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FRA OKs Virginia Rail Plan

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor | Railway Age

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s (DRPT) 2022 Statewide Rail Plan has received approval from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

The Statewide Rail Plan is prepared every four years in accordance with FRA guidance, according to DRPT, which oversees programs and initiatives that support freight investments and delivers planning recommendations and policies for both passenger and freight rail. The fully digital 2022 version was developed with the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA); aligned with the goals and objectives of VTrans, the commonwealth of Virginia’s multi-modal transportation plan; and offers a policy framework to guide recommendations, including short- and long-term projects with an assessment of project benefits. DRPT reported on March 13. It follows the draft plan’s release last fall for public comment.

Since the 2018 plan, DRPT said Virginia has “embarked on an ambitious new program to separate freight and passenger rail in its busiest rail corridor and expand passenger rail services in Western Virginia.” Known as Transforming Rail in Virginia, this effort has resulted in the newly established VPRA taking ownership of more than 400 linear miles of rail right-of-way for passenger rail expansion. Additionally, DRPT said its rail programs have generated 13 million rail carloads and diverted 44 million trucks from Virginia’s roadways. “By diverting freight and passenger traffic from roadways, Virginia’s rail network relieves congestion, improves air quality, helps grow the economy, and complements the Virginia highway network while reducing capital and maintenance expenditures,” according to the department.

Over the next 20 years, the commonwealth of Virginia plans to invest $5.8 billion in passenger rail comprising 72 projects, and $536 million in freight rail comprising 123 projects, DRPT reported. Passenger rail projects include constructing a new two-track span parallel to the Long Bridge to increase freight and passenger rail traffic over the Potomac River and expanding passenger rail service from Roanoke to the New River Valley. The department noted that these investments, which include track construction and highway/rail grade crossing improvements, “will advance the commonwealth’s transportation goals and ensure safety, security and resiliency in the rail network.”

According to DRPT, Norfolk Southern and CSX “have invested heavily” in their networks over the past five years and continue to make capital investments to update existing track and bridges, add new track capacity, and improve facility efficiency. Additionally, the nine short lines in the commonwealth have also improved infrastructure and have maintenance and improvement plans.

DRPT reported that Virginia spends approximately $4.7 million per year on crossing improvements, and has conducted an evaluation of existing crossings to analyze and prioritize potential projects and priority sites; it has already begun pursuing competitive federal grants.

“DRPT and VPRA are working to build upon the planned rail improvements through partnerships with the FRA and neighboring states,” DRPT reported. “The commonwealth will submit three expressions of interest to the FRA for 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. Those proposals are for the Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C., corridor; expansion of passenger rail to Bristol, Va.; and a Southwest Virginia to Hampton Roads connection with an east-west passenger rail corridor.”

“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,” said Jennifer DeBruhl, who was appointed last summer as DRPT Director. “Continued investment in rail infrastructure will ensure the mission and vision of our transportation network is achieved.”

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