A Bipartisan Push for Rail in Virginia Produces Ridership Successes

» An expanding rail network in Virginia serves more customers and demonstrates that the public will come when new and better train service is offered.

Despite the significant opposition to investment in intercity rail from Republican governors in states from Ohio to Florida, Virginia’s GOP leadership has taken a considerably different course. In office since January 2010, Bob McDonnell has presided over a significant expansion in Amtrak routes — and more is expected by the end of this year. In the meantime, the state’s population has gobbled up the service offered, seeing very significant increases in ridership, offering considerable evidence that Americans are perfectly willing to take the train — if the right routes are provided.

Amtrak service to the state capital at Richmond and points further south via services such as the Carolinian, Palmetto, and Silver Meteor/Silver Star has been offered for decades, as has a line to Newport News, which serves as an extension of the Northeast Regional route that serves cities as far north as Boston.

But in 2009, thanks to an agreement between Amtrak and the State of Virginia (under former Democratic governor Tim Kaine), new service was opened between Washington and Lynchburg, via Culpepper and Charlottesville, offering rail to the western sections of the state. Later this year, another route will be opened, adding Amtrak services to Norfolk as part of the Virginia intercity rail mix. Though the project, which cost $115 million in line upgrades, will provide only one daily round trip to Washington (in four and a half hours), two more are planned if the state can secure an additional $75 million for the purpose. Federal rail grants, which are now impossible to get because of a deadlock on transportation funding in Washington, would be very helpful.

As seen in the chart below, Amtrak ridership has increased steadily over the past three years on many major state-supported Amtrak routes. The Keystone Corridor, a route between Philadelphia and Harrisburg that I profiled in 2009, has continued to see major gains in ridership, increasing its monthly ridership in May from about 100,000 to more than 120,000. Much of that improvement is likely due to increased service frequencies and faster trains introduced as part of a capital investment partnership between the State of Pennsylvania and Amtrak.

In terms of percentage change in ridership, however, routes like the Keystone are expanding ridership only about as quickly as the system as a whole, or about 20% since 2009. As shown in the chart below, other routes have seen far higher increases in ridership, notably in Virginia and North Carolina. Since 2009, trains to Newport News have increased their passenger counts by more than 60% and those running to and through North Carolina (the Carolinian and Piedmont) by almost 80%. Since 2010, the first year for which data is available, Amtrak trains to Lynchburg have increased their ridership by more than 60% as well. Investments in improved Amtrak services appear to be producing beneficial results.

Though the Amtrak trains to Norfolk will start off with very limited service, the service seems likely to be popular in a state with such a record of late. Norfolk’s new light rail line — the Tide — stops at the future rail station, and it has seen higher ridership than estimated. Its 4,800 daily users far exceed initial predictions of 2,900 a day. With a lengthening of that route into Virginia Beach now being considered, access to Amtrak service will be even more convenient to thousands more.

In addition to the planned increase in service frequency, Virginia hopes to invest further in its intercity rail portfolio. It has already spent $370 million on the upgrade of the line between Richmond and Washington, and it hopes to extend the spur to Newport News further south to serve that city’s downtown. But the biggest proposal on the books is a significant improvement in service further south, into North Carolina, as part of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Project. Tolls on I-95 have been mentioned to help pay for that project (though they have seen significant opposition from some), and indeed some source of funding is necessary if the project is to be under construction within a year, as is technically possible.

But without additional federal funding, the likelihood of real rail improvement projects actually being implemented is limited at best.

Image at top: Map of planned Norfolk-Richmond rail services, from Virginia DRPT

84 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Ned

    Bipartisan support for Amtrak is limited in Virginia. McDonnell continues to emphasise highways in his state transpo dollar allocations. Though he does give small amounts to transit.

    • Owen

      Limited support is better than plain opposition which is the rule in many parts of the country (and seems to be becoming the rule in North Carolina, sadly.)

      • Nathanael

        In this case, I expect the current Republican hostility to trains in North Carolina to mainly rebound to the benefit of Democrats; North Carolina seems to like its trains. This means in a couple of years the Republican electeds in NC will probably go back to supporting trains as they did previously. NC has been *very* consistent about actually putting its own money into rail service, and it’s been paying off very reliably with lots of riders.

    • Kevin C

      I think it is notable that you have Republican elected officials (Mayor of Virginia Beach) and former US Rep (Thema Drake..now secretary of VDOT) who are making a serious effort to keep these rail initiatives alive and identify funding.

      And pause to ponder that Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University offering to build a new Lynchburg Station for Amtrak on its campus. They were quietly turned down because it would require a backing move to continue on to Roanoke…but, hey! it explains how, at least in Virginia, the right has its train fans too.

      The Republican take seems to be 1) Mobility is an issue that the party in power has to address because swing voters in congested suburbs/near-urbs care about it 2) Rail can be cost-effective and pro-business, esp if the freight RRs like it 3) If fed funds are available (from FL and WI) they’ll deploy it. And finally, it helps that ridership (and finances) are running well ahead of projections.

      Dems and Reps may differ on which is at the core of constituent service (prioritizing rail vs prioritizing roads, respectively) but the point is that rail has continued to advance under both parties (with Dems moving it *faster* but Reps moving it nonetheless).

      • Nathanael

        Indeed. While some Virginia Republican leaders seem to be anti-rail, a *lot* of prominent ones are *not*. This is a sharp contrast to the nonsense we saw in 2010 nationwide, especially in Ohio. (To be fair, the WI and FL governors have been furiously backpedaling ever since throwing away their rail grants; ‘main street’ Republicans, as opposed to Republican leadership, may support trains in many places.)

        • AlanB

          Nathanael,

          One reason that Florida’s Governor Scott has been busy backpedaling is that 16 Republican State Senators joined with 10 Democratic State Senators to form a veto proof majority in rebuking him for his foolish decision to reject the HSR monies.

          It’s not every day that a majority of your own party members cross the aisle to join with members of the other party to rebuke you.

          That was after they took him to court to try and force him to spend the money (technically just sign the check) and worked with Sec. Trans. Ray LaHood to see if they could find a way to circumvent the Governor and keep the project alive.

