New Train Service Recommended from Lynchburg to DC - TransDominion Express


New Train Service Recommended from Lynchburg to DC

Published by the News & Advance

By Ray Reed

A decade of effort by people asking for more passenger train service in Lynchburg moved a step closer to reality Thursday when a state agency recommended funds for a second daily train between Lynchburg and Washington, D.C.

“This is awesome,” Vice Mayor Bert Dodson said.

“What a great way to start the Christmas season,” said Rex Hammond, director of Lynchburg’s Chamber of Commerce.

If the Commonwealth Transportation Board approves the $17 million funding recommendation in January, the first train could roll out of Lynchburg in the fall of 2009, said Jennifer Pickett, spokeswoman for the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The Richmond-to-Washington corridor also would get an additional daily train under the DRPT’s funding proposal.

“For the first time, Virginia will be supporting inter-city passenger rail,” Pickett said.

The deal isn’t closed yet, said Del. Shannon Valentine, D-Lynchburg. She said pending items, in addition to approval from the policy-making CTB, include contracts yet to be signed with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Corp., owners of the rails.

“This is a very important step,” Valentine said after the DRPT announced its funding proposal.

“When you think about what went into getting where we are today, it really has been an incredible effort,” Valentine said.

Twenty-one localities backed the project at the urging of a Charlottesville group, the Piedmont Rail Coalition. In addition, the Committee to Advance the Trans-Dominion Express has worked for about 12 years to add passenger rail service across Virginia.

Lynchburg supporters of the rail service say the Washington-Lynchburg route would be the first step toward establishing the Trans-Dominion Express, which is envisioned as passenger service from Bristol through Roanoke and Lynchburg to Richmond.

Hammond said the group also is trying to coordinate its work with rail officials in Tennessee for connecting service in Bristol.

Pickett said the $17 million would cover train operations on two routes for three years.

The money would come “from state funds available to DRPT,” some of them from the state’s general fund, Pickett said. Localities would not be asked to cover any of the costs at first.

Although DRPT has a dedicated source of state tax dollars to its Rail Enhancement Fund, that money is intended for improving rail lines and can’t be used for train operations, Pickett said.

Details about when the train would operate and whether it would be more than five days per week are still being negotiated with Amtrak and the railroad, Pickett said.

Amtrak marketing officials have said an ideal schedule would have the new train operating one hour earlier than the current Amtrak Crescent train, which passes north through Lynchburg at 6 a.m. and south at 10 p.m. daily.

A 5 a.m. departure would let business travelers arrive in Washington at about 9 a.m., with stops along the way in Charlottesville, Culpeper and possibly other places.

Such a schedule could only be confirmed with the OK of Norfolk Southern. Pickett said the project would require improvements to the tracks’ capacity to handle more trains within the morning and afternoon hours.

The DRPT’s proposal Thursday included this note about a requirement: “Increase capacity for a second train to Lynchburg with construction of a second main-line track between Nokesville and Calverton.” An upgrade there would involve a seven-mile stretch of rail just south of Manassas in Northern Virginia, where NS freight trains currently have to slow down.

Pickett said DRPT would accept public comments on the proposals by e-mail and at several meetings to be held in early January. One of the meetings will occur Tuesday, Jan. 6, in Culpeper at 1601 Orange Road starting at 6 p.m. Another meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 12, in Richmond at 1221 E. Broad St. at 6 p.m.

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Hammond said the chamber and other supporters would need to continue working for train service.

“We’re not there yet,” Hammond said. “But this is still a huge, monumental milestone. We’ve been working on this since 1999 with slow but steady progress.

“And this is big.”

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