FRA approves DRPT’s 2022 Statewide Rail Plan

March 16, 2023
The 2022 Statewide Rail Plan provides long-term guidance for Virginia’s transportation leadership to ensure the Commonwealth’s rail needs for people, communities and commerce are addressed.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) Statewide Rail Plan received approval from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The 2022 Statewide Rail Plan provides long-term guidance for Virginia’s transportation leadership to ensure the Commonwealth’s rail needs for people, communities and commerce are addressed.

Virginia's rail network is a valuable asset that grows the economy, relieves congestion and saves taxpayer money by safely and efficiently moving people and freight within and through the Commonwealth. DRPT oversees programs and initiatives that support freight investments and delivers data-driven planning recommendations and policies for both passenger and freight rail.

The 2022 Statewide Rail Plan is fully digital with interactive features showing the current landscape of rail and the effects of Virginia’s rail investments. The plan introduces a policy framework to guide recommendations, including short- and long-term projects with an assessment of project benefits. DRPT prepares the Statewide Rail Plan every four years in accordance with FRA guidance. DRPT developed the plan in coordination with the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) and aligned it with the goals and objectives of VTrans, the Commonwealth’s multimodal transportation plan.

“The Commonwealth recognizes the need for a long-term vision for passenger and freight projects that will carry its economy and population into the future,” said Jennifer DeBruhl, director of DRPT. “Continued investment in rail infrastructure will ensure the mission and vision of our transportation network is achieved.”

The Commonwealth has made incredible progress with rail since its last statewide plan. Virginia embarked on an ambitious new program to separate freight and passenger rail in its busiest rail corridor and expand passenger rail services in Western Virginia. Known as Transforming Rail in Virginia, this effort has resulted in the newly established VPRA taking ownership of over 400 linear miles of rail right of way for passenger rail expansion.

Since its last Plan, DRPT’s rail programs have generated 13 million rail carloads and diverted 44 million trucks from Virginia’s roadways. By diverting freight and passenger traffic from roadways, Virginia's rail network relieves congestion, improves air quality, helps grow the economy and complements the Virginia highway network while reducing capital and maintenance expenditures.

The Commonwealth plans to make $5.8 billion in passenger rail investments comprising 72 projects and $536 million in freight rail investments comprising 123 projects over the next 20 years. Passenger rail projects include constructing a new two-track span parallel to the Long Bridge to expand freight and passenger train traffic over the Potomac River and expanding passenger rail service from Roanoke to the New River Valley. The investments, which include track construction and rail crossing improvements, will advance the Commonwealth’s transportation goals and ensure safety, security, and resiliency in the rail network.

The Class I railroads in Virginia — Norfolk Southern and CSX — have invested heavily in their networks during the last five years and continue to make capital investments to update existing track and bridges, add new track capacity and improve facility efficiency. The nine short-line railroads have also made a variety of infrastructure improvements and have maintenance and improvement plans.

Last year, DRPT began its Transforming Freight in Virginia initiative to advance goals such as maximizing the capacity and efficiency of Virginia’s transportation network by increasing the percentage of goods moving in and out of the Port of Virginia by rail and leveraging the power of freight rail to enhance economic development in the Commonwealth.

Additionally, Virginia spends approximately $4.7 million per year on highway-rail crossing improvements to enhance safety, transportation, and network fluidity. DRPT conducted a statewide evaluation of existing rail crossings in order to analyze and prioritize potential projects and priority sites, and it has already begun pursuing competitive federal grants.

DRPT and VPRA are working to build upon the planned rail improvements through partnerships with the FRA and neighboring states. The Commonwealth will submit three expressions of interest to the FRA for inclusion into a new federal program that will establish a pipeline of projects ready for funding — allowing them to be implemented faster and with greater coordination than ever before. Those proposals are for the Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C. corridor, expansion of passenger rail to Bristol, Va., and a southwest Virginia to Hampton Roads connection with an east-west passenger rail corridor.

“Virginians deserve a rail system that allows people and goods to get where they need to go quickly and affordably while reducing congestion on our roads and pollution,” DeBruhl said. “The progress and future improvements in the rail network lay the groundwork for Virginia to continue to be a major contributor to the development and economic success of the Commonwealth and nation as a whole.”