          So if he wants to get anything done down there, he needs to remember that the Republicans wanted that HSR money and he blew it!

    • Ocean Railroader

      As a rail suporter I’m shocked at how much he does suport to rail and even talks about it has a sucess story of expanding rail service in VA. I like how he doesn’t go after it like it is evil like the Tea Party Crazes. I really think if he was picked for Vice Presdent he would be very good at it.

      At least with him building these new muti billion dollar highway projects like a new US Route 460 down the same path it is at least going to be a new limited acess toll road and not a new freeway. But I really think we should all write in to Vdot and ask him and Vdot to build a new rail bed down the center of the new limited acess US Route 460 so that we can raise existing Amtrak train speeds to 110 and 125 miles on hour with room for future Pennsyvinia NEC Catenary to raise those speeds to 180 to 200 miles on hour on the new passanger line running down the center of the new US Route 460 toll road.

  • Kevin C

    Great overview. Thanks for this! I didn’t know about Newport News’ plans for a bigger station, but think I found a better link for the NPN: one from the Hampton Roads TPO (which says they’re prioritizing a “multimodal” station at Bland Blvd (near the lesser-used PHF Airport and 9 miles further from downtown). A 2011 article said the proposal was to then build a “self service” terminus at 30th St in downtown NPN. Here is a Google Map showing all 3 station locations (the current station is in the middle)

  • Billy Bob

    While it is nice to see the state moving along, I judge it as moving from diddly squat to middling.

    I live in VA (NOVA) and would much likely take the train north rather than south. Frequency just doesn’t seem all that convienient yet.

    • tbert

      Bob, are you talking about living somewhere along the VRE corridor and not having non-commuting options? I also lived in NoVa, and commuted via VRE along the Fredricksburg line, and often wished for improved weekend/holiday options.

      • Billy Bob

        I am referring to Amtrak service primarily Acela and Northeast Corridor service.

        It is much more frequent than most other service in that you can plan a trip around it and not be hobbled or staggared for time.

        VRE service could use a boost too though. In Philly I can take SEPTA regional rail service to northern suburbs on hourly headways on the weekend. VRE and Maryland’s MARC don’t even HAVE weekend service.

        It would help out a lot when people want to come see Nats or Skins games frankly.

  • AlanF

    It should be pointed out that Charlottesville (CVS) and Lynchburg have long had service via the Crescent long distance train to Atlanta & New Orleans. CVS and western VA also get service from the 3 days a week Cardinal. The established demand for a limited number of available seats on the Crescent to CVS and Lynchburg were critical to getting the support to extend a NE Regional to Lynchburg. Since the route had established Amtrak passenger service with stations, the costs of extending the Regional were very modest. I think the largest capital costs were building a storage track at Lynchburg and replacing worn-out track at the Lynchburg station.

    The growth in ridership for the Lynchburger, one of the informal nickname for the train has been very impressive. Reports are that VA DRPT and Amtrak are in discussions on adding a second daily NE Regional extension to Lynchburg. The success should help get the funding to extend the NE Regionals to Roanoke in a few years. Which will provide service near to VA Tech which will be a big hit.

    • Nathanael

      I have been told that the limiting factors on further Amtrak frequencies in Virginia are availability of traincars and capacity between Alexandria and DC Union Station. So far all the Virginia extensions have been extensions of existing Regionals, but there’s only so much slack in the turnaround schedule at DC before they start needing more equipment. And the DC-Alexandria tracks are busy, and they aren’t owned by Amtrak, making slots expensive.

      • Kevin C

        My understanding was there was one final morning passenger-rail slot available from CSX for the Alexandria-WAS crossing (it is currently “held” and not used by Virginia Railway Express). I think it would make possible starting Amtrak 184 at something like 5am in LYH and would give both LYH and CVS a train that would get into WAS at 8:40a and leave for NYP at 9:10a.(and arrive NYP at noonish)

      • tbert

        Looking at Google Maps (unsure how out-of-date the imaging is, though), there’s definitely room for a 4th track from the Alexandria station to the Potomac, where there appears to be a 2-track bridge, and not a lot of room to fix that on the DC side, as there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to shunt rail traffic nicely while replacing that bridge with another with a higher capacity.

        Is there anyone with more real knowledge of the situation that can enlighten this conversation?

        • Kevin C

          Correct. Nobody wants to pay for a new bridge, so CSX rations access across (and there isn’t much upside to adding tracks elsewhere so long as the bridge is 2 track). Other constraints include overlay space at Union Station and the inability to run through-service (like MARC to Alexandria or VRE to New Carrolton/College Park).

          • tbert

            Do you mean that there’s no through-tracking? If so, how do the current Va. extensions of the Northeastern services get into Va from DC? Or am I just being really ignorant of the situation here?

            And, in a separate question, what would it take to add a 3rd track across the Potomac?

            • Kevin C

              There is a 30minute (or more) hold northbound at Union Station not because the tracks are discontinuous, but rather to (1) swap diesel loco for electric and (2)as schedule buffer to ensure that any delayed train from Virginia can still be an ontime NEC Regional and go at as close to 9:10a as possible (10 minutes after Acela’s 9a)

              A 5am LYH train could become an ideal 7am CVS train (where a big block of travel $ originate) and would arrive at 8:40a. This would be 20 minutes ahead of the Crescent…a good thing..so far, the Crescent has been happy to be a premium-price train and to displace “local” demand onto the lower-priced Lynchburger (whose single frequency today runs an hour later than the Crescent)and make room for more overnight passengers from Charlotte and points south.

              You have a 2-track Manassas line and a (at that point) 3 track Richmond line converge on Alexandria and then turn into just 2 tracks by the time they reach CSX’s “Long Bridge” (part of the 14th St Bridge complex) On the other side, 2 passenger tracks go through the 1st St Tunnel into the lower level of Union Station, and 1 freight track goes east/north out of the city through the single-track single-stack Virginia Ave tunnel (soon to be double stack and double track)

              I don’t have a good $ figure for adding rail capacity across the 14th St Bridge. Options range from building a new CSX bridge “elsewhere” (less likely now tha they’re expanding the VA Ave Tunnel) but its all tangled in that every constituency imaginable wants more capacity across the Potomac: pedestrian, bike, auto, Metro, and rail–and they all want it roughly where the other guy’s bridge would go.

