Monday, April 30, 2007

All trains, all the time!

There is a lot happening on the transport beat these days. Here is a very ambitious plan to improve regional transportation along the eastern coastline. CSX has an admittedly self-serving idea that would benefit shippers and travelers. Congestion is bad enough out there, but you may be assured that truckers will work day and night to kill this one.

This concept is noteworthy because it does not rely on European-style maglev trains and the mega-price-tag. Here is a reasonable concept which improves on existing facilities and technologies.

CSX sees faster passenger trains on DC.-Miami tracks

By Steve Dunham

"Commuter Crossroads" column in the Fredericksburg, VA "The Free Lance-Star"


CSX, THE RAILROAD that owns the tracks over which Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak trains run between Washington and Fredericksburg, wants its Washington-to-Miami line to be a "corridor of the future."

On that 1,200 miles of railway, CSX said, passenger trains could "travel unimpeded at 110 mph" and freight trains could "operate at speeds of 50 mph to 70 mph."

The line would be "sealed to prevent motor vehicle intrusion." Some 1,700 "at-grade highway rail crossings" would be closed and, where necessary, replaced with bridges. There would be three tracks between Richmond and Miami and four tracks between Richmond and Washington. This would require a huge investment, and that's where the Corridors of the
Future Program comes in.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation solicited applications from interested parties to "accelerate the development of multi-state transportation Corridors of the Future for one or more transportation modes." The Transportation Department will select up to five major
transportation corridors "in need of investment for the purpose of reducing congestion."

"Reducing congestion" sounds like VRE's mission of "traffic mitigation," which in plain English seems to say that the purpose of VRE and the Corridors of the Future Program is to make driving easier. I believe that's what federal transportation policy focuses on.

However, if CSX and the commonwealth of Virginia can get a slice of that pie and expand transportation choices, making train travel and freight movement easier and more efficient, too, let's go for it.

The application deadline for the program was April 2, so right now the Transportation Department should be selecting up to five finalists. If CSX is selected, it has a plan for turning its Washington-Miami line into a corridor of the future:

First, complete the third track between Washington and Richmond, except where major, expensive projects are needed--Ashland, where two tracks run down the middle of the main street; Fredericksburg, with its crossing of the
Rappahannock River and elevated track above four streets; and the bridges over Aquia Creek and the Potomac River.

The second step would be to tackle those bigger, more expensive projects.

The third step would be to build the additional track between Washington and Miami and to close or create alternatives for those 1,700 grade crossings.

"The D.C. to Richmond Third Track Feasibility Study provides the path for completion" of the project north of Richmond, said Jay Westbrook, CSX assistant vice president for public-private partnerships.

The study calls for completing the capacity-expanding projects funded in 2000. The last piece of that group of improvements is to construct about 7 more miles of third track north of Springfield and just south of the Potomac River.

The study also listed the steps needed to plan further construction. "Federal support is the key," said Westbrook.

If Washington-Miami becomes a federally funded corridor of the future, then the next steps, he said, are to set realistic expectations and seek consensus on the projects to be tackled first.

The Transportation Department is showing progressive thinking to consider alternatives to highway construction as solutions to congestion. Everyone traveling north or south anywhere between Washington and Miami, on or off I-95, could benefit from a rail corridor of the future between those cities.

Steve Dunham of Spotsylvania County commutes on Virginia Railway Express to Arlington. He chairs the board of directors of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons. Write him c/o Commuter Crossroads, The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, or e-mail - Email: literalman@aol.
com.

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