Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer: A New Perspective - TransDominion Express


Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer: A New Perspective

Former Secretary of Transportation, Whitt Clement, was a great help to the TDX’s recent progress. When he stepped down at the end of March 2005, many transportation advocates wondered how this might affect the course of their efforts. But, it took only a simple phone call to our new Secretary, the Honorable Pierce Homer, to arrange a meeting to solidify and redefine expectations.

In April, Homer hosted a meeting with TDX Chairman, French Moore; VDRPT Director, Karen Rae; and TDX Liaison Barbara Hartley. Understanding that he will probably be holding the office for a very limited time, Homer urged that the TDX accomplish certain goals before the change of administrations next January, and offered his personal expertise in specific areas. He strongly urged that we build for the administrative transition and end the year with some agreements and commitments in hand.

The Secretary suggested that our primary concern, currently should be the establishment of an official governing body. Because he was part of Virginia Railways Express’s (VRE) establishment, asking that emerging organization the hard questions needed for a good start, he can lend his experience in formulating the TDX governance board. He suggested that there might be several types of entities from which to choose, and he offered advice as to where to find attorneys and consultants with pertinent experience.

Homer said the harder question is, “How will you make it work?” Getting a governance structure in place and formulating a budget plan will give us much better positioning to then consider the liability issues that have always been a major concern of Norfolk Southern. It will also give us a better footing to consider operational costs and the active participation of the local governments in the plan for raising matching funds. Homer said he felt the capital funding would fall into place, but because of intense competition for the available money, the real serious work would be on the operations side.

Homer questioned Rae about other considerations needed before the TDX Demo could run. Among other things, Rae said the Main Street Station access would require some CSX track work. And, she said that we must press Norfolk Southern on a price to operate. They have not been more specific than to quote “cost plus.”

VRE cars. Homer also suggested a change in the acquisition of the five VRE cars, currently on hold for the TDX. Instead of finalizing their purchase immediately, he requested that Director Rae pursue other means of protecting those assets for us so that the cash outlay for them will be closer to the time when we are ready to deploy them.

Rae indicated that the cars were actually still in use by the VRE, so there was no immediate need to offload them. However, because VRE needs to raise capital, this will not long be the case.

Homer and Rae acknowledged that the AMTRAK question was still looming for all rail proponents. If the federal government does not fund it, repercussions to the Commonwealth could be devastating, and not just to the TDX. Although the House has now reinstated the Amtrak funding, there is still a Senate vote to get through.

In the meantime, Homer and Rae agreed to a meeting with persons who might guide us through the PPTA process (for matching funds).

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