              • Nathanael

                The real track expansion constraint is from the north end of the Long Bridge through to the place where the track splits into the Virginia Avenue Tunnel (CSX freight) and the 1st Avenue Tunnel (Amtrak/VRE access to Union Station).

                It’s actually straightforward, although expensive, to build a new Long Bridge and to add extra tracks that way. But it’s practically impossible to add extra tracks through L’Enfant Plaza; the buildings are built up VERY densely around the tracks.

            • Kevin C

              I think I understand your “through-running” and “through-tracking” question now. In many ways it is like the LIRR and NJT at Penn Station, but also different.

              MARC would love to run south from WAS, at least to L’Enfant Plaza (in the District) or to Chrystal City and Alexandria (in VA). But MARC (and Acela) use the upper level at WAS (which lacks access to the 1st St Tunnel and because they’d either have to turn at L’Enfant Plaza (too congested) or actually cross the 14thSt/Long Bridge (similarly congeested) before turning back.

              VRE doesn’t really need to run any further “through” into Maryland and so turns back at WAS. They considered doing short-turns short of WAS (at L’Enfant) and even added a pocket track, but the goalposts moved and they can’t use it without switch&signal upgrades.

              • Joey

                Is the 14th Street Bridge actually that congested in the morning southbound? Why not run the MARC south to Alexandria and switch it around down there where there are 3 tracks?

              • Nathanael

                “Is the 14th Street Bridge actually that congested in the morning southbound?”

                Yes. Freight is running at all times in both directions; with VRE basically tying up the northbound track in the morning, all the southbound freights are filling up the other track.

                VRE should continue to Maryland but the electric/diesel engine change thing is kind of a time-eater. Also, the platform heights are all wrong on the NEC, so VRE would have to head for the Camden line or the Brunswick line, which would probably be quite low-ridership in the reverse peak…

          • AlanF

            There is a $2.9 million dollar study, funded a by HSIPR stimulus grant, underway for the Preliminary Engineering design and Environmental assessment for replacing the Long Bridge. DC DOT is the lead agency as most of the Long Bridge is in DC, though the interested stakeholders in replacing or building a new bridge are CSX, Amtrak, Virginia/VRE.

            The plans have been for some time to add a 4th track on the VA side through the Alexandria station down to AF interlocking. With CSX rebuilding the Virginia Ave tunnel into a 2 track double stack clearance tunnel, the best choice may be to build a 2 track passenger bridge next to the CSX Long Bridge and add a 4th track through L’Enfant Plaza. CSX can take care of refurbishing the Long Bridge for their own use. Then have 2 tracks for passenger trains and 2 tracks for CSX from the First Avenue Tunnel across the Potomac and through Alexandria station. This would provide a lot of capacity for VRE and Amtrak into VA, cut trip times from DC Union Station to Alexandria and AF Interlocking, and provide a northern end for the Southeast HSR corridor which could be electrified without interference with freight rail.

            Would need considerable federal money to pay for the bridge because it expands passenger rail capacity from the NEC to the entire south.

            • Pedestrian and cycle is fairly cheap to include if designed in from the start, but what are all the rail users that could be using the passenger rail bridge?

              • Kevin C

                @BruceMcF CSX will want to fully use its Long Bridge for double stack freight once the Va.Ave CSX tunnel is rebuilt and so would kick *all* (or nearly all)passenger users off the Long Bridge (‘cept it could take an Autotrain extension)

                Rail Passenger users for a new RR bridge are thus all the services on the current bridge which are maxed out (have used all but 1 slot made available by CSX today) Once CSX has more than a 1-track single-height tunnel on the North side, CSX will have lots of incentive (and every right) to push passenger runs off its bridge)

                Passenger Users include:
                1) VRE (15 round trips/day…would like to add more
                2) MARC (0 trains today, might want to go to Alexandria, say 10 r/t day
                4) Amtrak 12.5 r/t per day
                5) Amtrak Virginia (service we’ve discussed here that wants to increase frequency)
                6) Future: Southeast High Speed Rail (10/day?)
                7) National Airport rail service…once the area is decongested, reliable intercity passenger service to the airport will be possible

                All these services are going to want to concentrate their frequencies at the morning and evening rush.

        • jim

          CP Virginia (where the Amtrak tracks from the 1st St tunnel and the CSX tracks from the Virgina Ave tunnel meet) to the Long Bridge and the Long Bridge to Interlocking AF (where the NS and CSX tracks diverge) used to be four tracked. CSX ripped out some of the tracks two or three decades ago. A third track was restored along some of this stretch. Most of the stretch could have the fourth track restored. Currently the L’Enfant Plaza VRE station platform occupies what had been track space, though, and there’s VRE storage tracks just north of the station.

          Restoring the fourth track on the Virginia side was estimated to cost in the high teens of millions in 2009. I assume that restoring the fourth track on the DC side would cost something similar plus the cost of rebuilding the L’Enfant Plaza station.

          • Nathanael

            It’s actually worse. On the DC side it’s not obvious how to rebuild the L’Enfant Plaza station if the fourth track is reinstalled; one of the neighboring buildings would have to be carved open to make room for a platform.

  • Buckeyeman

    It might be well for Amtrak and others to scrutinize the entire NE Direct operation to determine possible future extensions. The same should be done with the Keystone corridor, the Empire corridor and other corridors.

  • Anderson

    The issue with equipment depends on a lot of things. A morning-south evening-north train runs into equipment problems because of rotations into and out of Union Station on the NEC, yes. However, a second morning train closely timed with the extant Lynchburger wouldn’t run into this problem, as you would presumably be simply moving another set of cars out of Ivy City and down to Virginia.

