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Slow Track to High Speed

State takes first step in push to bring high speed rail to Central Virginia.

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Gov. Tim Kaine has taken the first step to snare some of the $1.6 billion that the state hopes to get from the Obama administration's stimulus spending to make trains run faster from Petersburg to Washington.

The state applied for $74.8 million Aug. 24 to build 11.4 miles of new track in Stafford and Prince William counties. Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey says that the application is only for the first part of what could be $1.6 billion for which the state hopes to apply by an October deadline.

The plan is to let passenger trains on their way to capital race as fast as 90 mph rather than poke along as they do now at 45 mph. That could shave 90 minutes off the typical two and a half hour one-way trip from Richmond — an improvement that has the city's business community salivating.

“This is the continuation of a multiyear process and is very significant to get faster and more reliable rail to D.C. and the Northeast corridor,” Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer says.

The state chose to add the third rail line next to Interstate 95 near Quantico to the section of track owned by CSX Transportation because it's the second-most congested part of the Petersburg-to-Washington link, says Daniel L. Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High-Speed Rail, a nonprofit advocacy group. The most clogged area on the line is CSX's Acca Yard in Richmond near Bryan Park.

Plaugher says that if the $74.8 million is awarded to Virginia, construction of the third rail line could begin by spring with completion by 2012. If all $1.6 billion is approved, money will be available to bypass the Acca Yard, add new signals and safety equipment and build more sidings to allow passenger trains to bypass CSX's freight trains.

But the sum will only add up to trains that run about 90 mph. Amtrak defines “high-speed” rail as 110 mph and faster. The Obama administration is allocating $8 billion to improve passenger rail service nationwide as part of his economic stimulus plan, so Virginia has some tough competition for the money.

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