Making tracks

Broad Run would not be the end of the line of the Virginia Railway Express Manassas line if Fauquier County extended the commuter line to Bealeton, as suggested.

Prince William’s western neighbor has been looking at such an extension for three years, and last month its five-member board of supervisors passed a resolution asking VRE to refine its $43 million capital and $825,000 operating cost estimates before Fauquier moved forward.

“We need those hard numbers. We are a fiscally conservative board,” said Fauquier Supervisor Sharon McCamy, a Republican, who, along with Fauquier County Board of Supervisors Chairman Raymond Graham, is interested in an extension.

The latest cost estimates are 2 years old, VRE said, and McCamy said some of the real estate/construction costs apply to Loudoun and Fairfax, not Fauquier, whose costs aren’t as high as its metropolitan neighbors.

McCamy’s Lee Magisterial District holds the county’s Bealeton service district, located at Va. 28/U.S.17, which is projected in the next two years to encompass 3,000 housing units within a 2-mile radius, or 8,000 to 10,000 people, she said.

Ideally, Fauquier would have more than one station along the Norfolk Southern line that runs parallel to Va. 28, she said.

“In the southern part of county, the community … is very interested in seeing commuter rail,” she said. “Everyone is aware of the difficulty of commuting now.” Fifty to 60 percent of Fauquier residents commute out of the county to work, she said.

To break even in the operating cost estimates, Fauquier VRE ridership would have to grow from the current daily 200 trips (from Broad Run) to 750.

Fauquier, which grew slowly in the last decade at around 1 percent, plans for expansion far in advance, she said.

“Essentially, I am very pleased when I look back and see the results [of the last 10 years]. I think we’ve grown well, and now we’re at the point we can plan adequately for VRE.”

Fauquier’s county board consists of four Republicans and one independent, all who oppose increasing taxes, a move that must be considered as the county would need to seek out a means to pay for the nearly $1 million in annual operating costs.

VRE is supportive

“If Fauquier County wants specifics, it would require some additional work to obtain those numbers,” said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber. An evaluation or feasibility study could detail the costs of the additional rail capacity and service levels, he said.

For the study, the state is being looked to for funding.

“[VRE Operations Chief Pete Sklannik] is talking with the commonwealth on addressing financial needs to do those studies and hope[s] to find success in the General Assembly,” Roeber said.

Federal funding sources normally pay for the bulk of capital investments with the state matching dollars if the project is seen as an asset, he said. “We would do the hard leg work. We would sell it to the [federal and state government,]” Roeber said.

Gainesville should be included in a feasibility study, Roeber said, as studying the feasibility of each spur is not cost-effective. Rather, looking at the entire geographic area would give an understanding of what options are viable, he said.

Another player is Norfolk Southern, which sees the rail line becoming a major thoroughfare for freight traffic as its business grows, Roeber said.

The estimated $32 million in rail improvements for a Fauquier extension take into account both freight and passenger expansion needs, but VRE said that figure is 2 years old. The estimate also assumes another project to convert 2.5 miles of single track from Bristow to Nokesville to double track is completed separately, as expected by Manassas officials.

General Assembly wants studies

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th, has pushed for a study of an extension to Gainesville. He had not considered the Fauquier question, he said, but if the need is also in Fauquier, he supports their inclusion in a study.

“I don’t represent anyone out there,” he said.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st, who represents part of Fauquier, could not be reached for comment, but he has repeatedly expressed his interest in supporting an extension for Fauquier.

Marshall and Lingamfelter are both against tax increases — including the sales-tax referendum for a half-cent increase for road projects pushed for by Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-51st.

Rollison is critical of the two for calling for an expansion of VRE service while they neglect to say how they will fund it.

“You just can’t ask for additional service without seriously asking how to pay for it,” Rollison said. Outgoing Gov. James S. Gilmore III has proposed in his budget taking $850 million from transportation funds.

“As you go from the campaign into reality, where does the rhetoric end?” Rollison asked. “Look at the overall picture. You have a serious cash shortage just to maintain our existing infrastructure and how do you pay for an expansion of that infrastructure without funding?”

“You don’t need to study it. You just need to answer that question,” Rollison said.

Officials said jurisdictions already serviced by VRE will be unwilling to subsidize Fauquier’s operating expenses.

Marshall, who will be in Rich-mond with the rest of the delegation Wednesday for the start of the General Assembly, said he has filed bills that provide $350 million for mass transit and another $75 million for Metro.

Fauquier extension cost estimates

Capital costs

Track and facilities

8 miles of second track: $12 million

5 miles of third track (Powell to Nokesville): $15 million

Interlockings: $5.5 million

Yard facility

Real estate: $1.5 million

Yard construction: $3 million

Locomotive: $2 million

Train station

Construction and land: $2 million

Parking (400 spaces): $1.5 million

Engineering/planning: $1.2 million

Total: $43.7 million

Annual operating costs

Three trains morning/evening

Crew costs: $116,606

Yard crew: $114,769

Maintenance/standby power: $100,000

Fuel: $85,050

Railroad access fees: $358,560

Startup costs

Administrative/marketing: $50,000

Total: $824,985

Source: Virginia Railway Express

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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