    As to the question of timing, there’s already a train leaving LYH NB earlier…namely, #20, the Crescent, at 5:56 AM (arr. WAS at 9:53 AM). A 5 AM departure might complement this arrangement, yes, but it would be awful if there’s a plan to extend things to Roanoke (with a 3:50-ish AM departure time(!)); naturally, this could be remidied by simply having the 5 AM train leave Lynchburg then, and having the later train leave Roanoke at about 6:20 AM and take up the present schedule. Of course, doing an earlier departure and also pushing the current train back a bit to make a Roanoke/Christiansbug/Blacksburg stop more appealing might be another option.

    Looking at the possibility of a Roanoke extension, I’m hoping that they go ahead and extend to Christiansburg/Blacksburg and “do a deal” with Virginia Tech and the state to get a short bus link between the two if they can get a sane time for that. My understanding is that there is more track storage space down there than in Roanoke proper and/or land acquisition for train storage might be cheaper.

    Sliding back around to Newport News…I’ve been told that most of the talk of a new station is, for the time being, just talk.

    Finally, on Lynchburg and Liberty…LU is located right by the NS mainline, and if there were plans to run a day train south through Lynchburg to Charlotte (or even to revive Southern’s old Piedmont Limited and run the train to Atlanta), the station would make gobs of sense. Likewise, if there were a plan to have one or more Regionals permanently terminate in Lynchburg, I could see an LU station being worth 20-30k rides per year. The problem is the backing move and the plans to extend to Roanoke…hopefully, that proposal will come up again if the Lynchburg service starts piling up some trains and it ends up not making sense to run them all to Roanoke.

    • Kevin C

      Today’s LYH train can be extended to start at ROA at 5am, but worrying about ROA timing is long way off. It’s more likely the whole schedule will be re-worked by the time ROA launches.

      For now, with LYH as the terminus, The timing that makes the most sense for a second LYH train is (roughly)
      5am LYH, 7am CVS, 9am WAS, 12n NYP
      9am NYP, 12n WAS, 2pm CVS, 4pm LYH

      CVS is where the biggest untapped travel demand is, so getting them a well-timed morning train is the most likely to produce a good return (which Virginia’s Republicans care about, even if CVS is a Democrat stronghold ;-). The schedule above does that, and gets an convenient am return from NYP too.

      • Anderson

        Kevin,
        I love the SB time on that schedule, since it offers something other than a late-evening arrival in LYH. Even though it isn’t on the table right now, I’d also point out that you could easily run that train through to Charlotte (with a roughly 8 PM arrival) without too many headaches, though of course you would need to pair that with a later NB train to make such a turn work. I know that such a train isn’t in the mix at the present time (I think it’s a good idea, but I know that the resources here are limited), but it’s worth mulling.

        NB, it definitely has its merits (and I get what you’re saying about CVS). However I would point out that per Amtrak Virginia’s monthly reports, at least through January, LYH isn’t that far behind CVS for Lynchburger ridership (In January 2012, for example, CVS had about 5500 riders on the Lynchburger; LYH posts just under 4500). Part of this is definitely LYH drawing some indirect traffic from ROA (both drive-in traffic and, now, the bus link). I would also note that CVS’s ridership numbers are being puffed up a bit by the bus links (which often get counted twice…once on arrival and again on departure) and by the Cardinal. What I’m saying, though, is that LYH is definitely a market worth driving for, and that the market may well be as untapped as CVS in many regards.

        Of course, CVS-WAS is also going to draw a significant amount of commuter traffic; witness the occasional talk of extending the VRE to CVS (and to RVR/RVM) for evidence that such a market may well be substantial.

        Honestly, LYH-WAS probably merits three daily Regionals (NB two in the morning and one in the afternoon/evening; SB two in the evening and one in the morning), and hopefully we’ll get there before too long.

        • Bobr821

          While I would very much like to see a daytime Charlotte to DC train over the Crescent route and 8pm arrival in Charlotte corresponds a bit too closely with the current Carolinian arrival in Charlotte (from DC).

          A 10am departure from both Charlotte and DC would produce 6pm arrivals at the destinations and provide more utility for the NC sections of the route.

          • AlanF

            The southbound Carolinian departs DC at 10:55 AM. A 10 AM departure from DC over the Crescent route would be too close in time. With some improvements to the route (NEC, DC to Lynchburg, Greensboro to Charlotte), a WAS-CLT daily train can shave some time off the current 8 (CLT-WAS) + 4 (engine change, WAS-NYP) hours. But it is not that difficult to adjust the schedules so the Carolinian and a Crescent route day train run 3+ hours apart over the shared parts of the route.

            Given the ridership for the Carolinian, a second day train connecting NC to the NEC over the Crescent route should be successful once CLT gets the new station if VA and NC were to fund it.

            • Anderson

              I spent a little while chewing that over, and though sliding the train around by an hour or two might not be a bad idea, I can’t help but think that the close timing would be a non-issue (aside from station load issues).

              Here’s the thing: On a route like the Carolinian, you’re drawing a lot of intermediate market business, rather than end-to-end business. So the train wouldn’t necessarily be targeted at travelers going up to NYP, or indeed even necessarily to WAS (though if this train beats the Carolinian’s travel time, it might grab some of that train’s business). You’re looking at things like CLT-CVS, LYH-WAS, and so on for it (and CLT-RVR or RMT-WAS for the Carolinian).

              If anything, I think there might be an argument that you /need/ a second train slotting in on a similar schedule. Right now, the Carolinian’s ridership is over 300,000/year, and it should probably end up there this year as well (the track work has been a real killer on that route). There’s a limit on how many folks you can pack onto a single train, and that train is averaging over 500 folks per train. It is hard to grow beyond that, even accounting for passenger turnover, simply because of limits on train length and the fact that there are always going to be times of the year that travel is slower (i.e. Jan/Feb are pretty lousy as a rule, for example).

            • Kevin C

              Anderson is exactly right: The long-distance train + a local train stimulates short-distance business travel and accommodates long-haul growth (in pax and fares).

              Today’s LYH train follows the Crescent by about 1 hour. It has worked to benefit both: business travelers get 2 choices and can pay more for the Crescent if the timing is important. Leisure travel spills off the Crescent but is recovered by the LYH train. The Crescent is happy to have raised short-haul fares because then space on the final LYH-CVS-WAS leg is freed up to accommodate travelers from North Carolina who pay even higher total fares and raise load factors along the whole route.

