Rail News from Central Virginia, by Paul Wilson
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Work has begun in earnest on the station renovation and site work in Charlottesville. The contractor has mobilized and began demolition work this week on the former REA building that will house Amtrak's new station facilities. This work has been a long time coming and the activity around the old building is a welcome sight.
Moves are also afoot on a renovation scheme for Kemper St. Sta. (ex-Sou.) in Lynchburg. Plans are to renovate the station as a multi-modal center and new pedestrian bridge over the tracks is also under study. The project budget for this work is $ 3 million. The city is also contemplating buying an adjacent largely abandoned warehouse, the idea being that this building would be leased for light manufacturing uses.
RF&P track work
VRE patrons have been advised that a nightly (7:30pm - 5:30am) track work window may affect some morning VRE trains on the Fredericksburg line. CSX is planning extensive tie and rail replacement on the line in between March 30th and June 1st. During the period VRE will annul the morning outbound move (#319) on the Fredericksburg line. Passengers are advised that Amtrak #67 may be used in lieu of #319. CSX officials have assured VRE that last summer's crippling delays and train cancellations, in the wake of the RO derailment and subsequent reconstruction, will not be repeated.
Rail replacement elsewhere
This spring work will begin on an upgrade of the Shenandoah Valley's tracks. Work will include laying heavier rail, ballast and resurfacing. This work is being done in advance of a planned traffic upswing brought on by a new feed mill. Plans are to run unit grain trains over the CSX North Mountain Sub from Clifton Forge. CSX may also upgrade the line between Staunton and Clifton Forge to accommodate the heavier trains. The line does not carry tonnage trains currently as most traffic consists of westbound empty coal hoppers.
The Cardinal's timekeeping has been abysmal in the past few weeks. First, it was a spring blizzard in Illinois and Indiana that brought UP and CSX south of Chicago to a standstill. Amtrak's own problems have also contributed. The trip that left Chicago on March 24th arrived in Charlottesville more than six hours late due to a Superliner diner that was bad-ordered just before departure time. The train was held in Chicago for four hours and then lost another two hours traveling over CSXT.
Bristol Rail Plan on hold
In the recently completed Virginia General Assembly session start-up funding for a planned Bristol service came up short in a Senate/House conference committee. The Senate, at the urging of State Sen. William Wampler (R-Bristol), had approved $ 10 million in capital funding to get the service started. The plan died when the House failed to follow suit, reportedly because Richmond-area lawmakers balked at the cancellation of some pet projects. Rail advocates hope to add the funding as a supplemental budget amendment during next year's short session. Otherwise, we'll have to wait until the 2000 session.
See a special report on the Bristol project.
Snacking on the VRE
VRE is currently fitting out several of its "Boise Budds" (former RDC's) to serve as self-service snack cars. The commuter agency hopes the new amenities will help boost its lagging ridership. Reconstruction of the I-95/395/495 Springfield "mixing bowl" interchange, set to begin this summer, and fears of the resulting traffic snarl should also attract more riders.
- Paul Wilson