve traffic flows between the Northeast and Southeast corridors.
The public-private partnership, dubbed “Transforming Rail in Virginia,” seeks to alleviate the choke point that passenger and freight rail trains encounter when passing from Washington into Virginia.
The choke point is because the Long Bridge, owned by CSX, is the only bridge that passenger and freight trains can pass through, and it reaches up to 98% capacity in peak hours. The partnership will support the construction of a $1.9 billion bridge over the Potomac River for passenger rail. CSX will continue to use the existing bridge.
The partnership also calls for acquiring 386 miles of railroad right-of-way and 223 miles of track from CSX. The commonwealth of Virginia will also invest more than $1 billion in additional infrastructure improvements across the state. These efforts will allow Virginia to expand Amtrak and VRE services, create a pathway for the separation of freight and passenger rail in Virginia and preserve future rail corridors, according to a release from Gov. Ralph Northam.
Specifically, Virginia will acquire from CSX half of the rail corridor right-of-way from Washington to Petersburg, Virginia, the full extent of CSX ownership from Petersburg to Ridgeway, North Carolina, and the entire corridor from Doswell to Clifton Forge, Virginia.
According to Northam, with the exception of Ashland, this right-of-way from Washington to Richmond is wide enough to construct a four-track corridor, with two tracks dedicated to passenger rail. When fully built out, the corridor will enable separate passenger and freight movement.
The CSX agreement also defines the roles and responsibilities of the parties supporting the 10-year build-out of the infrastructure improvements, according to Northam.
The improvements are expected to expand Amtrak and commuter rail service, lay a foundation for a high-speed rail corridor in the Southeast and facilitate a possible expansion of passenger rail to other areas of the state.
Amtrak is investing $944 million in the partnership and VRE is committing $200 million. Federal grants could also support the 10-year initiative, according to congressional testimony from Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.
CSX will benefit from the partnership’s initiatives as well through improved freight flows stemming from the new bridge and broader efforts to separate passenger and freight operations between Richmond and Washington.
It also could indirectly benefit the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads since more freight trains would potentially be able to service the port.
“CSX is pleased to finalize this innovative agreement with the commonwealth of Virginia that will benefit both passenger rail service and our freight rail customers,” CSX President and CEO Jim Foote said in a release. “CSX appreciates the collaboration with Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the support of our federal partners, and we look forward to implementing the agreement that addresses commuter traffic challenges in the I-95 corridor while preserving and enhancing our ability to grow freight volumes safely and efficiently.”
While the partnership has been in existence for some time, Tuesday’s announcement formalizes the commitment of the various parties. Indeed, the partnership has been praised by government officials for how Amtrak, a state, and commuter rail and freight rail interests can work together — with the potential help of federal grants — to address passenger and freight rail needs within a region.
For more information about the Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative, click here.