You guys, life in FXBG is about to get A LOT better

The VRE at Fredericksburg. Courtesy VRE.

Holy crap, you guys. This is HUGE, for FXBG and all of Virginia. As a Fredericksburger, sabbaticallish VRE commuter, and urbanist, I’ve been half-following this story.  Over the past couple of Democratic administrations in Richmond, the state has been planning to increase track capacity between DC and Richmond in order to make commuter and passenger rail faster, more reliable, and more frequent.  There are a couple of big challenges for this project.  First, most of the important track and right-of-way in Virginia are owned by freight railroads, mostly Norfolk Southern and CSX, and while they allow other trains on their tracks, they control the scheduling and the prioritization which means that passenger and commuter trains have to work around their freight trains’ schedules, and when something goes wrong with the schedule, freight trains are often prioritized, meaning that passenger and commuter rail is chronically late all around Virginia.  Second, all of the tracks and rights-of-way in Virginia (and really for most of the southeastern seaboard) funnel through Arlington and onto the “Long Bridge” across the Potomac into DC, where they connect to the Northeast Corridor.  The Long Bridge is over a hundred years old, and while it’s reportedly in good shape, it only has two tracks, which means it’s a huge bottleneck.  It’s already operating at capacity, so no one … not VRE, not Amtrak, and not the freight railroads … can add more trains, at least peak times.

Democratic leadership in Virginia have been putting their money where their mouths are, too, with the Atlantic Gateway project in the McAuliffe administration, and with broader DMV negotiations over expanding the Long Bridge between Virginia and DC.  But what Northam announced today is much bigger than anyone was expecting.  We pretty much knew the Long Bridge is going to get expanded, because it’s the bottleneck preventing more passenger rail service between Virginia and the northeast corridor.  Virginia is going to going to pay for much of the bridge construction, and more importantly, the state is going going to own it, which means that it gets to prioritize commuter and passenger service over freight service.  All of that had been previously reported  if sporadically.

The state’s proposed expanded passenger rail network. (Courtesy Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation)

The super big deal today is that Northam announced that the state is actually buying track and right-of-way from CSX, the freight railroad, between DC and Richmond.  That means that VRE and Amtrak will be able to run more trains, faster and more reliably, without being forced into constant negotiation with the freight railroad over scheduling and operations.  This is HUGE.  What does it mean for Fredericksburg?  A lot more VRE service, to begin with.  Potentially evening VRE service, for people who want to stay in the city for dinner before coming home.  Probably reverse-peak VRE service … meaning trains from DC to FXBG in the morning, and from FXBG to DC in the evening … which makes the service usable for reverse commuters.  And probably weekend trains as well, which is incredibly important given how clogged I-95 is on the weekend, especially in summer.  And it also means more frequent and more reliable Amtrak service to points both north and south.  It’s really a game changer for Fredericksburg.  And it’s so much more than I expected.

I mean, look at this! “VRE’s Fredericksburg Line will eventually run as frequently as every 15 minutes on weekdays between Spotsylvania, Alexandria, Arlington and the District during a slightly longer rush-hour period than the service currently runs, including later trains in the evening.”
Oh, and the state also bought a bunch of track and right-of-way in southern and western Virginia, too, which is also good news for people who live in those parts of the state (and for us who might want to take the train there), but really, I’m so, so excited for Fredericksburg.

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