The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation threw more cold water on an already frozen proposal to extend the Virginia Railway Express Manassas line to Haymarket or Gainesville.
In a report to the General Assembly – requested by Del. Danica Roem (D-13e) – The department basically says that the gain in ridership from trains to Gainesville or Haymarket would not justify the capital cost of adding tracks to Norfolk Southern’s B-. Line and construction of two or three new stations.
Roem, a longtime advocate for increased transit options in western Prince William County who called for extended service beyond Manassas, called for the study despite VRE’s decision in 2017 to avoid extensions to Gainesville or Haymarket in favor of upgrading its Broad Run station, which will allow more trains and increased service along the Manassas line.
According to DRPT director Jennifer Mitchell, the recent study only confirms what the VRE expansion study found years ago: At least for now, the expansion hasn’t financial sense. The ministry study found that with two new stations, extending VRE to Haymarket would cost $ 832 million to $ 915 million up front, while going to Gainesville would cost between $ 783 million and $ 865 million, according to that one or two Gainesville stations have been built. By 2030, the expansions would increase ridership on the Manassas line by just 7%.
“The investment costs that we identified here are a little higher than what was identified by the ERV, then the operating costs that we had estimated are a little lower, but I think in general… that somewhat validates the decision that was made early on to focus on the Broad Run expansion, ”Mitchell told VRE’s operating board at its last meeting. “I hope this information will be useful in any future decision-making regarding a possible extension.”
Mitchell and DRPT Railroad Chief Emily Stock said when they presented the study results to Roem, she also expressed interest in looking at ridership at a potential Innovation Park station. . This alternative was not selected as a finalist for the VRE study years ago, according to Mitchell.
During the board meeting, Prince William’s supervisor Jeanine Lawson of the R-Brentsville district told DRPT officials they should involve her in any future discussion of a station study. Innovation Park, calling the western expansion plans a “dead horse” for now. .
“I think you’re wasting your time and I don’t want you to waste your time,” Lawson added.
Regional rail connectivity explored
In a separate discussion with rail advocates last week, VRE CEO Rich Dalton said upcoming infrastructure improvements under Virginia’s $ 3.7 billion Transforming Rail plan could open the door. to a very different extension of service in Maryland.
Speaking at a panel hosted by Virginians for High Speed Rail, Dalton said the increased capacity that will come with a new long bridge separating passenger and freight trains could allow travel from Virginia, across the District of Columbia and Maryland, without the need to change trains.
“We need time to build this. … We need the next decade with the wind in our back to run some of these infrastructure programs and projects so that we can add these smart connections, these smart mobility options for this region, ”Dalton told Danny Plaugher , director of Virginians for the high speed train.
The panel focused on the commuter train in the area and also featured Joe McAndrew of the Greater Washington Partnership. In December, the partnership released its Capital Region Rail Vision calling for increased connectivity from Baltimore to Richmond and more shuttle services between Maryland and Virginia, especially as Amazon’s head office is built in Crystal. City and more transit connections are added to the region – a rebuilt Crystal City VRE is nearing completion in 2024 with additional capacity.
Due to some technical constraints, regional commuter rail service advocates currently see more potential in the expansion of MARC commuter rail service from Maryland to Virginia. But the Transforming Rail plan will at least remove some of the barriers to sending ERV trains to Maryland. Ultimately, the vision of the Greater Washington Partnership is for the two-way service to operate all day, increasing access to jobs and affordable housing in the area.
Maryland is working on a pilot plan to send MARC trains to Virginia, but McAndrew said the region needs an agency focused solely on coordinating transit projects and operations between the three jurisdictions.
“VRE is a great commuter train service; MARC is a great commuter train service, ”said McAndrew. “We don’t have a very strong entity… to think about how we’re going to one day come to a more integrated system. “
Jared Foretek covers the Manassas area and regional news across Northern Virginia. Contact him at [email protected]