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VRE worries about loss of funding
VRE is worried about losing $9.6 million in federal funds it uses to pay track access fees.


Date published: 10/20/2012

BY SCOTT SHENK

DALE CITY

--Because of a technical change created by the new surface transportation law, the Virginia Railway Express is concerned it may lose millions in federal track access funding.

In July, President Obama signed the MAP-21 act (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century).

That federal legislation allocates $105 billion for surface transportation programs for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 and is the first long-term highway authorization since 2005.

Officials with the commuter rail system talked about the issue and potential ramifications at Friday's operations board meeting.

According to VRE, if it doesn't get the $9.6 million in track access funds for fiscal 2014, it could mean that passengers and member localities would have to pay more.

It could also lead to the elimination of trains.

VRE uses the funds to pay for access to CSX Transportation's tracks.

The potential loss of the access funding would compound the already $5.1 million shortfall in the preliminary fiscal 2014 budget, which the board will vote on in December.

"This would have a very devastating impact on our budget," said Doug Allen, the commuter rail system's CEO.

During the meeting, VRE gave a presentation of the potential impacts of losing the millions in federal funds.

Fares would increase by 28 percent, meaning a monthly ticket from Fredericksburg to Union Station would jump from $294.10 to $376.45, according to VRE projections.

Jurisdictions' subsidies would jump by 58 percent. Stafford County--which pays more than Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania because it has more riders--would pay $3.7 million as opposed to $2.3 million.

And the loss of funding could also lead to the elimination of six of the Fredericksburg line's 14 trains.

Kevin Page, the chief operating officer of Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said the federal funds will still be available.

"The money is the same," he said at Friday's meeting, "it's just that the color of the money has changed."

The DRPT traditionally has received the federal track access funds and passed it on to VRE.

Now, however, Virginia's Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, will determine how that money is spent.

Page suggested that VRE talk to Connaughton, as well as the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which will allocate those funds.

Since VRE's inception, it has received the federal money for track access, VRE's Mark Roeber said.

Losing that money, he said, "would be dire."

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com