Norfolk Southern Railway and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed “a landmark agreement” that will extend passenger train service to the heavily-populated Norfolk area for the first time since 1977.
The service will use part of the NS Heartland Corridor intermodal route.
NS and McDonnell said that because it would link with north-south passenger service running north to Washington and as far as Boston, it could provide an alternative to highway travel on the congested Interstate 95 corridor along the East Coast, as well as the I-64 east-west route from Norfolk to Richmond and beyond.
The pact calls for NS to use an $87 million Rail Enhancement Fund grant from Virginia to upgrade tracks between Norfolk and Petersburg, just south of Richmond, where NS connects to CSX Transportation’s north-south line.
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That work is slated to start in 2011. It includes signaling improvements, track extensions and connections, passenger train turning and servicing facilities, a track and platform near Norfolk's Harbor Park for the passenger train, and a new connection between NS and CSX tracks near Petersburg.
These improvements, NS said, will enable passenger trains to run on its Heartland Corridor route, already busy with intermodal and coal traffic in and out of the Port of Hampton Roads. The Heartland Corridor opened for double-stacked container trains in August, providing a more direct route between Norfolk and the Midwest.
"The partnership between the Commonwealth and Norfolk Southern is a perfect example of business and government working creatively, cooperatively, and quickly to meet a challenge," said Charles W. Moorman, NS chairman, president and CEO.
Thelma Drake, director of the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said that connecting Norfolk to the passenger train network that extends through the Northeast “is a major step forward for the mobility of the region."
Virginia is also negotiating agreements for improvements to CSX track and with Amtrak. These agreements must be in place before new intercity passenger rail service can begin, and part of the Virginia route system is aided by a grant from the federal inter-city passenger rail program.
Officials said the planned passenger train corridor between Norfolk, Richmond and the Northeast will be part of the Amtrak Virginia regional service, with train speeds up 79 mph between Norfolk and Petersburg.
--Contact John Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.