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Northam, Buttigieg Announce Virginia Rail Infrastructure Upgrades

Man speaks at podium
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, right, accompanied by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, center, and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., left, speaks at a news conference to announce the expansion of commuter rail in Virginia at the Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) Alexandria Station, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Alexandria, Va. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

During a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced a series of upcoming transportation projects to improve train travel in Virginia. The upgrades will cost  $3.7 billion, which will be funded by the most recent federal stimulus package.

Northam says the new initiative will buy nearly 400 new miles of railroad ‘right-of-way,’ where new tracks can be built, and over 200 miles of track. It will also commit more than $1 billion to be used for additional rail infrastructure projects over the next decade.

“This transformative plan will make travel faster and safer. It will make it easier to move up and down our east coast, and it will connect urban and rural Virginia,” he said.

The stimulus money will fund a new high-speed Southeast rail corridor from Petersburg into North Carolina, and will create the opportunity to expand rail service to Christiansburg and Blacksburg in the southwest. Virginia will also construct a new bridge over the Potomac dedicated to passenger-only travel.

The plan will also double the number of Virginia-supported Amtrak trains providing hourly service, and it will increase Virginia Railway Express service for commuters by 60%.

“It will be easier to hop on Amtrak to New York for the weekend. It will be easier to commute to work using VRE, and it will be easier to take a train from Southwest Virginia to Northern Virginia,” Northam said.

Northam says the rail upgrades will ease traffic congestion. He says it will be a cheaper and more effective alternative to adding more highway lanes, citing a VDOT study that found more lanes would result in “minor to no speed improvements.”

The governor was joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and representatives of Amtrak, VRE and CSX. Buttigieg highlighted the role that train transportation has played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every day at stations like this across America, transportation workers are serving on the frontlines of america’s response to this pandemic,” he said. “They have been delivering vaccines, getting people to essential jobs, and getting goods to wherever they need to go.”

The federal stimulus, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, includes $43 billion to subsidize the country’s transportation system. That includes $1.7 billion that will go directly to Amtrak to fund its response to COVID-19, allowing the company to return furloughed employees back to work.