Tag Archives: Virginia

Virginia: Lessons to learn on New York’s transportation

IT’S TRUE that you can’t compare Hampton Roads’ rail system to New York City’s transportation network of rail, light rail, tunnels and bridges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it — the good and bad.

In the past 15 years New York City’s rail system has incorporated private elements in its offerings. Most folks don’t realize that the city has light rail, an eight-mile system called AirTrain that opened in 2003 and connects the Long Island Railroad Jamaica station in Queens and the Howard Beach subway station in Brooklyn to JFK airport.

The system was built over one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the city, including the Van Wyck Expressway. It charges a separate fare almost twice the subway and bus fares and is run by Bombardier for the Port Authority.

When MetroCard was introduced in the late 1990s, delivery and customer service were outsourced for the almost half-billion dollars in sales eventually generated by local merchants that resold MetroCard. This made it more convenient for the public to buy and much less expensive for NYC transit to service and deliver.

When the MetroCard is eventually replaced with a smart card, NYC transit will partner with a bank or credit-card company to reap even larger savings. Financially sound transportation projects are still capable of attracting private funding, just like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel did in Virginia Beach. NASA, too, realizes that private enterprise is an important part of future space exploration.

For Virginia Beach, light rail connections to important destinations such as military centers are logical. Connecting to the bases could also help prevent future loss of military support for the area since critical infrastructure that can be used for other purposes would already be in place. In the event that we lose military support, having light rail to the base and port areas would make it easier to attract private industry to those locations.

Because these destinations aren’t the line’s first connections, which have the biggest return on investment financially and in congestion relief, the city will have a tougher time approaching the taxpayers if it wants to expand light rail.

Politicians tell us the base connections are planned for the future, but that doesn’t mean they will happen any time soon. Consider New York City’s Second Avenue subway line. City and state politicians promised it when they took down the Third Avenue elevated line, most of which disappeared in 1955, but budget problems and politics always got in the way. During the past 60 years, with the Third Avenue line gone, the Lexington Avenue line has been one of the most crowded subway routes in the city. Only in the past 10 years has the city seen real progress on the Second Avenue subway, with a small portion of it, between 96th and 63rd streets, set to open next year.

In Virginia, a third crossing is needed across the Hampton Roads harbor, but I disagree with the idea that the current crossing should not be tolled. In New York City, the tolls on the Midtown and Battery tunnels are higher than necessary because they subsidize the free crossing on the East River bridges. The East River bridges have exponentially higher maintenance costs and are well past life expectancy. It would be better if the bridges were tolled so the proceeds could help finance the construction of tunnels with dedicated rail and bus lanes for HOV use during rush hours.

After all, the goal is to dissuade car use and encourage the use of public transportation. Nothing is free, and if there isn’t some cost associated with it, it’s not appreciated and almost always abused. Without tolls at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, we will wait decades for a solution while congestion is exacerbated.

Members of the Virginia Beach City Council should know that opponents of the current light-rail plan will not support them in November. If the politicians in question vote their conscience, re-election be damned, good for them. The process is called democracy.

I’m a proponent of public transportation, not wasting taxpayer money.

By John Sparrow, former director for MetroCard retail sales in New York City, lives in Virginia Beach.

Richmond, Virginia: Big Rail News

Virginia DOT, FRA host meetings on proposed D.C.-Richmond high-speed project

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration are hosting public information meetings this month to introduce a preliminary engineering and environmental review project related to a proposed high-speed rail service between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va.

The review project includes a Tier II Environmental Impact Statement for the 123-mile rail corridor that runs through all cities and counties along the Interstate 95 corridor between Arlington County and Chesterfield County, Va.

The rail corridor between the two cities is the northernmost segment of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, which stretches southward from Washington, D.C., through Richmond to Raleigh, N.C. and Charlotte, N.C. and points beyond, ultimately connecting to a larger network of higher-speed rail corridors.

Amtrak adds bus service between Richmond, Charlottesville

Amtrak and James River Transportation recently launched a new Thruway bus service that connects passengers traveling to or from Richmond, Va., to two long-distance trains at Charlottesville, Va.

From Charlottesville, Amtrak’s Crescent train will continue south to Atlanta and New Orleans, while the Cardinal train will operate west to Cincinnati and Chicago. The Thruway bus connection serves the Staples Mill Road and Main Street stations in Richmond, and the Charlottesville station, Amtrak officials said in a press release.

