How Virginia Became a Leader in Passenger Rail

The state's consistent investment in passenger rail has resulted in one of the nation's most effective regional rail networks.

June 24, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Amtrak

Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

As Virginia's commuter traffic grew increasingly worse, state officials bet on passenger rail as a solution, making the state a nationwide leader in rail service. "The quest to get more residents on trains has earned Virginia accolades and a national spotlight, particularly as new transportation priorities in Washington elevate multimodal travel with an eye on reducing greenhouse gas emissions," writes Luz Lazo in the Washington Post. In March of this year, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam "signed a $3.7 billion, wide-ranging deal with Amtrak, commuter rail operator Virginia Railway Express and freight railroad CSX, promising to double passenger service in the state within the decade and create a path to separate freight and passenger traffic." 

The state's efforts have included direct involvement such as "purchasing hundreds of miles of passenger right of way from private railroads and negotiating agreements to expand service." Support of rail services, writes Lazo, has brought together Democrats and Republicans in rare agreement. "Whether they’re a Republican from Southwest or a Democrat from Hampton Roads, everybody has wanted to bring better rail service to their communities," says Daniel L. Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail. "In 2011, under Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), Virginia became one of a handful of states to create a dedicated funding source for rail projects, using a percentage of the state’s retail sales and use tax." Virginia transportation secretary Shannon Valentine argues that reliable, effective rail service is a bipartisan win-win that will make the region "healthier, more connected and more competitive."

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 in The Washington Post

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