              • Anderson

                It’s not only that: The Crescent, in spite of taking an extra 25 minutes NYP-WAS, makes the NYP-CLT run in over an hour less than the Carolinian. Its WAS-CLT time is 7:50 versus the Carolinian’s 9:17 between the same destinations, a time savings of just under an hour and a half. NB, the CLT-WAS time savings is an hour and a half precisely. 90 minutes’ time savings /will/ sell to longer-distance travelers, and as near as I can tell, CLT-WAS on the NS line is competitive with CLT-WAS under SEHSR.

                In essence, you’d pull some passengers off an already packed train on the one hand, and you’d make some intermediate trips more feasible. You’d /also/ pull folks off of the Cardinal, which is as near as I can tell often squeezed for space.*

                *Mind you, the Cardinal could probably benefit from shifting to a CVS-LYH-ROA-CIN routing…you’d lose the cities on the old C&O main line, but LYH and ROA should /more/ than make up for the loss, and Charleston/Huntington could probably be bused to Ashland, KY. I can’t recall if I mentioned this here or elsewhere, but the longer Cardinal run involved would probably /help/ the train by forcing more decent times out of CHI EB and by forcing the Cincinatti (a major city with basically “in name only” service) times far enough later in the morning WB to make that trip vaguely workable.

              • AlanF

                Anderson, the projected trip time over the built-out SE HSR corridor from WAS to CLT is given as 6:10 to 6:50. So it would be an hour to 90 minutes faster than the current Crescent. On the other hand, the Crescent route would benefit from the SEHSR upgrades to the WAS to Alexandria and Greensboro to Charlotte segments. The Crescent would also benefit from double tracking and other improvements funded by VA between Alexandria and Lynchburg for VRE and the Lynchburg-Roanoke NE Regionals.

                A NYP/WAS-CLT day service over Crescent route, as we have discussed on amtrakunlimited, would also attract NC to Lynchburg and Charlottesville traffic. I continue to wonder if NC planners have considered adding a day train from CLT to NYP in coordination with VA in a few years once the new station and tracks in Charlotte are completed.

              • jim

                AlanF

                There’s a capacity issue on the RF&P, too. If one of the future trains between Charlotte and New York runs via the NS tracks, that’s one less that has to be shoehorned onto the RF&P.

          • Don

            I’d prefer that Amtrak just split the Crescent at Atlanta and make it two day trains. Northbound from Atlanta at roughly 5 AM, and one southbound on the current schedule. Provide through service by shuttling passengers to nearby hotel.

            The Crescent isn’t really that useful to Atlanta and the Piedmont cities in it’s current form. This is where the passengers are on the route! Might even come closer to covering the variable costs….

            • Anderson

              Amtrak actually looked at doing that with both the Lake Shore Limited and the Crescent. In both cases, the shift was expected to lose a large amount of business because of the loss of through traffic due to the break.

              I know that I would try to avoid taking a train that involved a connection like that, and I suspect that I am not alone.

  • Andrew Dunham

    While I’m really excited for new Amtrak service, I must say that I am disappointed in the route. I would like to see it stop at Main Street Station in Richmond, and not the suburban station. I think that if it stopped in Downtown Richmond, there would be better transit connections, and it would help revitalize the downtown and give it much-needed housing and many other things.
    On another note, I am glad to see increasing Amtrak service and ridership, and the Downeaster extension is also great news. I really do wish that there could be more ACTUAL High-Speed Rail, not just 110-mph trains.

    • Kevin C

      No doubt that 125pmh and above would really start moving cars of the road, but the happy news here is that a 79mph ride that transforms at WAS into a 125mph ride to NYC is paying its way and winning broad ridership and (broad enough) political support. CVS/LYH not being on the N/S interstate and having only limited airline service are good, captive markets for trains. Norfolk/NPN, served by Southwest and more airlines is more competitive, but is also a much bigger metro area.

      • Anderson

        There’s a lot of trouble surrounding Main Street Station…as I understand it, the improvements needed to the S-line (the one that passes through Main Street Station southbound) would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars to get reasonable running times. What is doubly frustrating is that while Richmond wants to turn RVM into a downtown hub, they’re not willing to spring for a connecting Ambus of some sort (or even to rework a city bus route to link RVR [or, heck, even Petersburg] to RVM/downtown), which…isn’t helping their case for funding.

        As to Hampton Roads, one thing worth thinking about here is that while Norfolk does have Southwest, Southwest has also been retrenching in some eastern markets. Additionally, while Norfolk has Southwest…Newport News decidedly doesn’t, and is increasingly getting left behind as a “third wheel” airport. My understanding is that the two NPN-RVR trains turn a net operating profit on that leg.

        • AlanF

          Once the Norfolk service is started, I think it will generate political support among the Norfolk area representatives in the state legislature for the funding needed to access the Main Street Station. That the RVM station is only blocks from the state capitol is going to be a significant factor in getting the state funding directed to an Acca Yard bypass and the work needed for trains to go from RVM cross the river and connect up with the CSX line.

          It will still be a long process however because of the 100s of millions needed.

          • Anderson

            I tend to agree…if nothing else, the fact that a lot of the work will be happening right by (or directly on) a busy CSX line is going to slow things down.

            I’m just wondering…is there any idea why nobody has ever brought up putting a station at Richmond International Airport? The CSX tracks are literally within spitting distance of the airport property (the lots adjoin one another as near as I can tell), and airport parking costing what it does, I could see a decent batch of long-term parking folks taking the train instead of driving in.

      • The issue is that there’s no Interstate paralleling the Lynchburg line, and so even present trip times are sufficiently competitive.

