Guv's decree: Charlottesville Amtrak service gets another two years

The three-year pilot program to run a daily train between Lynchburg and Boston– greatly bolstering Charlottesville's railroad access to New York and other zesty cities in the Northeast– has won an additional two years of operating funding.

It's never been entirely clear to this reporter why a train that supposedly generates an operating profit requires an ongoing subsidy. (The answer may lie in capital commitments the state has made to the freight railroads that allow the Amtrak trains to ride their rails.)

In any event, the news released Friday, December 30, is that a new state budget proposal specifically allows the Commonwealth Transportation Board to allocate any needed money from the six-year-old Rail Enhancement Fund into a new fund called the Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Fund.

While the person who actually presented the budget is Governor Bob McDonnell, the person making the announcement about the impact on this Amtrak "Northeast Regional" service was Democratic minority leader and Charlottesville-based Delegate David Toscano, who hailed the salvation of the service "a great victory in these trying economic times."

Rail booster Meredith Richards explains that the the governor's move diverts money from Virginia's rail infrastructure fund to pay for another two years of operating the regional trains (including one that connects Richmond to the northeast corridor).

"It's a short-term solution," says Richards, "but it signals the state's commitment to continuing the relationship with Amtrak and supporting its Northeast Regional services."

–updated 6:11pm January 1 to correct funding source and amplify with addition of Richards quote


Great news. It's nice to see a transportation project that Charlottesville and Lynchburg can join together to celebrate.

"(The answer may lie in capital commitments the state has made to the freight railroads that allow the Amtrak trains to ride their rails.)"

Didn't the state make on the order of $80M in improvements to the line? Can't remember where I read that -- prolly' the internet somewhere, so you know it's accurate. Not that that should matter since it's basically a sunk cost.

Anyway, having been spoiled by European train systems for several years, I find the VA Express a very, very small step in the right direction.

"It's never been entirely clear to this reporter why a train that supposedly generates an operating profit requires an ongoing subsidy."
I remember hearing Meredith Richards sounding the alarm a year or so ago that the State needed to set aside money for future support IF the train was a fad and eventually become not profitable. I am sure no one is expecting to actually spend the budgeted money.

I remember an 80 million start-up commitment as well

Hawes how about looking in to why the state has to keep putting funds in to a project that is making a profit and who get it? I am sure if the state give it money they will accept it.

If they really wanted to put people back to work they'd start by making these rail lines electric instead of using those belching diesel electric engines. But the oil companies would have a hissy fit if we went all electric on the rail systems. Why are we so slow to catch up to Europe?

An "operating profit" does not cover all of the expenses involved in running a passenger train. The reality is that ALL forms of transit require some sort of subsidy.The airlines supposedly generate a profit (at least for the time being)... but taxpayers provide the air traffic control system, the airports, the roads leading to the airports, the safety inspectors -- the entire infrastructure of the industry -- plus periodic bailouts for the airlines. Yet people (mostly Republican people) get all huffy because Amtrak doesn't run in the black. On the other hand, the airlies, car makers, road builders and petroleum companies can all hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions, while Amtrak is barred by law from doing so.

Production of airline and automotive fuels is already beginning to shift away from traditional petroleum resources to inferior "unconventional" resources like Canadian tar sands and oil shales. We have ignored utilization of these low-quality hydrocarbon deposits for many decades simply because they were so expensive to extract and convert to usable fuel.

There is no technology or political rhetoric and demagoguery that can avert this permanent macroeconomic trend.

However, this major shift in transportation energy economics virtually guarantees that regional passenger rail ridership will continue to rise above the "break even point."

So I wouldn't worry too much about parsing the continuation of local subsidies. Let them shift the funding around to continue capital upgrades of the passenger rail network. There is no escaping the fact that passenger rail service is a long-term growth market due to the shift to inferior fuel resources.

The state recently gave the Shenadoah Valley Regional airport millions of dollars for a renovation, and it spends gobs of money on roads (such as the millions that will be spent on a 6 mile Western Bypass). Why, then, do people get bent out of shape when tax payer money is used to support passenger trains? Why are passenger trains expected to break even, when there is massive taxpayer support for air travel and cars?

Cville Voter, you are so right - why is that true ?

Just a minor point, and I don't have any knowledge of what the state of Virginia may have given Shenandoah Valley Regional, but the operations of major airports don't involve taxpayer subsidies. Operations at major airports are paid for by airline landing fees, parking fees, rents charged to concessionaires in the terminals, etc. When major airports want to build a nre terminal or do major remodeling, they float bonds and increase those fees to pay off the bonds.
Airport traffic control is subsidized, or paid for by the federal government, and there are subsidies given to small airports, and the airlines flying to those airports in an attempt to keep some level of air service to less densely populated areas where it wouldn't be profitable for airplines to maintain service with any sort of affordable price structure.

Carrboro, here is what I found in a news report:
"About 90 percent of the renovations were paid for by the state's aviation agency; the other 10 percent was paid for by the airport." I assume that the state aviation agency is funded by tax payers.

Just for fun, I looked up the Shenandoah Valley Airport. It only has 6 commercial flights a day, to Dulles & Beckley, so I have no doubt that it's heavily subsidized. Flight operations would be subsidized by the Essential Air Services program (Federal tax dollars). Apparently the State's Aviation agency kicked in some money for terminal renovation too.
There's really not a good excuse for this particular subsidy. Charlottesville's airport is probably within an hour's drive of Shenandoah, and CHO is not subsidized by the EAS program. Hard for me to believe that we need another small airport in the same vicinity, especially one that only goes to Dulles and Beckley. I'm sure there's some congressperson, or group of them, that keep commercial flights at this airport for local pride reasons.

Why vote- how would you generate the electricity?

Thats where all the jobs would come from silly, the design and construction of power lines along the rails, just like they do in Europe and Japan. It would put thousands back to work for decades.