Bristol Herald Courier – March 13, 2023 | By David McGee
The Federal Rail Administration has approved Virginia’s latest Statewide Rail Plan which includes an effort to secure federal funding to expand passenger service to and through Bristol.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation submitted the plan last year. DRPT prepares the Statewide Rail Plan every four years in accordance with FRA guidance, according to a written statement.
DRPT and the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority are working to build upon the planned rail improvements through partnerships with the federal administration and neighboring states, according to the statement.
The Commonwealth will submit three expressions of interest to the FRA for possible inclusion into a new federal program that will establish a pipeline of projects ready for funding — allowing them to be implemented faster and with greater coordination than ever before, according to the statement.
Those proposals include expansion of passenger rail to Bristol, Virginia, a Southwest Virginia to Hampton Roads connection with an east-west passenger rail corridor and for the Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, North Carolina corridor.
All three are currently classified as conceptual, according to the plan.
“Once corridors are selected by FRA under the Corridor ID Program, they will receive a statutory selection preference as part of Federal-State Partnership National funding opportunities,” according to the plan.
Language contained in the plan under Western Corridor states, “DRPT submitted an EOI [expression of interest] for the Washington, D.C. to Bristol, Virginia Corridor to encompass existing state-sponsored passenger rail service between Washington, D.C. and Roanoke, Virginia, planned expansion to the New River Valley region slated to begin operations in 2026, and future expansion through Bristol, Virginia. DRPT is continuing to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation on a potential terminus beyond Bristol for this corridor.”
The Commonwealth Corridor would use the existing connection between Hampton Roads and Richmond, with the concept of installing new track to Charlottesville before connecting the Western Corridor, according to a design included in the plan.
“The Commonwealth recognizes the need for a long-term vision for passenger and freight projects that will carry its economy and population into the future,” Jennifer DeBruhl, the Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said in the statement. “Continued investment in rail infrastructure will ensure the mission and vision of our transportation network is achieved.”
The Commonwealth plans to make $5.8 billion in passenger rail investments comprising 72 projects and $536 million in freight rail investments comprising 123 projects over the next 20 years. Passenger rail projects include constructing a new two-track span parallel to the Long Bridge to expand freight and passenger train traffic over the Potomac River and expanding passenger rail service from Roanoke to the New River Valley. These investments, which include track construction and rail crossing improvements, will advance the Commonwealth’s transportation goals and ensure safety, security, and resiliency in the rail network, according to the statement.
“Virginians deserve a rail system that allows people and goods to get where they need to go quickly and affordably, while reducing congestion on our roads and pollution,” DeBruhl said. “The progress and future improvements in the rail network lay the groundwork for Virginia to continue to be a major contributor to the development and economic success of the Commonwealth and nation as a whole.”