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A multimillion-dollar third-track project that will run through Stafford County nearly lost its funding, but state, federal and CSX Transportation officials hammered out an agreement in the nick of time.
The $74.8 million in federal funds that had been set aside for the project would have expired on Sept. 30, Kevin Page, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation's chief operating officer, said Friday following the Virginia Railway Express operations board meeting.
He told the board during the meeting that they came with days of losing the funding, which had to be obligated by the deadline.
With the funding in hand, the project will move forward on design and construction of the 11.4-mile section of the third track, which will run from Stafford to Prince William. The project is referred to as Arkendale, the name of a former train station in Stafford.
Page said construction of the new track is scheduled to be completed by 2017.
While the primary objective of the new track is to advance a growing high-speed rail system, it will also help VRE with on-time performance and expansion.
Doug Allen, VRE's new CEO, said the new track is a positive sign that could help the commuter rail system expand.
"I'm glad to see it come together," he said after VRE's operations board meeting Friday in Dale City.
The board took up expansion at its meeting, voting to add a rail car to one Fredericksburg train and a pair of Manassas Line trains. That should take effect Oct. 1.
VRE also plans to add a 10-car train to the Fredericksburg Line once the new Spotsylvania station opens, which is scheduled to happen by late 2013.
The third-track project is one phase of the creation of a high-speed rail corridor from North Carolina to Northern Virginia that eventually will stretch farther north and south.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a Department of Transportation release Wednesday that the third track will help the flow of rail traffic in an important corridor.
"The Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor between Charlotte and Washington, D.C., serves one of the fastest growing regions in the country, which is why it is critical to eliminate congestion points so that intercity passenger, freight and commuter rail can all run smoothly without delays," LaHood said.
According to the release, each day as many as 50 freight trains, 14 VRE commuter trains and 10 Amtrak trains run through the corridor that will get the third track.
"The Washington, D.C., area transportation system has been plagued with delays as population in the area has increased and more commodities flow through the region," Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo said in the release. "Reducing congestion and adding capacity are two key outcomes we and our state partners in Virginia planned for in making this investment."
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436