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After a Decade of Success, Amtrak in Virginia Poised for More Growth

After ten years of state-sponsored Amtrak service in Virginia, ridership is growing. There are also opportunities for more growth.
September 12, 2019, 7am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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An Amtrak train crosses the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Charley Carter

It's been ten years since Virginia launched state-sponsored Amtrak service on two lines: one from Lynchburg to D.C. and the other from Richmond to D.C. The timing of the anniversary is especially special, because the state is also celebrating rising ridership on the state's various train systems—a 7 percent increase within the last year.

"That’s partly because there are more opportunities to ride," writes Wyatt Gordon to explain Virginia's rail ridership success. "Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) expanded rail service to Hampton Roads by adding two more trains between Richmond and Norfolk, as well as one that travels to Newport News. The state is already planning a third Norfolk-bound train for 2021."

DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell is quoted in the article crediting some of that success also to the congested state of I-95, I-81, and I-64.

With the continued growth of rail transit in Virginia as a goal, Gordon writes on the subject of several areas for improvement, like improving frequencies between Richmond and D.C. to compare with Amtrak service between Baltimore and D.C. and regional rail service in comparable international locations.

Another change that could yield better rail service from D.C. to the rest of Virginia is found at the Long Bridge, according to Gordon.

Currently, all DC-bound trains from Virginia have to pass over the Long Bridge, a 110-year-old rail crossing privately owned by CSX which spans the Potomac River between DC and Arlington. If the Long Bridge were to fail, the next closest north-south rail connection passes through Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The critical nature of this connection across the Potomac means the Long Bridge is already at 98% capacity. If Virginia wants to add more Amtrak, Virginia Regional Express (VRE), or even freight trains into its statewide transportation portfolio, then the Long Bridge needs an overhaul.

Along the lines of ensuring and improving that connection, the District Department of Transportation released an environmental impact statement for a project that would add a new two-track bridge just upstream from the extant Long Bridge.

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Published on Tuesday, September 10, 2019 in Greater Greater Washington
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