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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 2

    Document Title
    TransDominion Express Status Update

    Department of Rail and Public Transportation

    Enabling Authority
    Appropriation Act - Item 438 B. (Special Session I, 2006)

    Executive Summary
    Item 438.B of HB 5002 in Chapter 3 Acts of Assembly (the Budget Bill for the 2006–2008 biennium) directed the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) to update the status of proposed passenger rail service, called the TransDominion Express (TDX), between Bristol, Richmond, and Washington, DC. Specifically:

    The Department shall report to the Chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees on the transportation project authorized under the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000 to provide passenger rail service between the Cities of Bristol and Richmond, and Washington, DC. In addition to the project’s status, the Department shall include revised information on capital and operating costs, potential revenue of such passenger service, and the project’s potential benefits to alleviate congestion on the state's Interstate and highway system of roads (Virginia General Assembly, 2006).

    No funds have been allocated for operating TDX or making related capital improvements, except for an allocation of slightly more than $9 million for capital projects as part of the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000.

    Five studies of TDX have been conducted during the past 10 years:

    1. in 1996, by DRPT at the request of the General Assembly (Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, 1996)

    2. in 1998, by Frederic R. Harris, Inc., at the request of DRPT in response to funding made available for such a study by the General Assembly in 1996 (Frederic R. Harris, Inc., 1998)

    3. in 2000, by the National Passenger Railroad Corporation (Amtrak) at the request of DRPT (National Railroad Passenger Corporation, 2000)

    4. in 2002, by The Woodside Consulting Group, Inc. (Woodside Consulting), at the request of Norfolk Southern and DRPT (Woodside Consulting, 2002)

    5. in 2005, by DRPT (Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, 2005).

    The estimated annual operating subsidies varied in these studies, ranging from $9 million to $23 million depending on the type of service presumed and the ridership level. Capital costs were estimated in the greatest detail in the 2002 study and those capital costs were generally used in the 2005 DRPT study.

    The greatest variation in the studies, however, concerned their ridership estimates: the lowest estimated annual ridership was in the 2000 Amtrak study (slightly more than 26,000) and the highest was in the 1996 DRPT study (slightly more than 0.5 million). Differences in ridership projections are attributed to (1) the service levels that would be provided (earlier studies suggested that modern tilt equipment was feasible, which would offer faster service, whereas the studies since 2000 suggested such equipment may not be used and thus slower service times would result); (2) the sensitivity of ridership to varying service levels (e.g., a travel time of x between two stations will yield the portion of total travel choosing to use rail); and (3) assumptions regarding the impact of freight on passenger travel schedules (since any TDX passenger service would be subject to freight movements by Norfolk Southern, the owner of the rail on which TDX would operate).

    As part of this update, this study focused on four critical areas: (1) updating capital costs, (2) updating ridership estimates based on the sensitivity of demand to service levels, (3) the expected revenue and necessary subsidies based on these ridership projections, and (4) indicating the congestion benefits of TDX.

    This study also includes an action plan for moving TDX forward should the Commonwealth or others desire to do so. Inclusion of the action plan does not guarantee that any public entity, such as DRPT, or private entity, such as Norfolk Southern, necessarily believes TDX is a wise investment of resources at this time. The action plan is included, however, because item 438.B of HB 5002 specifies that this report should provide an update on the status of TDX. The action plan identifies institutional issues that affect how TDX could be implemented. These include identifying a stable revenue stream for future years of service, choosing a governance structure, identifying how improvements can be phased over time, and measuring the performance of the new system.


    • Capital costs for improvements for infrastructure to support full service between Bristol, Richmond, and Washington, DC, are estimated at approximately $206 million (in 2010 dollars). Rolling stock cost estimates vary depending on the type of passenger cars acquired.

    • Annual operating costs for full service are estimated at $19 million (in 2010 dollars), presuming two round trip visits to all stations.

    • Ridership is estimated at 14,000 to 58,000 persons annually, assuming service levels proposed by Woodside Consulting in 2002, which were more conservative (e.g., lower) than those assumed in the preceding study in 1998. The 2002 service levels entail comparable travel times between the auto and the train for a few routes (such as Charlottesville to Alexandria) but often longer times for train as compared to the auto for most routes; the intercity train travel times used in this study are given in Table B1 in Appendix B. A range is given because previous reports used different assumptions regarding the relationship between rail demand and rail service time, and the exact relationship simply is not known. Previous reports suggest four travel demand functions that may be generated, and the range given captures the highest and lowest travel estimates. Data from other locations (e.g., the Downeaster line from Maine to Boston, the Cascades Corridor in Washington State, and the Capitol Corridor in California) suggest that service times alone are rarely changed; rather, improvements such as providing electrical outlets for business travelers, using wider seats, offering better beverage service, and offering other amenities are often made in tandem withsuch changes. Thus, determining sensitivity to changes in service levels alone is difficult, necessitating presentation of forecasts as a range rather than a point estimate.

    • Ridership varies by station location. For example, it is estimated that 70% of TDX ridership would occur at stations between Lynchburg and Alexandria inclusive (Tables 8 and 10). While each additional station may add riders, some stations add more riders than others.

    • Based on the estimated ridership levels, revenue is projected to be between $0.4 million and $1.8 million annually in 2010 dollars. Based on operating costs of $19 million annually (in 2010 dollars), a subsidy of between $17.2 and $18.6 million will be required. This means that about 6% of the cost to operate TDX will be borne by users of the service. Elsewhere, users pay between 43% and 51% of the cost for service, as shown in Table ES1.

    • TDX offers little benefit in terms of reducing travel congestion. Daily traffic volumes on some roads, such as Route 29 in Prince William County, are higher than the estimated annual passenger travel on TDX. However, TDX may offer benefits in terms of providing an alternative mode of transportation to a variety of travel markets, including tourists, college students, and households without vehicles, and within specific corridors. For example, proposed service levels suggest that TDX would offer faster service than the automobile for the segment between Charlottesville and Alexandria.

    • The status of TDX has not changed since the publication of the 2005 report (DRPT, 2005).

    • Two external circumstances affecting the feasibility of TDX have changed. First, Norfolk Southern has received Rail Enhancement Funds of $22.35 million over a 3-year period to make improvements to Norfolk Southern track between Walton, Virginia, and Glen Lyn, Virginia (which will allow double-stacked freight by improving clearances in four tunnels) and to construct an intermodal terminal in Roanoke (DRPT, 2006; Martinez, 2005). This set of improvements is a part of a larger plan by Norfolk Southern to improve freight capacity between Hampton Roads and Columbus, Ohio, and is generally known as the "Heartland Corridor Double-Stack Initiative." Second, the Commonwealth is studying ways to reduce truck traffic in the I-81 corridor, including up to a “60 percent diversion of trucks off of I-81” on to Norfolk Southern lines (Page, 2006). This effort is known as the "I-81 Rail Corridor Study." Both may increase freight traffic on existing Norfolk Southern lines that would be used by TDX, thereby possibly making passenger service operations more difficult. Whether either item will lead to any capacity improvements that benefit passenger operations is not known at this time, and the impact of these efforts is not reflected in this study.

    [The entire summary can be viewed in the full report.]