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Virginia seeking more federal grants to carry out rail vision, including Richmond-Raleigh fast trains

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A $58 million federal grant will put high-speed rail on a fast track between Richmond and Raleigh, N.C., but Virginia is fishing for bigger funding opportunities to carry out a $3.7 billion passenger rail plan that depends on construction of a second two-track bridge over the Potomac River to Washington, D.C.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority is seeking a $300 million grant to help begin construction of the new rail span next to Long Bridge across the Potomac between Alexandria and Washington, allowing two tracks each for passenger and freight trains that now share the 118-year-old bridge.

The $2 billion project is projected to be complete by 2030, enabling almost hourly passenger train service between Washington and Richmond — both at Staples Mill Station in Henrico County and Main Street Station downtown.

The transformation of the old Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad corridor also is connected to expanding passenger service to Southwest Virginia and to Raleigh as part of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor.

“Virginia is really the connector in these larger rail networks,” said Gerica Goodman, spokeswoman for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority. “Long Bridge is where they start.”

The authority applied for the grant for Richmond-to-Raleigh project last November to begin designing a new passenger rail system on the old S-Line on 162 miles of right of way, including 75 miles that Virginia purchased from CSX last year between the Ettrick Station near Petersburg and Ridgeway, N.C.

North Carolina is poised to purchase the remaining portion of the line between Ridgeway and Raleigh, using another $47.5 million grant it received two years ago, according to the News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh.

The grant, announced in North Carolina last week by the Federal Rail Administration, will allow the two states to work on the project design, which will determine its ultimate cost and the timeline for completing a rail network to carry passenger trains at speeds up to 110 mph.

“We don’t know exactly what the timeline looks like,” Goodman said at the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority. “North Carolina is ready and raring to go.”

The grant will help unlock a critical link in the development of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor, which would connect in Richmond to passenger rail service — at lower train speeds — to Washington and the heavily used Northeast rail corridor.

“It’s a huge shot in the arm,” said Joe McAndrew, vice president of government affairs and infrastructure at the Greater Washington Partnership, a corporate-led organization advocating for transportation and other public policy in a region stretching from Richmond to Baltimore.

But the bigger prize remains construction of a new railroad span at Long Bridge, which is the centerpiece of the $3.7 billion passenger rail plan that then-Gov. Ralph Northam first proposed in late 2019 with CSX and Amtrak Corp.

Virginia applied to the Federal Transit Administration last August to designate $3.2 billion in projects in Northern Virginia as a “core capacity project” for future federal funding to help build the new bridge and 11 other projects between Richmond and the Potomac.

Those projects including building a third track between Franconia and Lorton in Fairfax County; a fourth track between Alexandria and Union Station in Washington; a Franconia-Springfield bypass to allow passenger trains to cross the Potomac upriver of the existing bridge; and a third track siding in Hanover County. Under the plan, Virginia would build 37 miles of new track in the corridor.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority said it expects the project to begin engineering in November and receive a full funding agreement by 2025 to complete the work by 2030.

The work is separate from three other projects that are part of passenger rail agreement that Northam completed last year with CSX and Amtrak.

Those projects include the construction of track for high-speed rail to North Carolina on the old S-Line, as well as allowing passenger train traffic on the CSX A-Line for 30 miles between Richmond and Ettrick Station. The state also purchased 173 miles of right of way and 186 miles of track from CSX on the old Buckingham Branch Line between Doswell, in Hanover, and Clifton Forge in western Virginia.

“They are all interconnected,” Goodman said at the authority. “It all goes back to Long Bridge.”


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