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How Did One Get To The Pentagon and More on the Northern Virginia Transit Mess

A few months ago, we wrote a story on getting to the Pentagon in WW2. Thanks to Tim Moriarty , a railfan and expert on the Northern Virginia area, we have some new information to report on.

One of the missing links in the whole puzzle was the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad (W&OD).

Unfortunately the trolley lines in northern Virginia did not live past the 1930s and the line that ran near where the Pentagon was later built didn’t survive long enough to serve it. The book “Old Dominion Trolley Too” provides information on the northern VA lines. The W&OD took down its wires and dieselized around 1941 and ended its passenger service, but it was forced to reinstate it in 1943 due to the war. As we noted, it ended with the loss of the mail contract in May 1951. If the W&OD hadn’t been bled dry by the C&O and forced out of existence to built part of I-66, we could have used it to build a Metrorail line out to Dulles Airport and beyond, saving many years and money, or used it for VRE trains to Leesburg and points west. Now we can only walk and bike on it. Although Tim frequently does just that (biking beats driving to work in this area) He’d much rather still have the trains!

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) was created by an interstate compact in 1967 to plan, develop, build, finance and operate a balanced regional transportation system in the national capital area. The Authority began building its rail system in 1969, acquired the four area bus systems in 1973 and began operating the first phase of Metrorail in 1976. It has gone far beyond original plans and is still growing.

Purple Line which was not in the “grand plan” was born out of necessity in Maryland.

Virginia Railway Express was not in the “grand plan” which never really existed. It was born of necessity and depended on the freight railroads for right-of-way (and we all know passenger railroads are as popular with freight railroads as skunks are at a lawn party).

Dulles Airport and the Silver Line.

Washington’s second airport did not open until the early 1960’s. It was at first a “white elephant” reachable only by car a,d maybe some buses. 26 miles from downton Washington DC. No hint of real mass transit.

Silver Line is the answer. The Silver Line of the Washington Metro consists of 28 existing and six planned rapid transit stations from Wiehle – Reston East to Largo Town Center. It has stations in Fairfax County, Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Prince George’s County, Maryland. Five stations are shared with the Orange Line alone, thirteen with both the Orange and Blue lines from Rosslyn to Stadium–Armory, and five stations shared with the Blue Line to both lines’ eastern terminus at Largo Town Center. Only five stations are exclusive to the Silver Line, which began service on July 26, 2014.

SilverLineMap

The line is 28 miles (45 km) long and the new extension cost $6.8 billion. In 2008, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) started building new track in Fairfax County, Virginia. The sections in Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., are to be shared with the Orange and Blue Lines, which were completed in the 1970s and 1980s. Phase 1, an 11.6 miles (18.7 km) service to the Wiehle – Reston East station, after many delays, opened on July 26, 2014.

The portion of the Silver Line between its split from the Orange Line and Wiehle – Reston East station was constructed as Phase 1 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. Phase 2 of the project, is scheduled to open in 2018,will expand the line another 11.5 miles to Loudoun County via Washington Dulles International Airport and add six stations to the line. The $6.8 billion project is the largest expansion by route mileage since the inception of Metro in 1976.

Charles Stark has been named the new executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) officials announced yesterday.

Stark will oversee construction of the 11.4-mile Phase 2 extension of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Silver Line from Reston, Va., to Washington Dulles International Airport to Ashburn in Loudoun County, Va. He succeeds Pat Nowakowski, who resigned earlier this year to become president of MTA Long Island Rail Road.

The Silver Line’s first phase launched passenger service on July 26, extending the Metrorail system into Reston and Tyson, Va.

Stark has 40 years of experience in rail transportation, including 20 years in engineering and operations with some of the largest transit agencies in the nation. He also has held senior executive positions with private engineering firms, most recently as vice president and project executive for AECOM, where he managed several projects for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA).

In addition, Stark served as assistant general manager of Bay Area Rapid Transit and was executive officer for engineering and construction for LACMTA. He helped lead the team involved in rebuilding the World Trade Center complex and its public transit facilities after the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City.

“It is unique for someone to have such extensive background in rail operations, systems and also civil engineering. We are especially pleased with Charles’ leadership and successful track record in quality, safety, budget and schedule,” said MWAA Vice President for Engineering Ginger Evans in a press release.

The Silver Line Phase 2 project will include six rail stations, including five at ground level and one on an elevated structure; nine entrance pavilions and pedestrian bridges; aerial guideways through Dulles Airport; and 89,000 feet of track. Engineering and design work began in July and the project is expected to be completed in about five years.