TransDominion Express Prepares for “Starter Train” - TransDominion Express


TransDominion Express Prepares for “Starter Train”

The Committee to Advance the TransDominion Express (TDX) has two important announcements!

  1. Two members of the Steering Committee for the TransDominion Express have been named to serve on the board of directors for the Governor’s Commission on Rail Enhancement for the 21st Century, which Governor Warner created following the General Assembly’s failure to create a statewide rail authority during two consecutive sessions of intense debate. The two appointees are:
    1. Dr. French H. Moore, Jr., Vice Mayor of Abingdon, retired dentist, and Chairman of the Committee to Advance the TransDominion Express.
    2. Meredith M. Richards, Vice Mayor, City of Charlottesville.
  2. TDX announces an exciting development in its plans to move ahead with a “starter train,” while it progresses toward later building the complete, state-of-the-art system.


French Moore, Chairman of the TDX Steering Committee at podium.

Karen Rae, Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) met with the TDX Steering Committee on June 22, 2004, to discuss an exciting opportunity to jump-start the proposed passenger rail service which has been pressing forward for the past several years for modern passenger rail service. Ken White, representing the Lynchburg Planning District on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, has been very supportive of this initiative and was in attendance. Representatives from economic development, Norfolk Southern, Inc., and other policy making groups were also present when the TDX Steering Committee voted to move ahead with the measure to purchase five passenger rail cars, as an incremental initiative, to literally get the project “on track” with forward momentum.


Facing the camera are Bill Thompson from Marion, VA; Bruce Wingo – Resident VP of Public Affairs for Norfolk Southern; Karen Rae – Director of the Virginia Dept. of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT).

The cars became available from the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), which Rae called “the crown jewel of commuter rail,” because of its success which has far surpassed original ridership expectations. VRE was poised to sell a number of single level rail cars to Connecticut in order to replace them with double-deckers. The original plan was to send 38 (including locomotives) cars to Connecticut, which needs them for about 2 ½ years, while it awaits arrival of its new equipment, which is on order. Rae, with the help of other VRE Board members, was able to intercede and hold five passenger cars for TDX’s starter train, additionally, reserving the right of first refusal to purchase the remaining cars back from Connecticut when it replaces them with the new vehicles.

“This isn’t the fix, but it can be a critical piece to get started,” Rae explained. The cars will require refitted interiors. The cars, which are approximately 12 years old, can be purchased with a portion of TDX’s remaining $9.1 million in Virginia Transportation Authority funds, currently being held in reserve for capital expenses. New rail cars normally sell for about $2 million each. The purchase price for the used cars would be between $300K-$400K, costing the TDX structure about $2 million.

VDRPT and Norfolk Southern have agreed on a scope that will define realistic costs for incremental starts of this service.

As exciting as this news is, the TDX group realizes there is still a major challenge. The most recent cost figures for completion of the entire system is approximately $120 million, not including train sets. Even though the price tag of the “starter train” would be a small fraction of that already modest cost, significantly more money than is currently available is needed to make this project a reality. No identified sources have been determined. Efforts similar to those used to obtain the initial $9.3 million will ensue, seeking monetary and political support from communities to be served, grant opportunities, and lobbying state and federal sources.

Norfolk Southern has taken the groundbreaking step of offering to supply and operate the locomotives for the starter train. Steve Eisenach, Director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships for Norfolk Southern, has agreed to research cost and time required to refurbish the VRE cars. Rae praised Norfolk Southern for being nearly alone in the field of offering this win/win solution for passenger and freight rail. They are also looking for a “cost plus” situation.

There is much work to be done before the cars roll through Lynchburg, the system’s proposed hub, however. While this action moves the TDX from a “concept” to an active “project,” it also requires a new governing structure, capable of contracting, to manage the new service. The TDX Steering Committee has begun researching the most efficient potential structure for the multi-jurisdictional TDX governing body. With TDX’s new status, locating funding apparatus is expected to become an elevated priority with greater and more immediate potential.

Based on the 1998 Bristol Rail Passenger Study, conducted by VDRPT, the full TransDominion Express system will connect Southwestern Virginia with Washington, D.C. and Richmond, with its hub in Lynchburg, using existing tracks owned largely by Norfolk Southern, Inc. Depending on operational funding made available, the starter train would travel to the D.C. terminus, originating either in Roanoke or Bristol. Rae said the Roanoke to Bristol segment of track is the most expensive to upgrade because of disinvestments over the years. Due to the unresolved High Bridge issue in Farmville, the Lynchburg to Richmond leg will likely be built after the D.C. leg is established.

The ultimate plan remains, to complete the system with several daily bi-directional trains comprised of state-of-the-art passenger cars and locomotives, with all of the amenities for comfortable, efficient, accessibly priced, and on-time travel across the state. This new development is expected to increase monetary and other support, noting the preference to support a system already in existence, than to sustain support for even a most worthy concept. Intermodality and meaningful travel connectivity will be pivotal to the service’s success.

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