Demonstration Project May Open Door for TDX - TransDominion Express


Demonstration Project May Open Door for TDX


Ira Doom, Barbara Hartley, French Moore, Rex Hammond, and Jay Harrison confer with Meredith Richards and Alan Tobias on the phone at September TDX Committee meeting. Other Committee members outside of camera view.

Heading for the 2005 General Assembly session, the TDX has a great progress report, with Senator Wampler largely responsible for redirecting and re-energizing the statewide rail initiative.

With the purchase of five passenger rail cars from the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), the TDX Steering Committee was faced with several new challenges. Other than the obvious quest for funding and support, the question loomed, how to create an organizational body for contracting and operations. But, while the Committee prepared to grapple with those issues at the September 7 meeting, concern for the proposed “Starter Train” arose from Senator William Wampler (R) of Bristol.

The Senator was distressed by the proposed route for the “Starter Train” as discussed by the Committee at the June meeting, needing assurances that Southwest Virginia would be included in the first phase. Because the project originated from the Bristol Rail Study, it must originate there to ensure legislative support. He was interested in investigating other incremental approaches.

A meeting was arranged with the Senator for October 27 in Bristol. Senator Wampler addressed his eight guests and gave his blessing for the purchase of the five VRE rail cars. He said that that rail connects a large number of his colleagues, and suggested that we leverage any money available and work with Norfolk Southern (NS), giving consideration for indemnification, scheduling, and realistic fares.

Wampler is confident the market exists and that the funding can be found with his help, particularly if we also work in support of the VRE toward a comprehensive rail system serving needs throughout the Commonwealth. He asked what is needed for a pilot or “Demonstration Project.”

For the past two years a NS committee has been studying the passenger potential. After conferring with BNSF in Washington and Oregon they decided to try re-entering the passenger rail business. Building on NS’s previous offer to run the “Starter Train” for us, Karen Rae noted that with NS running the TDX as a Demo Project they’d have a stake in optimizing both passenger and freight. And, since NS now has larger scale reasons to seriously consider the passenger rail business, a TDX Demo Project could serve them on two levels with the potential of all sides winning.

Steve Eisenach noted that combining studies of the I-81corridor, TDX, and VRE gives NS the opportunity for 3-way piggybacking and synergy. This is not a single project competing with others, but the commencement of a real 21st Century paradigm shift in the rail industry.

The group discussed feasible duration for the pilot, lasting anywhere from six to 24 months. Bill Schafer said that expectations for a limited trial run must be carefully managed for viability, with specific attention paid to type of schedule and relative costs of railroad improvements for competition with the automobile.

A new study from Woodside Consultants was suggested. Wasting no time, the study commenced just prior to Thanksgiving, with initial findings to be available for the 2005 General Assembly session. Although received by VDRPT, they were not published in time for inclusion in this edition. The study addresses expenses and other details of track and signal upgrades, optimum run times, appropriate fares, length of demonstration period, and other specifics.

Schafer offered that Bristol to Richmond could be an easier starting point than the Roanoke to DC leg. Initial improvements might be relatively minimal. The less expensive Lynchburg to Richmond leg should compensate for more concentrated expenses in the Bristol-Roanoke segment. Cross-over benefits for the slated I-81 corridor improvements are also being identified.

If we look at one round trip per day, the Demo is further simplified. Because the Demo would not need the Richmond/DC transfer point. The push/pull equipment planned for the Lynchburg to Richmond leg would not be necessary. Instead of pulling into Lynchburg’s Kemper Street station, we might temporarily create a parking lot and station along US-460 at the city’s edge.

By practicing good stewardship and management, the Demo can build consumer demand and define realistic expectations. The return on investment will benefit both passenger and freight rail.

This turn of events creates a great opportunity to improve relations between the Commonwealth and the railroad. Schafer said the railroads are evolving with a new generation of leadership. NS’s new president, Wick Moorman, supports working with Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states on public/private partnership initiatives. Schafer also credited Rae for enabling this.

Rae added that NS is at the cutting edge of railroad reform, and told Wampler that he could help with the multi-state challenge to make similar investments for regional corridors, putting support of the legislative body behind rail projects. A bipartisan, national, multi-state push will be required to apply pressure for federal funding for rail initiatives.

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