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Virginia gets small piece of $8 billion in federal stimulus funds for high speed rail
By KELLY HANNON
Federal stimulus money will fund a punctual ride home on Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express trains in the Fredericksburg area, and create 281 construction jobs over two years.
Yesterday, Virginia learned it will receive $75 million to build a third railroad track over 11.4 miles between Powell's Creek in Prince William County and Arkendale in Stafford County. When finished, it will be the third stretch of third track between Stafford and the Potomac River.
"To go to three tracks there, that is going to really reduce the congestion and keep people on time," said Thelma Drake, a former Virginia congresswoman, newly appointed executive director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
Amtrak and VRE passengers traveling between Fredericksburg and Washington will probably see the most immediate benefit from the project, which is intended to eventually smooth the way for high-speed passenger rail between Washington and Richmond.
Adding a third track is similar to adding a third lane to a highway.
"By having a third track, it really substantially increases the capacity, so you can get a train on the third track and go around people," said Dale Zehner, VRE's chief executive officer.
A third track already exists from the Potomac River to Alexandria, and the state will finish adding another section of third track from Alexandria to Franconia-Springfield later this year.
Fredericksburg Line VRE trains are already running close to their scheduled times, however.
Through Jan. 26, Fredericksburg Line trains were on time 91 percent of the time this month.
Paul Milde, a Stafford supervisor and VRE Operations Board chair, said he rarely hears complaints about on-time performance now that it consistently falls in the 90 percent range.
He said the $75 million grant will prepare the tracks for high-speed rail in the future. "I'm of course very excited that the federal government saw this as a priority," Milde said.
A construction start date was not available. Drake said the project will create 281 construction jobs, and will be finished by 2012.
BY THE NUMBERS
amount set aside for high-speed rail projects in federal stimulus money
amount Virginia will receive from federal stimulus money
number of construction jobs that will be created over two years
the length of the track to be built between Prince William and Stafford counties