        Makes you wonder what would’ve happened if they hadn’t built the Interstates at all.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Rich metro areas would have built toll roads, like they were busily doing in the 50s and the hinterlands would have driven around on the roads they had. I-87 as far north as Lake George was planned as the Northway extension of the Thruway and is still called that. I-78 and I-80 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were going to be part of the Turnpike. The Connecticut Turnpike was a toll road until the lure of Federal dollars made them go away… The rest of the country would have looked enviously at the Midwest, Northeast and California…

        • Kevin C

          The lack of Interstate Highway competition is key. It makes me think that there’s also a good market in continuing service at 79mph southward from Lynchburg to Liberty University and on to Danville, the Piedmont Triad (WNS & HPT) and terminate at Charlotte because between Manassas VA and Winston Salem there’s zero competition from the interstates, so there are a whole lot of O&D pairs that have densified in the last 50 years the railroad would get first dibs on.

          • Nathanael

            That means there’s a market for train service to Ithaca, NY, too. No Interstate! :-)

            But of course we would have to rebuild one of the train lines which goes on a reasonable route first. :-(

        • jim

          I don’t know. US-29 is never less than 4 lanes divided highway, mostly grade separated and the newest segment is built to interstate standards. When my youngest was at Sweet Briar I used to drive there from Washington and driving is faster than the train. It’s the Interstates near Washington that are bad. Once clear of the Washington suburbs, the drive is quite pleasant and fast enough. The train isn’t that fast. There’s lots of single track segments and the train has to slow for the turnouts.

          The city-pairs with highest ridership on the Lynchburg line are C-ville-New York, C-ville-Philadelphia, Lynchburg-New York and Lynchburg-Philadelphia. It’s the NEC connectivity which drives ridership. Even conventional trains beat driving hands down on the NEC. For the Lynchburg train, the time gain on the NEC more than compensates for the time lost getting to the NEC and the long dwell in Washington. That might not be true for a longer extension.

          • Kevin C

            Train: 54mph, Car: 48 mph. LYH to MSS on US29 is 3:01 (says Google) while the trains are 2:39 and 2:41. Hence 48mph by car and 54mph by train.

            By contrast, Google says 144 parallel (but too far away) miles on I-81 go by at 60 mph (and take just 2:24). The trains beat their highway competition, but wouldn’t beat a rural interstate.

            In the last 10 years, I’ve found the 24 miles from Madison VA to Charlottesville (the only party I can compare) have been really degraded by new curb cuts (all kinds of exurban uses all along the way) and worse, new traffic lights.

            Trains beat US29, and their advantage only grows as the exurbs choke US29.

            • Anderson

              Yeah…the sections south of Charlottesville aren’t too bad (though there are a few slow sections where the route still runs through/immediately by a town), but you’ve got some jams in and around Charlottesville (particularly to the north, where US 29 is a major retail corridor and has been for some time).

              The interstates also got a boost in VA with the speed limit hike to 70 MPH (which makes driving Richmond-Charlottesville-Lynchburg almost equal to a direct Richmond-Lynchburg drive).

    • AlanF

      The long term plan is for the Norfolk service as well as all Amtrak trains to Richmond and heading south of Richmond to utilize the Main Street Station. However, 100s of millions will needed to get the tracks and bridge south of the station into working condition.

      There are 2 major segments. First, an Acca Yard bypass and new passenger tracks from Staples Mill Road to Main Street Station so the trains don’t have to crawl along at 15 mph has been stated as somewhere in the $300 to $400 million range. VA is funded for a PE/NEPA Tier II EIS from Alexandria to Main Street Station, but the PE and design of an Acca yard bypass segment is likely years away. It would greatly benefit the current trains to Newport News though.

      The segment from the Main Street Station to Petersburg to the S-line to Raleigh is the subject of a recently completed Tier II EIS for the Southeast HSR corridor, so it should be eligible for federal funding in the near term if there is federal passenger rail money available. Segment AA runs 11.3 miles from RVM to the current CSX line and has an estimated price tag of $240 million in EIS for all the track, bridge, and grade crossing closure improvements. Segments BB and CC run 6.9 and 8.9 miles on the CSX line to Petersburg to Collier Yard where the Norfolk route branches off. All the SEHSR upgrades for those 2 segments are $85 and $143 million respectively. Fund all these and a piece of the SEHSR corridor is in place which would benefit the trains to Richmond, Norfolk, NC, Savannah, Florida. $600 to $800 million would do the trick for the route.

      • tbert

        Looking at the Acca yards storage facility, I’m not seeing how it adds up to multiple hundreds of millions. You have a good source that can tell me what’s eating the dollars?

        • AlanF

          The cost numbers that have been mentioned are using the Acca Yard bypass as shorthand for the new tracks and other upgrades from around the Staples Mill Road station to the Main Street station. They may be including the building of the replacement for the Staples Mill station planned to be at Parnham Road. Much is needed than just a bypass of the yard itself to get decent trip times and expanded capacity from Staples Mill to Main Street station.

          • Nathanael

            The fact that the plan involves actually widening the ROW to add new tracks — not just reinstating old ROW — means it has a lot of civil engineering.

  • Anderson

    I am just wondering, but are there any estimates on how much net ridership the Norfolk extension is likely to generate? I ask “net” because I suspect there’s going to be at least /some/ ridership diversion from the Newport News route (both from the bus and from folks who drive over to catch the train).

    Just taking a stab, I’m thinking 40,000/year (i.e. 20,000 round trips) or thereabouts. Gross ridership will probably be higher, but the net should shake out somewhere in that range for the first year if I had to guess (at least, given the times). ‘course, there may also be some added ridership on the Peninsula as a side-effect (folks taking one out and the other back and then catching the bus over)…but what are the official thoughts here?

