In 2009, President Obama proposed to help address the nation's transportation challenges by investing in an efficient, high-speed passenger rail network of 100- to 600- mile intercity corridors to connect communities across America. This vision built upon the successful highway and aviation development models of the 20th Century with a 21st Century solution focusing on more energy-efficient intercity passenger rail.
High-Speed Rail Corridors
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) developed a High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan and launched the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program. The idea was to create federal partnerships with the states, the railroads and other stakeholders to develop ten key rail corridors ― designated as future High-Speed Rail (HSR) Corridors — for the network. These ten were in addition to the Northeast Corridor, which already hosts the Amtrak Acela Express, an intercity passenger train capable of speeds of 150 mph.
Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor
One of the federally-designated HSR corridors, known as the Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR) Corridor shown at left, would connect the Southeastern United States to the Northeastern United States through Washington, DC. The SEHSR Corridor extends from Washington, D.C. through Richmond, VA, and from Richmond continues east to Hampton Roads (Norfolk), VA and south to Raleigh, NC and Charlotte, NC, and then continues west to Atlanta and south to Florida.
DC2RVA Tier II Environmental Impact Study
In 2002 a Tier I Environmental Impact Study (EIS) was completed for the entire SEHSR Corridor. A more detailed Tier II EIS was conducted for the segment between Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina. That project envisions constructing about 100 new railroad overpasses to make the 162 mile segment completely segregated from other forms of ground transportation.
A Tier II EIS is now being conducted for the segment of the SEHSR Corridor between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA. The DC2RVA Tier II EIS, as it is called, covers a 123 mile, active rail corridor (shown at right) owned by CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT) that roughly parallels Interstate 95 between Washington and Richmond.
From north to south, the Project travels through the following counties and cities: Arlington County, City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Prince William County, Stafford County, City of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, Caroline County, Hanover County, Henrico County, City of Richmond and Chesterfield County. In addition to CSXT freight activity, Amtrak operates intercity passenger service on the corridor, and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) operates commuter service between Fredericksburg and Washington Union Station.
Virginians for High Speed Rail
Virginians for High Speed Rail (VHSR) the Richmond-based non-profit that has advocated for High Speed Rail connecting Virginia to the East Coast for twenty-one years, has compiled an excellent Washington to Richmond High Speed Rail Study Fact Sheet. VHSR recently held its annual Transportation Luncheon, at which the guest speaker was U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Speaking of the importance of the DC2RVA Corridor, Secretary Foxx said, "This segment is the key to the whole South. If we don’t get it done right and get it done relatively soon, I think we may miss the window.”
Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, NC, said the Washington-to-Richmond route could be a valuable test case to persuade states farther south to buy into high-speed rail. “I believe firmly that if the Southeast doesn’t figure out intercity passenger rail, the South is going to be stuck in traffic for a very long time.”
Secretary Foxx went on to announce a $1 million planning effort to help the SEHSR corridor states "...create a shared, workable vision for a Southeast passenger rail network that connects Washington, DC to Richmond, to Charlotte, to Raleigh, and to Atlanta. Read more from Secretary Foxx in his blog post, "Pressing Forward on Southeast passenger rail.
Right: US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx
VRPI and the DC2RVA Tier II EIS
In response to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation's request for public input on criteria for developing, evaluating, and selecting alignments and station locations for the DC2RVA Study, VRPI's Executive Committee submitted a detailed report suggesting criteria, challenges and opportunities for station locations and alignments for Fredericksburg, Ashland and Richmond. In addition, the VRPI report includes a candid discussion of the essential role that CSX railroad will play in the future of the SEHSR, the public policy implications of this fact, and the following concluding remark:
"Much of the potential progress in the DC2RVA rail corridor depends upon negotiating, implementing and managing a mutually satisfactory relationship between the owner of the corridor and the public sector that it appears will have to supply much of the capital for improvements. There are many arrangements within the freight railroad industry that could be adopted and used to satisfy the public desire for equitable treatment. VRPI has yet to observe any such relationship devised and implemented by DRPT to date. Simply "buying" defined term "train slots" falls short of what is adequate. Although much of this issue is beyond the scope of the DC2RVA study, the study will be of much more limited value if this is not addressed."
More recently, DRPT held a series of public information sessions featuring a presentation of the alternatives analysis that is taking place under the EIS. The presentation can be viewed online at dc2rvarail.com/online-meeting. The public has until January 8 to comment on the material in the presentation. The VRPI Executive Committee is preparing comments for submission.