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Va. Governor Kaine revs up support for high-speed rail

(The following story by Michael Martz appeared on the Richmond Times-Dispatch website on July 22, 2009.)

RICHMOND, Va. Everyone's on board for high-speed rail in the Richmond region.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine led a community pep rally yesterday to boost faster rail service as a top priority as the region and Washington suburbs grow toward each other on the Interstate 95 corridor.

"We cannot grow as a community in the way that we need to purely off of 95," Kaine told an enthusiastic audience at Main Street Station in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom. "We have to have more vigorous rail and public transit options to be all that we can be."

There was no dissent among public officials and business leaders from throughout the Richmond area, who have banded into the Capital Region Collaborative to make high-speed rail a top political priority and economic development tool for the region.

"I've been in Richmond for a long time, and I've never seen a portrait of unity like I see here today," Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones said. "This is something we feel in our gut and know in our spirit is a win-win situation for our region. Becoming part of the Washington area metroplex is going to absolutely change the way we do business."

Jones was among elected representatives from nine localities in the Richmond region that have adopted resolutions making high-speed rail service -- or at least faster and more reliable trains -- a common goal.

Kaine is using his influence with President Barack Obama's administration to make it happen. Virginia has submitted a plan for $1.6 billion in rail improvements to raise speeds from 70 mph to 90 mph and reduce train trips to 90 minutes reliably between the region and Washington's Union Station.

The state's proposal also is aimed at expanding rail service to Petersburg and relieving a bottleneck in Richmond to allow more trains to use Main Street Station, a historic landmark that Kaine helped return to city control as mayor more than a decade ago.

However, Virginia is competing for $8 billion in federal funds for developing high-speed rail as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the stimulus package. Kaine estimated that the federal government already has received preliminary requests for about $192 billion in rail improvements nationwide.

Kaine said the state has an advantage over many competitors because of existing agreements with two major railroad freight companies -- CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Corp., which were represented by top executives at yesterday's rally.

"Work like this on high-speed rail doesn't happen without good railroad partners," Kaine said.

Earlier this week, Virginia committed $10 million in stimulus money to pay for engineering to relieve a bottleneck at CSX's Acca Yard in Richmond that hinders speedy access to Main Street Station and south to Petersburg.

Local officials think the Richmond area could serve as a critical link between the Northeast and Southeast rail corridors.

"We're in a really strong position to get the full funding," said former Richmond City Council President William J. Pantele, who serves on a nonprofit advocacy group for high-speed rail.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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