$57 million contract increases rail capacity, the first step toward removing nearly 600,000 trucks from Virginia highways

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) announced the execution of an agreement for I-81 rail corridor improvements to benefit rail operations in Virginia. The $57 million contract signed with Norfolk Southern in January is a major step in diverting trucks from highway to rail by increasing capacity for freight rail service and providing the potential for passenger rail capacity improvements.

‘This initiative responds to the critical need for transportation improvements in the I-81 corridor,’ said DRPT Director Matthew O. Tucker. ‘Increasing the capacity and reliability of rail service will provide congestion relief for highways and more transportation choices with the potential for expansion of VRE rail passenger service in the Gainesville/Haymarket area.’

The project is funded as a partnership between Norfolk Southern and DRPT. It requires Norfolk Southern to deliver specific public benefits, including an increase in freight rail shipments that would, over the next fifteen years, remove 597,000 truck trips from Virginia highways.

The project was made possible through $40 million in one-time general fund support provided by Governor Kaine and the 2007 General Assembly as part of the 2007 transportation compromise. Norfolk Southern is providing $17 million in private funding.

These improvements will focus on the most congested portion of the I-81 rail corridor, between Manassas and Front Royal along I-66. While the overall needs for improvement in the I-81 rail corridor are extensive, the Manassas to Front Royal portion of the line is the most significant bottleneck for rail traffic, with limited opportunities for trains to pass each other and no signal system to control rail traffic.

Trains operating on a single track pass each other using rail sidings (portions of track alongside the main line). New sidings and double track will be built, and existing sidings will be extended to accommodate today’s longer freight trains. These improvements will also focus on train signalization and control. Installing a modern rail signal system is essential to ensuring the efficient, reliable movement of trains along the corridor in the future.

Preliminary engineering has been completed, and Norfolk Southern is working through the remaining environmental approvals before construction can begin. If Norfolk Southern secures these key approvals, construction will begin in February for completion in late 2008.

Additional I-81 rail corridor improvements will be identified in DRPT’s Statewide Rail Plan, currently under development. The Statewide Rail Plan will expand upon the currently scheduled rail improvements for Virginia and provide a comprehensive plan for the improvement of freight and passenger rail in both the short and long term planning horizons.