New U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Congressman Don Beyer (D-Virginia-08) joined Governor Ralph Northam at Alexandria’s Amtrak station Tuesday. Northam announced a partnership with Amtrak, CSX and the Virginia Rail Express (VRE). The partnership includes a $3.7 billion investment into expanding infrastructure, funded by Amtrak, state, and regional partners.
“Today, we’re celebrating a major, major milestone in our work to make it easier for people and goods to move around Virginia and up and down our east coast,” Northam said in the press conference. “We are finalizing the agreements needed to move forward with a tremendous project — our $3.7 billion Transforming Rail in Virginia Initiative.”
“This transformative plan will make travel faster, and safer,” he said. “It will connect urban and rural Virginia.”
An accompanying press release states, “Over the next ten years, this unique partnership will: double Virginia-supported Amtrak trains providing nearly hourly service; increase VRE commuter service by 60 percent; lay the foundation for a Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor; preserve an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge for future east-west passenger service; and create the potential to expand rail to all parts of the Commonwealth.”
As part of the partnership, Amtrak has committed to a $944 million investment for necessary improvements. It is also entering a partnership as Virginia’s exclusive provider of intercity passenger rail service, with six new state-supported daily round trips. Through the agreement, Virginia will acquire from CSX 223 miles of track.
“We’re marking a collaboration among federal, state, and private-sector partners to make this type of transformational investment that is exactly what our country needs more of, and exactly what our communities deserve,” Buttigieg said at the press conference. He also highlighted $43.2 billion in the American Rescue Plan to help Amtrak bring back furloughed employees and restore service to closed routes.
The Transforming Rail initiative will allow for the construction of a $1.9 billion passenger rail bridge over the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., addressing a current bottleneck.
In the press release, Beyer said, “Northern Virginia is at the crossroads of the Mid-Atlantic rail network, where the existing Long Bridge is the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to Washington, D.C., creating a choke point for rail traffic between the Southeast and Northeast.”
He said the new bridge is expected to bring in $6 billion per year in benefits by 2040.
Beyer also drew attention from conservative social media by praising Northam. “Governor Northam has led the most forward-looking Virginia ever, with real progress on our original sin of racism, and with the abolition of the death penalty,” he said in the press conference.
Other legislators also offered praise for the Transforming Rail initiative.
“Virginia’s First Congressional District includes one of the nation’s worst traffic hotspots: the I-95 corridor in Northern Virginia and Fredericksburg,” Congressman Rob Wittman, (R-Virginia-01) said in the press release. Wittman touted his participation with other legislators to pass The Long Bridge Act of 2020.
“These improvements will improve the commutes of Virginians who rely on the VRE and Amtrak to travel throughout D.C., Northern Virginia, and Fredericksburg,” Wittman said. “Finalizing these agreements will also increase the Port of Virginia’s rail network capacity, which needs to increase by 45 percent before 2040 in order to handle a threefold increase in shipments. Transforming Rail in Virginia is an important step towards rebuilding America’s transportation infrastructure.”
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