Rail to C’Ville?

Virginia Railway Express may be coming to C’Ville …

Charlottesville Podcasting Network has another outstanding and decidedly pertinent story –

Charlottesville Citizens for Better Rail Alternatives … held its first organizational meeting last week at the Downtown Visitors’ Center, and consisted of a public presentation by Meredith Richards, former city councilwoman and candidate for Congress. Richards is now the public voice of the group, which hopes to convince the Virginia Railway Express to extend its service all the way to Charlottesville.

Brilliant. C-Ville and the HooK have been all over this story for the past few months –

The two points of view –

Pro –

The Washington commute on the proposed Virginia Railway Express would take two-and-a-half hours each way, so unless the invading hordes are willing to commute five hours each day for their jobs, the “bedroom community” scenario is not likely. But by providing reliable daily passenger train service to D.C., the VRE would take hundreds of cars off the road every day, easing our congested traffic on 29 and putting significantly less toxic emissions in the air per passenger than the same trip by car— (from a letter to the Editor in C-Ville)

Con –

As one who fled the wretched excesses of Northern Virginia (too many people, too many strip malls, too much traffic, too many townhouses) for the sanctity of Albemarle County, I am greatly frightened to see that there are those within our wonderful community who are working hard to destroy this place in the name of progress, or under the dubious umbrella of pollution emissions controls.
One only need look at the bastardization of Gainesville, that beleaguered segue into Northern Virginia, to see what happens when a quaint little town with lovely farmland becomes a “bedroom community” of Washington, D.C. (from another letter to the Editor in C-Ville)

I will forgo the desire to point out to the writer above that she is part of the problem, both those who move here and those who move here and don’t want anyone to follow (see:NIMBY)

We should be working on solutions to the local infrastructure issues as vehemently and vigorously as those who are striving to bring rail in. If we can become part of a larger rail infrastructure, great. I would love to pop up to D.C. to see a show, as I am sure that those in D.C./NoVa would like to come here for one of the upcoming shows. I have written before about studies that show property values increasing due to their proximity to mass transit. As our region becomes more segmented, some form of efficient mass transit very well may be a necessity. The trouble is that looking 20 to 30 years into the future is 1) too much for too many people and 2) politicians are more often too focused on the next election.

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  1. Duane Gran September 12, 2005 at 15:48

    I’m glad to see you are picking this up, Jim. I was at the meeting and was encouraged by the feasibility of the plan. It would cost 2 million dollars for VRE to purchase the necessary equipment for the existing rails and it would cost 1.6 million dollars per year if there was zero occupancy. In other words, after the initial investment, it isn’t far fetched for this to be a profitable line. The biggest problem is that VRE doesn’t run on weekends, but there is some hope that this may change.

    Practically speaking, in the coming months there will be a fundraising effort to conduct a community survey for VRE to demonstrate if a market exists for rail in Charlottesville. I’m puzzled by those who oppose rail solutions, on the grounds of creating bedroom communities. The reliance auto transportation combined with exurbia commuting is indeed a problem, but one that is largely negated by rail.

  2. Jim September 13, 2005 at 10:04

    Thanks, Duane – I did not know that the VRE was so economically feasible and viable. Listening to the podcast, my biggest questions are 1) might there be a way to have a public/private partnership rather than purely a state-subsidized solution and 2) we as a region do not yet have the inter-modal transportation locally that is necessary to support the inter-city rail.

    This is a good start, though.

  3. Duane Gran September 13, 2005 at 14:57

    I think the state subsidy route is the path of least resistance since this is how any new VRE line in the state is funded. I believe each county served directly by the line is required to pony up a 1 cent per gallon of gas tax, so it is pretty well built into the organizational structure of VRE. That said, I should think there are options for public/private partnership, but I think we should think of rail the way we think of any capital improvement to infrastructure. For the most part we are content to have roads built for the common good, using public funds.

    Regarding inter-modal transportation, this is a valid point. Many good ideas for public transportation fail to make an impact because the problems are systemic. For example, the lack of cross walks along 29 North make bus routes nearly a moot issue. The bus won’t be an attractive alternative if you have to risk your life crossing 8 lanes of busy traffic. I suppose we need to start somewhere, but keep in mind the long range plan to correct deficiencies in our public spaces that make it hard to use public transportation.