THERE is something on which Virginia Democrats and Republicans seemingly can agree: Trains.
Both sides of the aisle concur that we need more passenger rail traffic, especially along the Interstate 95 corridor between Fredericksburg and Washington. To that end, two Virginia representatives, Democrat Don Beyer and Republican Rob Wittman, co-sponsored a bill that conveys National Park Service land to Virginia and D.C. and clears the way to deal with the dreaded Long Bridge.
Rep. Wittman, a daily commuter to D.C. from the Northern Neck, knows as well as anyone the need for more and faster trains.
The Long Bridge carries people and freight across the Potomac. It is perhaps the biggest rail bottleneck for Amtrak. A second bridge, made possible by Wittman’s and Beyer’s bill, is scheduled to be built by 2030 and will carry passenger trains only.
For decades, governments have tried to ease I–95 gridlock by adding lanes. That is a fool’s errand, according the Shannon Valentine, the state’s transportation secretary. Some 350,000 people a day use I–95 now. To add one lane each way for 50 miles, Valentine says, the cost would be $12.5 billion. And, by the time the extra lanes were complete, we’d almost certainly need more.
Virginia has been at the forefront in promoting rail travel. Every governor from Jim Gilmore (1998–2002) to Ralph Northam has pushed for improved passenger service in one way or another.
The $3.7 billion deal Northam signed in March with Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express and freight carrier CSX is supposed to double passenger service in the state within the next 10 years, partly by putting freight and human traffic on different tracks. As part of the deal, the commonwealth also has bought hundreds of miles of passenger right-of-way from private rail companies.
Rail travel is now accessible for nearly 80 percent of Virginians. A decade ago, the number was just under 50 percent. Granted, much of that access is limited. Passenger trains stopping at Roanoke or Norfolk are few and far between, something that planners hope to fix in the next decade.
Fredericksburg is in a sweet spot, on the main Amtrak line and with bounteous VRE service. Numerous northbound commuter trains (VRE and Amtrak) can be accessed in the ’Burg each weekday.
With so many in the Fredericksburg area commuting north, the demand for passenger service seems limitless. We applaud the state for putting passenger rail at the top of its to-do list for easing traffic congestion.
And we applaud Democrats and Republicans for hopping on board that train together.