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Richmond rail to D.C., Raleigh bolstered by federal funds

A crowd listens to Senator Mark Warner speak outdoors.
Margaret Barthel
Sen. Mark Warner said new federal funding will “unlock” the Long Bridge project and other passenger rail investments in Virginia.

Read the original story on the DCist/WAMU website.

Virginia will receive $729 million in federal funding to finance the Long Bridge project, making possible a long-awaited two-track passenger rail bridge over the Potomac River between Arlington and Washington, D.C. The new bridge will double Amtrak’s capacity and dramatically increase Virginia Railway Express service to D.C. from Fredericksburg.

The new bridge will sit next to the existing Long Bridge, which currently operates at 98% capacity and is a major choke point for Amtrak, VRE and freight trains crossing from Virginia to D.C. The current bridge is owned by CSX Transportation, a freight rail company, and carries 1.3 million Amtrak passengers and 4.5 million VRE commuters each year.

Adding a new span has been a longtime goal for officials in the D.C. region, who first announced the project would move forward in 2021.

“Long Bridge is like the skinny piece in the hourglass. Long Bridge is the connection between the Northeast and the Southeast,” said Sen. Tim Kaine at a gathering announcing the new funding. “There’s nothing that can really happen in terms of growing our rail usage, both for passenger and freight, if you don’t deal with Long Bridge.”

Construction is expected to be complete by 2030.

Once open, the bridge will allow for three additional Virginia Amtrak trains, doubling the current capacity of the line between D.C. and Richmond. The project could have an even more significant impact on VRE commuter trains coming into D.C. from Fredericksburg, increasing service by 75%, including new weekend and late-night trains.

The Long Bridge project is a key part of Virginia’s Transforming Rail initiative, an ambitious $4.4 billion investment in passenger and freight rail. It will also include station improvements and an additional track for VRE trains in L’Enfant Plaza in D.C. — and new tracks, bridges and station improvements for passenger trains between D.C. and Richmond.

“There’s going to have to be additional dollars from a combination of sources, but this really unlocks the whole project,” Sen. Mark Warner said.

Recently announced federal support will also add passenger rail infrastructurebetween Richmond and Raleigh, North Carolina, further connecting Virginia and D.C. to points south.

A map shows the path of a future train line stretching from Washington D.C. to Richmond.
Virginia Passenger Rail Authority
The first two phases of the Transforming Rail in Virginia vision include improvements for passenger trains between Washington, D.C., and Richmond.

The $729 million comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021. Warner and Kaine previously announced $20 million in federal support for a new pedestrian and bike bridge between Arlington’s Long Bridge Park, and East and West Potomac Parks in D.C. The D.C. region as a whole is expected to see as much as $20 billion in transportation infrastructure investment from the law.

A who’s who of Virginia politicians — including Warner and Kaine, four congresspeople, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and several members of the General Assembly and Northern Virginia local governments — participated in a cold but enthusiastic celebration of the announcement on Thursday morning at the Long Bridge Aquatic Center in Arlington.

The officials paused in their victory speeches to cheer as VRE and Amtrak trains passed by in the background.

“Every train that we’ve seen go by this morning is a train that’s had to queue up. It’s a train that’s had to find its slot. It’s a train that’s had to manage capacity. And that’s what this is all about,” said Youngkin, just before an Amtrak train passed behind him.

Arlington County Supervisor Takis Karantonis, who welcomed the officials to Arlington, brought a prop that summed up the officials' collective mood: a bright yellow VRE safety vest with the words “TRAINS ARE COOL” stenciled on the back.

Margaret Barthel is the Northern Virginia Reporter at WAMU/DCist.