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$3.7B deal paves way for better rail service from DC to RVA

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/1/2021, 6 p.m.
Hourly passenger train service between Richmond and Washington is still years away. But the vision for faster and more frequent ...
Gov. Northam

Hourly passenger train service between Richmond and Washington is still years away. But the vision for faster and more frequent service took a big step forward Tuesday in Alexandria.

Gov. Ralph S. Northam went to Northern Virginia and signed agreements on a $3.7 billion deal involving Amtrak, freight train giant CSX and Virginia Railway Express, the Fredericksburg-area commuter rail service provider.

The deal allows the state to repurchase the former Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac rail line that CSX has long owned and clears the way for development of a second railroad bridge across the Potomac River.

The new bridge will create separate lines for freight and passenger trains, which both now must cross the same 117-year-old Long Bridge, creating a bottleneck.

Gov. Northam called the agreements and the pending state investment of $525 million essential “to fundamentally transform our transportation infrastructure.”

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also hailed the agreements.

It will take time to build the new bridge and make other improvements to the rail lines, but officials believe that by 2030, Amtrak trains could be running hourly between Washington and Richmond.

As a result of the agreement, Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom could see an additional train this year, with five more trains to be added between 2026 and 2030, officials said.

However, one issue has yet to be resolved involving Main Street Station — additional trains would require more track to be installed through Shockoe Hill Burying Ground, a historic Black burial ground, that state highway and rail officials have yet to include in their plans.

The long abandoned burial ground at 5th and Hospital streets is on its way to gaining state and federal rec- ognition, and Richmond City Council recently cleared the way for the city to reacquire a small portion of the once sprawling cemetery at a tax sale.

Decades ago, the city allowed railroad tracks to be run through the burial ground, but it is unclear if any new tracks would be allowed.