  • RVA_Exile

    I suppose we in Virginia should be thankful for the painstakingly slow progress under a Republican administration as opposed to OH/WI/FL obstructionism. But the lack of vision and ambition can still be astonishing. While VA did not reject federal stimulus funds, that is partly because we barely applied for a fraction of what is needed, especially for later rounds that required matching funds. McDonnell got some heat for this, from Republicans and Democrats alike.

    http://www2.timesdispatch.com/business/2011/apr/06/2/virginia-not-applying-for-federal-funds-for-high-s-ar-954324/

    State officials project that even with funding (not currently the case), improvements to the Richmond-DC line with only a 90 mph top speed will be complete somewhere between 2021-2030, allowing for 1h30 travel time from Union Station to Main Street Station. Environmental Impact Statements are important, but there is no good reason why the EIS for this line, which has already been studied numerous times over the last 20-30 years, will take another 8 years. I am sure some developing countries will go from concept to full build-out of true HSR in the 2030 time frame. True HSR in Virginia should result in 45-60 minute travel times on the Norfolk-Richmond and Richmond-DC legs. This would also accrue benefits to those traveling from NC and points south to make more HSR trips competitive with not just car but plane travel as well.

    http://www.slideshare.net/akeller44/thelma-drake-presentation

    FYI, the biggest project not mentioned in this post is the $600 million needed for most trains to actually serve Downtown Richmond. As noted in the map above, the new train to Norfolk will use a rail bypass around Main Street Station. (The “temporary” routing starting in December will also bypass the planned suburban station in Bowers Hill in Suffolk.) A suburban Richmond stop is fine (plans call for the one room “Amshack” to be replaced by a bigger station on Parham Road), but Main Street Station is walking distance to thousands of residents and tens of thousands of jobs. Yet, the station, with no platform for southbound trains to Norfolk/NC, still sees only two trains per direction each day to Newport News, and those trains creep along at something like 20 mph to the main suburban station. As shown in the article below, state officials have no funding plan to remedy this problem:

    http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2012/jun/03/tdmain01-richmond-eyes-its-speed-bump-for-high-spe-ar-1961668/

    Meanwhile, VDOT is as highway-focused as ever, planning to spend billions of dollars to add lanes to I-95 and I-64 along the entire corridor from Northern Virginia to Richmond to Hampton Roads while potential rail improvements in those same corridors go neglected…

    http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/i-95_corridor_improvement.asp
    http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/hamptonroads/i-64_peninsula_study.asp

    • Kevin C

      Even rail visionaries, like Martin O’Malley in Maryland, have failed to (been ineligible to) apply for big rail $ because their favorite big-vision projects are not shovel ready.

      Maryland would like to replace the B&P tunnel in Baltimore ($1b+), build a bigger BWI station with island platforms, and replace the bridges and catenary on the straight track from NE Baltimore to Delaware…but ultimately got $ only for studies in the first rounds and then had to sit out the later rounds because nothing was shovel ready.

      • AlanF

        Getting the $60 million for the B&P Tunnel replacement PE/NEPA (and hopefully final design & pre-construction for that much money) and $22 million for Susquehanna Bridge replacement PE/NEPA was an accomplishment. Replacing the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore has been on the priority list for years and years, but even just scrounging up the funds for the preliminary engineering and alternative analysis had kept the replacement plans in limbo. Once the PE/NEPA and route/basic design approach selection process is complete, there will be a cost baseline and Record of Decision for the tunnel replacement which the state, the FRA, and Amtrak can use in the planning and lining up the construction funding.

        Hard to get funding to replace a tunnel when the answer to the question how much will it cost: “well, we are not sure, somewhere in the $1 to $1.5 billion range, maybe?” Same goes for many of the other HSIPR grants that went to PE/NEPA studies. Those investments will pay off down the road.

        • Kevin C

          I wasn’t faulting O’Malley (or the need for studies) so much as pointing out that the Times-Dispatch article (linked by RVA_Exhile, above) which appears to fault Gov McDonnell for not applying for more NSR grants, ultimately comes out here: “…it has less to do with the state than the poorly designed and pretty badly implemented federal program. It’s so cumbersome,” [VA HSR advocate Daniel] Plaugher said. “The federal program needs to be streamlined.”

          Places that had HSR projects (with their EIS and PE all done) got the money. McDonnell is clearly not pro-train like Maryland’s (Democrat) O’Malley but not applying for Fed HSR funds sometimes just means that you don’t have both a shovel-ready project and budgetary-political support ready to go.

    • Anderson

      I alluded to the issues with Main Street Station; I didn’t have a hard number (I’ve heard $400m and I’ve heard $600m now…it’s an obnoxiously large number because of the lousy condition of the S-line). As to some of the other issues surrounding VA, I know part of that comes down to the shovel-ready rule and the fact that a lot of the highway projects have been “in the hopper” for a long time.

      In retrospect, the “shovel ready” rule was overly restrictive. At least part of the morass in FL came from the fact that the Orlampa plan, while reasonably popular, had lots of issues that I read about (I think I heard from one of Amtrak’s folks that they were going to spend over $2 billion for a net time savings of 15 minutes versus what they could get for $400 million with improvements to the currently in-use CSX tracks, and that such a proposal would actually have network connectivity). To my recollection, FL basically threw the plan into the mix because there had been earlier studies on it, making it “shovel ready”. Likewise, I think Richmond-DC got scrapped because it wasn’t shovel-ready.

      The sad part is that, assuming a reasonably expedited process, there are probably some projects that weren’t shovel ready in ’09 that could be there by now but for those restrictions (particularly if somebody had been willing to create some partial NEPA carve-outs and limit the lengthy EIS delays, at least where existing rights of way were being used exclusively). I’d point out that, at the very least, replacing the catenary from Baltimore to Delaware is the sort of thing that should be exempted from the process. The bridges I sort-of get, but geez…this is the sort of garbage that makes it take over six years to build a fill-in station on the DC Metro.

      • Nathanael

        FRA is changing the rules to add new “categorical exemptions” which should help for stuff like the catenary replacement.

  • It’s great when bipartisanship works! Wish CA could get more of that, but also wish they could look at many of the alternative plans out there like the BiModal Glideway which is gaining support via Tech Brief’s Create the Future contest and many local supporters.

    • Tim E

      CA is doing a great job of turning against some of its own regional success. The reality in CA that it’s going to cost a fortune to add intercity highway and airport capacity but no one can articulate that fact and the revised HSR plan should have been done a couple of years ago

      I see LaHood pulling out of California and sending HSR funds to support Chicago routes – think Milwaukee & St. Louis & Iowa & more rail cars. As well as a major NEC project (pick a bridge that needs to be replaced/upgraded) with some more funding going North and South (Virginia/Carolinas).

