Virginia to boost passenger rail service to DC

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia is planning a $3.7 billion effort to boost passenger rail service between the state and Washington, D.C. as part of an effort to lessen congestion in one of the country's worst areas for traffic.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced a plan Thursday that includes building a new bridge across the Potomac River into Washington and acquiring track from freight train operator CSX.

He said the investment would remove 5 million cars and 1 million trucks from Virginia highways and lessen gridlock in the state's northern suburbs and along Interstate 95.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our rail system work better for everyone, both in Virginia and along the entire East Coast,” Northam said in a statement.

Improving northern Virginia's notoriously bad traffic has been a top priority for elected officials for years. Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans last month to rebuild and widen a bridge that connects the two states in order to improve traffic on the Capital Beltway.

Currently, passenger trains are often delayed because of freight cars using the only available tracks between Virginia and the district. CSX owns the more-than-a-century-old bridge all trains use to cross the river, which only has two tracks and is at 98% capacity in peak times, officials said.

Northam said the plans announced Thursday would help provide nearly hourly Amtrak service between Richmond and Washington. It would also improve Amtrak service to Norfolk. The expansion plans also call for an increase in the number of commuter trains running in the state's northern suburbs, with the Virginia Rail Express starting to provide weekend service.

Northam said the work is expected to take a decade to complete and is scheduled to start next year. The governor's office said the expansion will be funded with money from Amtrak and other federal grants, existing state transportation funding, and other sources. No direct tax or toll increases will be required for the expansion, the governor's office said.

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