Virginia has finalized agreements with Amtrak and CSX to launch a 10-year, $3.7-billion expansion of the state’s freight, commuter, and passenger rail network, including construction of a new Potomac River crossing to relieve a longstanding rail traffic chokepoint.
The partnering agreements, formally signed at a March 30 ceremony outside Washington, D.C., include a $944-million commitment from Amtrak that will fund nearly 30% of the rail expansion program. The remaining funds will come via state and federal funding sources, including the COVID-19 relief package enacted by Congress last December.
In addition to the new bridge, estimated to cost $1.9 billion, Virginia will spend approximately $525 million to acquire 386 miles of railroad right-of-way and 223 miles of track from CSX to support planned new service by Amtrak and the DC-area Virginia Rail Express commuter system, as well as lay the foundation for future passenger rail service to other parts of the state and a Southeast high-speed rail line.
The state will also spend more than $1 billion in additional infrastructure projects in the Richmond-Washington rail corridor, much of which is wide enough to accommodate dedicated double-tracks for both passenger and freight service.
Speaking at the ceremony, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg cited the “collaboration among federal, state and private-sector partners to make this this type of transformational investment, which is exactly what our country needs more of and exactly what our communities deserve.”
Gov. Ralph Northam noted that the initiative “establishes a pathway to separate passenger and freight operations, which will help both run more smoothly and efficiently,” particularly the centerpiece expansion of the nearly 120-year-old Long Bridge. As the sole freight and passenger rail connection between Virginia and the District of Columbia, the 2,528.5-ft two-track through-truss bridge is typically at near-full capacity during peak hours, making it one of the East Coast’s most problematic rail traffic bottlenecks.
Plans call for the new Virginia-owned two-track crossing to be built adjacent to the existing bridge, and restricted to passenger and commuter rail. In addition to easing congestion and improving safety, the state estimates that separate Potomac River rail crossings will translate into greater freight movement efficiency, removing approximately one million trucks from the I-95 corridor annually.
Though no specific timetable for design or construction has been announced, plans call for the new crossing to be in service by 2030. The final environmental impact statement and Federal Railroad Administration record of decision were issued in August 2020.
The capital expansion projects will be administered by the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA), created last year to manage and govern statewide passenger and commuter rail service.