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Delays plague track project

May 4, 2012 12:10 am

BY SCOTT SHENK
BY SCOTT SHENK

When Virginia was awarded $75 million in federal stimulus funds two years ago for a third-track project from Stafford to Prince William County, state railroad officials touted it as a victory for passenger rail.

There was also talk that the 11.4-mile section of third track would be built by this year.

So far, though, not an inch of new track has been laid as the project--referred to as Arkendale, the name of a former train station--has become mired in negotiations over federal performance requirements.

The project was "shovel ready" from the get-go, Thelma Drake, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said this week.

But part of the federal funding package includes a requirement for CSX Transportation to produce a "performance metric" for the new section of third track, the only one of the state's planned 19 railroad corridor improvement projects that is federally funded.

The requirement is one way federal authorities can ensure that the new track will improve rail traffic for all, not just freight trains.

CSX and the Federal Railroad Administration continue to negotiate, said Drake, who was given an update this week.

"We don't have anything resolved," she added, "but the good news is that CSX feels good about the discussions."

CSX released a statement saying it has a "long history of working well with the commonwealth of Virginia, Amtrak and VRE" and that it will continue to, but it did not address the Arkendale situation.

The Arkendale third track is one phase of a planned high-speed rail corridor from Richmond to Northern Virginia. It's also part of an agreement between CSX and the Virginia Railway Express that required VRE to build such rail enhancements in exchange for use of the CSX-owned tracks.

The third track should help cut down on delays caused when freight and passenger trains are on the tracks at the same time.

Paul Milde, Stafford County Board of Supervisors and VRE Operations Board member, said the third track is essential for VRE's growth.

The commuter train service broke all its ridership records last year, and its cars have all but reached capacity.

Milde also called the third track a "major piece of the puzzle" for the railroad corridor improvements.

He doesn't like it that the Arkendale project has been held up, saying federal authorities changed the rules and that the performance requirements don't make sense.

"It's unfair to put standards on this section when the entire corridor plays into the performance of the section," he said. "It's undoable. It makes you wonder if [federal authorities] are trying to figure a way to get out of it."

Drake, however, doesn't see it that way.

"Everybody is trying to work their way through it," she said.

If there is no agreement by September, the stimulus money could be lost.

If that happens, the project would be delayed further, VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said.

But, he added, "It's one of those projects that will happen."

If CSX and federal authorities strike an agreement, work could begin immediately, Drake said.

"We're ready to go."

Whatever happens, don't expect the new third track soon. It will take two to three years to build it.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com




THIRD TRACK MOVING AHEAD

Plans for the new Virginia Railway Express station and third track in Spotsylvania ran into some issues related to the high-speed rail corridor plans, too, but all appears to be good now.

"We're in excellent position," said Gary Skinner, a member of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors and the VRE Operations Board. "Everything is moving along great."

He said funding is in place and a construction agreement has been reached between VRE and CSX Transportation and that he still expects the project to be complete by the fall of 2013.

The project, which will add a station and 2.6-mile third track to connect to the main line, will be built in the Crossroads Industrial Park off the U.S. 17 bypass.




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