Ridership in these COVID times is way, way down – and there is no sure timetable for when, or if, it may rebound – but state officials are placing a bet that Virginia Railway Express (VRE) will be more needed than ever once the pandemic pandemonium subsides.
Proposed funding to support an up-to-60-percent increase in the commuter-rail service was part of a $3.7 billion statewide transportation package announced March 30 by Gov. Northam.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined Northam at the event, held at Alexandria’s Amtrak/VRE station.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a 21st-century rail system,” Northam said at the event, which also included representatives from Amtrak and CSX Transportation. “We are making critical investments that will fundamentally transform our transportation infrastructure, delivering long-term economic benefits for our workers and communities as we rebound from the pandemic and into the future.”
The partnering agreements support the construction of a $1.9 billion bridge over the Potomac River dedicated exclusively to passenger rail, acquisition of 386 miles of railroad right-of-way and 223 miles of track from CSX, and funding to support additional Amtrak service.
The new two-track Potomac River bridge, to be located next to the Long Bridge (which currently accommodates both passenger and freight traffic), long has been sought by proponents of rail service as a prerequisite for expansion.
VRE officials have long hoped to move beyond current service, which brings commuters from the outer suburbs to the inner suburbs and District of Columbia weekday mornings and reverses the process in the afternoon. Two-way travel and weekend service are among the ultimate goals.
Virginia Railway Express has seen its commuter routes decimated by upwards of 90 percent during the pandemic. But the agency’s CEO, Rich Dalton, said the proposed funding would help the transportation network evolve to meet the needs of a post-COVID world.
“These are exciting times for commuter rail in Virginia,” Dalton said.