The good news from the 2011 Virginia Legislative Session is that lawmakers passed a bill establishing the "Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Fund" as part of a larger transportation funding bill crafted by Governor Bob McDonnell.
In January, CvilleRail and the Piedmont Rail Coalition sent out the press release below, announcing the introduction of the bill and explaining why it is so important for the future of passenger rail in Virginia. Our success belongs to all of you who contacted your legislators and urged them to pass the Passenger Rail Fund bill.
Our grassroots and lobbying effort in support of this bill was recognized by many lawmakers, who acknowledged having received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls supporting the fund. Our one-on-one lobbying effort in the halls of the General Assembly was joined by elected officials throughout the Piedmont Corridor, who asked their legislators to support the bill.
THANKS to YOU and to passenger rail supporters statewide, the bill has passed and Virginia will, for the first time in its history, include intercity and high speed passenger rail as a standing part of its transportation funding budget.
Transportation Funding Bill Contains Key Provision for Funding Lynchburg-DC Amtrak Service
January 21, 2010 - Governor Bob McDonnell's omnibus Transportation Funding Bill, introduced today in both the Virginia House and Senate, contains a key provision for an Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Fund that could stabilize future funding for state-supported intercity passenger rail, including the phenomenally successful Lynchburg-DC Northeast Regional train, which began service in October, 2009.
Establishing the passenger rail fund was one of four key provisions in the McDonnell Administration's Transportation Fundingbill, introduced Friday by House Speaker William Howell (R-Fredericksburg) (HB 2527) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Wampler (R-Bristol) (SB 1446), who was joined by sixteen Senate co-patrons representingboth political parties.
"Today was a good day for intercity passenger rail in Virginia," said Meredith Richards,Chairman of the Piedmont Rail Coalition."This funding mechanism, although not accompanied by actual dollars, is a necessary first step in order to guarantee a funding source for our very popular and successful Lynchburg-DC service, if and when it is needed in the future."
According to Richards,having a dedicated source of operating revenue for existing and future expansions of intercity passenger rail has been a top priority of Virginia's rail advocacy groups for years, but this is the first time an administration has sponsored legislation to establish such a fund.
"I am elated to see this provision of the larger bill." said Richards. "We have worked very hard for it.Without it, passenger rail has a very limited future in Virginia."
Operating passenger trains is a relatively new undertaking for the Commonwealth.Virginia entered into a partnership with Amtrak to run two new intercity passenger trains, one connecting Lynchburg with Washington, DC and the other between Richmond and DC,during the Kaine Administration.Both trains are Virginia extensions of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service between Washington and New York.
The state has had a dedicated funding stream for rail capital projects, including infrastructure improvements and rail facilities, since Governor Mark Warner established the Rail Enhancement Fund in 2005.However, there has never been a dedicated source of funding for passenger rail, which is needed to pay for operating passenger trains.This has become a problem for continuing state support for the two Northeast Regional trains.
In addition, federal law passed in 2008 will require Virginia to pick up the tab for four existing Richmond-DC Northeast Regional services that are now paid for by Amtrak.Starting in 2013, the state must assume funding for these services, but it does not have a legal funding mechanism to do so.
State Senator Yvonne Miller (D-Norfolk) sponsored a bill in last year's General Assembly to study how to fund passenger rail .The study report stressed the need for a dedicated fund to support existing and future state-supported passenger rail services, and recommended establishing the Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Fund, which was included as a provision in the Governor's transportation funding bill.
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