Report from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT)
May 9th, 2011

This is an exciting time for rail, transit, and travel demand management in Virginia. DRPT is actively engaged in several initiatives to improve the availability of transportation options and ensure good stewardship of public funds.

In 2009, Virginia became the 15th state to provide state-sponsored Amtrak intercity passenger rail service (up to 79 miles per hour), and the Lynchburg-Charlottesville-DC-NYC-Boston service began. In 2010, Virginia initiated a 7:00 a.m. train departing from Richmond and operating through D.C. and as far north as Boston. By the end of 2012, early morning service will leave Norfolk. This is exciting news for a city that has not had passenger rail service since1977. For the first time since the Norfolk and Western’s “Cannon Ball” service, an intercity passenger train will travel daily to Petersburg, Richmond, and points north, delivering people to meetings and other destinations in D.C. before 10:00 a.m. as the train progresses on to Boston.

DRPT’s state-funded service is called “Amtrak Virginia.” Thanks to the state’s partnership with Norfolk Southern, CSX, Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express, the City of Norfolk, and local governments, another transportation option is available. Rail improvement projects underway on Norfolk Southern’s Norfolk-to-Petersburg route will also benefit coal and intermodal freight train movements to and from the Port of Virginia.

The number one issue impacting regional intercity passenger rail service is a federal change to the funding formula for operating passenger rail. As a result, beginning in October 2013, Virginia’s passenger rail service, which currently recovers its operating costs through passenger fares, will run in the red.

In preparation for the new federal operating funding formula, Governor Bob McDonnell built two years of passenger rail operations funding into his budget. This two-year funding window will guarantee that these successful and needed services continue to run while a dedicated funding source is identified.

In addition to exploring rail funding options, DRPT is currently engaged in the second year of a major study to examine transit operations, funding, accountability, and performance metrics. The study will be completed in time for legislative proposals for the 2013 Session of the General Assembly. In the 2012 session, legislation was passed to allow the Governor to appoint one of the two voting members of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA), which currently operates metro rail and bus in the DC/Northern Virginia/Maryland area, and address governance issues that impact the board identified and agreed to by Virginia, Maryland and DC. Virginia provides 57% ($143 million) of the total annual funding for the Metro System. Oversight of these taxpayer contributions was a priority for Governor McDonnell.

Legislation.was also passed in the 2012 session that gives the Governor the ability to appoint members to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which is currently constructing the Dulles Rail project. Virginia was successful in passing legislation that prevents providing state funding to an entity that requires, or prohibits a preference for union or non-union activities. Many feel that a requirement or preference for union agreements on the Dulles Rail Phase II project construction will stifle competition during the bidding process and increase costs to the project, Virginia taxpayers, and the Dulles Toll Road users.
While legislation that would have required Northern Virginia transportation entities to consolidate did not pass, a much-needed and in-depth discussion occurred. Northern Virginia legislators, by letter, have asked the region’s numerous transportation entities to explore this issue and report back to them by October 1, 2012.

We all await the upcoming budget discussions and we are hopeful that legislators will craft our FY 2013-2014 budget bill quickly.