Passenger Rail Rises up Virginia’s Priority List, Raising Fears of More Accidents
Amtrak services in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States do not have a reputation for speed and reliability. America’s passenger services are habitually compared unfavorably to those in Europe where commuting by rail is a way of life for many people.
However, that may change with a renewed emphasis on Amtrak services in the Commonwealth, particularly in areas like northern Virginia where commuters are battling with increasingly crowded highways.
Although there is a clear need to alleviate traffic congestion on corridors such as I-64 and I-95, the expansion of rail services raises a plethora of safety concerns if they are not accompanied by a massive overhaul of Amtrak’s basic infrastructure.
Renewing the Rail Structure in Virginia
The Washington Post recently reported on how Virginia is leading the charge in improving passenger rail services. The article quoted Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s transportation secretary. When asked about the problems that plague the I-95 corridor she said road widening is no longer an option. While the addition of high occupancy toll lanes over the last decade has increased capacity, traffic on the interstate continues to grind to a halt regularly.
Valentine pointed out the addition of one lane in each direction for 50 miles would cost a staggering $12.5 billion and would take a decade to complete. The Biden administration is looking to pump money into the railroads as an alternative to highway expansion and Virginia has the same idea.
The Post reported the campaign to get more Virginians to use trains has earned plaudits and thrust the Commonwealth into the national limelight. Rail experts cite Virginia as a case study as the passenger carrier Amtrak tries to replicate the model in other states.
Dangers of Virginia Deal with Amtrak
This March, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a $3.7 billion deal with Amtrak, the freight railroad operator CSX, and the commuter rail operator Virginia Railway Express. The initiative seeks to double the number of passengers on trains within the decade and plot a strategy to separate freight and passenger traffic.
This remains a problem in Virginia. Fast-moving Amtrak services and slow CSX trains share the same track. It’s a scenario that holds up passenger services, presents a barrier to a high-speed, modern passenger train service, and creates a potentially unsafe situation.
The investment in Virginia follows a decade of state-supported intercity trains connecting the state capital Richmond and other population centers, such as Roanoke and Norfolk, to Washington and the rest of the Northeast.
The Post reported the Commonwealth’s plans for the next 10 years include an almost hourly service between Richmond and Washington, a boost to the VRE commuter train service, the groundwork for a commuter service between Petersburg and North Carolina, and the reinstatement of passenger rail to Christiansburg in Southwest Virginia.
These are ambitious plans that would entail improvements to the track and the separation of freight and passenger services.
Before COVID-19 hit, Virginia budgeted about $10 million a year for the operation of six trains and four routes connecting Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke to Washington and the rest of the Northeast, reported the Post.
The proposed expansion of services is likely to be challenging for Amtrak which has been plagued by railroad crashes in recent years. In 2015, eight people died and more than 200 suffered injuries when an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia.
In 2017, an Amtrak train derailed in Washington State, killing three people and injuring more than 60.
Causes of crashes range from faulty track to human error, and poor railroad crossing safety. Defective track is the most common cause of crashes. Scientific American noted that between 2001 and 2010, derailments accounted for 94 percent of the 58,299 railroad accidents. Historically, broken rails and welds are the most common cause of train derailments.
As Virginia Railroad accident lawyers, we are concerned that passenger services in Virginia are expanded in a safe way. Railroad accidents such as derailments can cause multiple injuries and change the lives of passengers and crew members. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a train accident, please call us.