Thursday, October 8, 2009

Virginia congestion and rail solutions the topic at O. Winston Link Museum

Senator John Edwards introduces Kevin Page

Senator John Edwards introduces Kevin Page

The audience heard the challenges and the solutions for Virginia’s congested highways in a presentation by Kevin Page, Chief of Rail Transportation. State Senator John Edwards introduced Page.

For an hour and a half Page explained how though the U.S. is an international leader in freight rail it lags behind in passenger rail compared to other countries. The reason being that freight rail is five times more profitable then passenger rail. Rail companies own the tracks and are beholden to their shareholders. There are eight privately owned rail companies in Virginia.

Norfolk Southern represents 60% of the freight hauled in Virginia. Norfolk Southern and CSX are publicly traded.

Page said, “Amtrack usage has been mostly flat … with one million passenger trips per year.”

Vision of High-Speed Rail in America

Vision of High-Speed Rail in America

Kevin Page at O. Winston Link

Kevin Page at O. Winston Link

For those clamoring for passenger rail service they need to understand that at best the return on investment by passenger fee is only 40% of the cost of operation. The rest is subsidized.

“Capacity has become the private commodity when it comes to railroads,” said Page. Return on investment of one mile of tract used for passengers versus freight transport is significantly less – “it’s ridership versus recovery” explained Page.

The VRE (Virginia Rail Express) can’t negotiate for private rails and the cost of building rail lines and acquiring right-of-ways between Washington, DC and Richmond would cost a hefty $2 billion as an example.

Benefits of rail are far reaching – one intermodal train can carry up to 280 truck trailers, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is 21% more energy efficient then auto.

There is potential for high-speed rail reaching 150 mph past Washington DC nonstop to Boston said Page.

How to F-U-N-D was the four-letter word in the room. Governor Mark Warner signed legislation creating the Rail Enhancement Fund on July 1, 2005; the first dedicated revenue stream for investment in rail infrastructure in Virginia’s history. The Fund will support improvements for passenger and freight rail transportation throughout Virginia.

The numbers are staggering – $8 billion in ARRA and $5 Billion in FRA Appropriations is only a small portion and Virginia is competing nationally for these funds but has advantages. Virginia already had agreements in place with railroads and very little right-of-way is needed for most projects.

The Vision of High-Speed Rail in America highlights a strategic plan envisioned by President Obama on April 16. It is the first high-speed requirement under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. DRPT (Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation) applications for funding have been submitted with additional applications for Richmond to Hampton Roads corridor to be submitted in 2010.

The proposal is slated to transform the nation’s transportation system, by rebuilding existing rail infrastructure while launching new high-speed passenger rail similar to interstate highways.

Corridor Projects:

Crescent Corridor– improves freight rail shipping along interstates including I-81 that could support expanded Amtrak service to Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Roanoke and Bristol at a cost of $514.2 million. Projected time is year 2020.

Heartland Corridor– Doubles freight rail capacity in the Route 460 corridor with support for Amtrack passenger service between Washington, DC and Bristol at a cost of $27.7 million. Projected time is year 2021.

I-81/Route 29 Intercity Passenger Rail – would support higher speeds for passenger rail at a cost of $210 million with:

Phase I between Washington DC and Lynchburg that began October 1

Phase II: Lynchburg to Roanoke

Phase III: Roanoke to Bristol

Phase IV: Lynchburg to Richmond

Projected time for completion of capacity and modeling analysis is 2009 with other phases dependent on the results and funding availability.

Southeast High-Speed Rail by year 2013:

Connections between Hampton Roads and Richmond’s Main Street Station to Washington, DC with a possible corridor between Washington, DC and Raleigh, NC at a cost of $1.7 billion.

The next statewide rail plan update in year 2013.

Potential Rail Investment Locations

Potential Rail Investment Locations

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Business, Community

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