      • It might be a mistake to count the California project as out for the count ~ while the opponents are fighting in the papers, there are strong supporters fighting in the legislature. The ultimatum to get it done is as or more likely to get the ICS funded as it is to get the money diverted..

      • Adirondacker12800

        Constant tension catenary between NY and DC. Poof there goes 2 billion dollars. Should take very long to get approval because all they would be doing is upgrading existing.

      • Woody

        Any Governor is missing the chance of his term of office if he doesn’t have a team working overtime right now to be ready with shovel-ready proposals when or if the California project collapses and Billions of federal funds have to be reallocated within days or weeks at most.

        I suspect that Gov. Cuomo in NY for one, will have a fat list of projects in his pocket. If Gov. Christie doesn’t have a similar list for Jersey then he’s just fat. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the low blow.)

  • t1ewis

    meanwhile, us here on the Peninsula have to wait *smh*

    • Kevin C

      Which peninsula?

      • Woody

        Between the James River flowing down from Richmond, the York River to the north, Chesapeake Bay to the east. Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown, the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War, lots of history, and today the cities of Hampton and Newport News.

        • Kevin C

          Ok, so that’s “The Peninsula” (as opposed to the Northern Neck, Middle, or Delmarva), but what was confusing to me is that t1ewis is complaining about having to wait…I don’t get it. What is the Peninsula waiting for? Its got multiple NEC trains per day. A smaller population with more trains. Seems The Peninsula is sitting pretty compared to both Norfolk (1x per day) and Lynchburg (1x per day + LD trains)

          • Adirondacker12800

            Blame Governor Christie of New Jersey. If Amtrak had the rolling stock they would be more than happy to run more trains. But people in Virginia want to go to New York, not Hoboken.

            • Kevin C

              There are plenty of opportunties to blame Christie elsewhere, but he is irrelevant to Virginia.

              ARC or no ARC, there are already plenty of NEC trains that traverse the Hudson but terminate in WAS or RIC that Virginia would like to take deeper into its territory. Rolling stock (and Virginia state subsidy $), and an inablity to cut a deal with CSX on triple-tracking between Powell’s Creek and Arkendale are really the only constraints. No Christie boogie man hiding in any of these bushes.

              • Adirondacker12800

                plenty of NEC trains that traverse the Hudson but terminate in WAS

                Which could be extended south but only if you don’t mind having the passengers who get on in Baltimore and points north staring at from the aisle all the way to New York. Or don’t mind standing from NY to DC on your way back.

              • Kevin C

                For Amtrak Virginia, the most popular destinations are a mix of NYC, Washington, and Philadelphia. But from the tippy-ends (Lynchburg, Norfolk, Newport News) that the extensions, rolling stock, and subsidies will serve, ridership to WAS > NYP. Norfolk is expected to be dominated by WAS and PHL navy/seaport kind of traffic.

                And so far Virginia customers have shown that to get their seat on trans-hudson trains, they’re willing to pay top dollar. Seems to me that adding Virginians to the trans-hudson crush is a good opportunity to use pricing mechanisms (raise fares) to allocate scarce capacity. If you’re Amtrak that’s a good thing.

              • jim

                The trains that run through WAS are the crowded ones. I’m booked to come back from NY on Thursday, but had to book on a train terminating at WAS (and take Metro to Alexandria) or pay a substantial premium for one of the last few seats on a train that ran south of Washington. Switching to the Metro won’t take much more time, since Amtrak schedules a godwawful long dwell at Washington to change locomotives, but it’s a lot more bother.

              • Adirondacker12800

                use pricing mechanisms (raise fares) to allocate scarce capacity.

                So I, who having been using trains between NY and DC since there were PRR logos on the GG1s and later Metroliners should take Megabus so you can take the train?

              • Kevin C

                Funny, I don’t recall there being a “buy a ticket today, and never get outbid by a Virginian” program at any point in PRR or Amtrak’s histories. That would be quite an entitlement indeed, especially if somebody had to spend $9 billion on ARC to deliver it.

              • david vartanoff

                allocating scarce capacity is only appropriate when capacity cannot be increased. Amtrak runs short trains compared to the PRR. Some of this is lack of cars, some insufficient speed turning trains.
                In the case of Virginia, despite CSX we need to FOUR track the RF&P where physically possible put up (restore) catenary and stop engine changes in Washington. Ultimately the “Long Bridge” needs to be replaced/doubled.

  • Woody

    Vermonter to Montreal within 3 years:

    “$7,912,054 [of] TIGER funds will upgrade 18.8 miles of railroad track between St. Albans, Vermont, and the Canadian border. …
    pr o j e c t Hi G H l i G H tS
    » Improves the competitiveness of the New England Central Railroad… by allowing heavier freight hauls
    » Provides Amtrak with the capability to extend its Vermonter service all the way to Montreal
    Upgrading the entire rail line to the modern 286,000 pound standard will improve capacity and overall performance…
    Additionally, 42,000 more riders are expected to use Amtrak’s Vermonter service once it is restored and improved, a plan set to begin within 3 years.”

    Sorry if this comment is a bit off-topic, but the text is taken from the TIGER grants linked in the @ttpolitic column today. And it’s a drop of interesting news I wanted to share.

    • Nathanael

      It won’t get the Vermonter to Montreal, not by itself. There’s a minor problem of the *Canadian* track, which is owned by CN — and CN was charging extortionate fees for access last time the train ran.

      • AlanF

        Veering somewhat off-topic for the thread, but Vermont, NY state, and the Providence of Quebec have been working on establishing a joint Customs screening facility at the station in Montreal. Which will greatly improve the Adirondack trip times as passengers will be screened at the Montreal station, not on the train at the border. Part of those discussions reportedly include maintenance upgrades to the CN tracks for improved trip times. Track upgrades would probably funded by Quebec, but that is speculation on my part.

        With the amount of high level involvement (Governors, US Senators, US State department, DHS, state DOT agencies, Amtrak) and Vermont planning to extent the Vermonter to Montreal, the question of the CN access fees has to have been addressed. Odds are good that the Vermonter will be extended to Montreal within 3 years.

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