Virginia, VRE, CSX and Amtrak sign expansive rail investment agreement

March 31, 2021
The $3.7 billion Transforming Rail in Virginia plan is designed to boost the commonwealth’s economy while enhancing movement of both passenger and freight trains.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, along with transportation leaders from the commonwealth, as well as leaders from Amtrak, CSX and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, celebrated what Gov. Northam called a “tremendous project” and signed agreements that will deliver rail improvements across the commonwealth.

The $3.7 billion Transforming Rail in Virginia plan will improve mobility and increase both passenger and freight rail capacity through a series of infrastructure improvements. Gov. Northam noted the improvements that will be delivered through the plan will connect rural and urban Virginia, as well as improve travel up and down the East Coast of the U.S.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a 21st century rail system in Virginia and along the entire East Coast,” said Gov. Northam. “This historic initiative will help get people and goods where they need to go more efficiently, reduce congestion and pollution and create a more inclusive economy. Together with our partners at Amtrak, CSX and [Virginia Railway Express], we are making critical investments that will fundamentally transform our transportation infrastructure, delivering long-term economic benefits for our workers and communities as we rebound from the pandemic and into the future.”

The finalization of the agreements will allow construction to advance on significant rail infrastructure projects in Virginia, including:

  • Construction of a $1.9 billion bridge over the Potomac River dedicated to passenger rail;
  • Acquisition of 386 miles of railroad right-of-way and 223 miles of track from CSX; and
  • An investment of more than $1 billion in additional infrastructure improvements by the commonwealth.

These investments, which include $200 million from VRE and $944 million from Amtrak over the next 10 years, 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.

Over the next 10 years, this 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.

One of the key projects of the plan is the Long Bridge, which was built in 1904 and is owned by CSX. The current two-track bridge is at 98 percent capacity during peak times as it is the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to the District of Columbia. The new Long Bridge will consist of a dedicated passenger rail bridge over the Potomac, as well as an independent pedestrian and bicycle bridge to ensure personal mobility, while the existing bridge will remain exclusively for freight rail use.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA), created in 2020 through legislation, will manage statewide passenger and commuter rail service, as well as administer capital expansion projects, infrastructure and land acquisitions related to the Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative.

Virginia is turning to rail as a solution to combat congestion. The commonwealth, specifically Northern Virginia, is expected to grow significantly during the next 25 years. The commonwealth references a recent study that found adding a single lane in each direction for 50 miles on I-95 would take a decade to complete, cost $12.5 billion and result in an interstate that is just as congested as it is currently. The commonwealth says rail will offer the needed relief at a third of the cost and the positive impacts will expand beyond Virginia to the eastern seaboard.

“This initiative represents a historic achievement in expanding and improving the performance of rail transportation,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.

Before the official signing took place, Sec. Valentine noted, “Today, rail reaches 77 percent of Virginia and 88 percent of jobs, in other words, not enough.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.