VRE board set to reject rail link to Gainesville

WASHINGTON — Gainesville and Haymarket commuters will have to wait for rail service — possibly indefinitely.

The Virginia Railway Express Operations Board is set to vote Friday to move forward with plans to expand the rail yard and station at the existing Broad Run stop in Bristow instead of extending commuter rail service farther west.

The vote would set aside a more expensive project to extend the Manassas Line to Gainesville, which Prince William County leaders believe would have spurred more economic development for the county and would have pulled slightly more traffic off Interstate 66 and U.S. Routes 50 and 29 than the Broad Run project.

Despite that, Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors voted 7-1 last week to endorse the Broad Run Station expansion because there is no funding to pay for a major rail line extension.

“In the foreseeable future, extending the line to Gainesville is not financially feasible. We would need well over $1 million just to continue the study, and the study may determine that it can’t be built,” Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe told his colleagues at last week’s board meeting.

VRE needs to expand the Broad Run train maintenance and storage facility or build a new one, because three new cars arriving to lengthen existing trains will max out capacity on the existing storage tracks just outside the station, likely blocking any future plans to either run Manassas Line trains more frequently or run even longer trains.

Additional track space would allow for storage of more trainsets or railcars.

Originally, VRE’s study called for moving the Broad Run Station as part of the expansion project, but the preferred site has been sold for development. Now the expansion would occur within the existing site next to the Manassas Regional Airport.

The first phase of the study looking at expanding the station or extending rail service cost nearly $2.8 million over two years. And the second phase is projected to have a similar price tag if the study focuses just on expanding the existing Broad Run station and yard.

The VRE board is expected Friday to allocate an additional $750,000 for the second phase of study, which would cover preliminary engineering and an environmental analysis. State and regional grants would cover the rest of the study cost.

If VRE opted to extend the line, the second phase would be more expensive, and the county would have to put up another $1.3 million up front. More funds from the county also would be needed down the line.

In December, Prince William County had asked for more time to consider its options.

“I think there’s just a general understanding that the time for study has come to an end, and there’s really only one viable option if we’re going to continue to move forward with this,” Nohe said.

He hopes to keep an extension to Gainesville or Haymarket in the county’s “very long-term” plans.

“I don’t think we want to send a message that we’re abandoning those plans in all. It’s just that given that VRE needs to move forward in some way, we are left with basically only one choice left for now,” he said.

Although Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland agreed that the cost of an extension with stations in Gainesville and Innovation Park/Sudley Manor makes the project not feasible at this time, he was the lone vote against backing the Broad Run expansion.

“I don’t know if that fully provides enough of a benefit, frankly, to the people of Prince William County. I think that definitely provides additional capacity for the folks in Fairfax [County] who, by the time it gets to them, they have more seats to sit down on. But I don’t know if that really is going to help out the folks, definitely in my neck of the woods,” he said.

Nohe acknowledged that riders in Fairfax County and other jurisdictions would see the most benefit from the station expansion. But he said the project would still improve service.

“There is absolutely a need to get more trains on the system,” Nohe said.

Longer trains, and possibly more trains, could start running by 2022.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

 

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