Virginia-North Carolina High-Speed Rail Commission
August 7, 2001, Richmond
In opening remarks, Chairman Watkins suggested that, to be successful, any effort to find better ways to improve the timely, efficient, and convenient movement of people and goods must have a multi-modal focus, one element of which must be an exploration of the potential benefits of and costs associated with high-speed intercity passenger rail service. The fact that the North Carolina legislature was still in session afforded the Virginia members of the commission an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the issues involved in the present study prior to a joint meeting with the North Carolina members, probably some time in late September or early October. Accordingly, the meeting's central purpose was to hear from representatives of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) and the Rail Division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).
In the first of these presentations, the director of VDRPT explained that the goal of the joint VirginiaNorth Carolina project was to provide high-speed passenger rail service from Washington, D.C., via Richmond, Petersburg and Raleigh to Charlotte, North Carolina, eventually making possible high-speed passenger rail travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard from New England to Florida and west along the Gulf Coast. Compared to the costs of comparable highway construction projects, the cost of such a rail project would be relatively modest: the entire Washington to Charlotte project can be carried out for less than the reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge (about $2.5 billion to $2.9 billion). The fact that the plans and preparations for the Washington to Richmond portion of this project are much "farther along" than other similar projects elsewhere in United States makes not only the WashingtonRichmond segment, but the entire WashingtonCharlotte endeavor a "top contender" for federal financial participation. In response to comments and questions from the members, the VDRPT director explained that provision of passenger service between Richmond and Hampton Roads (whether via the U.S. 460 corridor or along the Peninsula) is not part of the Southeast Corridor (Washington to Charlotte) program.
The director of the Rail Division of NCDOT drew the members' attention to the relatively large economic benefitscompared to its relatively modest costthat are predicted to flow from the project: every $1.00 invested in high-speed passenger rail service in the Southeast Corridor, he predicted, will produce $2.54 in direct and indirect benefits. In response to questions from the members, he pointed out that a Tier I Environmental Impact Study of the WashingtonCharlotte corridor is already under way and that a final federal record of decision is expected by the fall of 2002, allowing for the beginning of actual construction only a little more than a year from now. He suggested that, in joint meetings with representative of the North Carolina legislature, it would be useful for the members to hear from CSX, Norfolk-Southern, the North Carolina Railroad, and the Southeast Economic Alliance (a business organization formed to promote expanded rail service in the Southeast Corridor). The director concluded by suggesting that Virginia and North Carolina enter into an interstate compact to build and run the project.
The vice president of the Virginia High Speed Rail Development Committee also briefly addressed the meeting. He pointed out that, although high-speed passenger rail service and high-speed freight service have similar infrastructure requirements, freight railroads have, hitherto, been reluctant to cooperate with efforts to provide high speed passenger service largely because of the unwillingness of the federal and state governments to provide the necessary funding. What is needed from Virginia, he concluded, is for the General Assembly to provide for an adequate and predictable source of revenue dedicated to passenger rail programs.