A Washington-Miami “Corridor of the Future” in the Works?

CSX Corp. wants to upgrade its railroad lines into a “corridor of the future” between Washington and Miami, a move that would permit freight trains to operate at speeds of 50 mph to 70 mph and passenger trains up to 110 mph. That would fall far short of a bullet train, but it would significantly improve speeds of existing Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express Service.

According to Steve Dunham, chairman of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons, writing in the Free Lance-Star:

The line would be “sealed to prevent motor vehicle intrusion.” Some 1,700 “at-grade highway rail crossings” would be closed and, where necessary, replaced with bridges. There would be three tracks between Richmond and Miami and four tracks between Richmond and Washington.

Of course, all those improvements would cost a lot of money, and CSX doesn’t want to pay it. But money could be available under the federal “Corridors of the Future” program. The project sounds cool. But lots of projects sound cool in the absence of Return on Investment analysis. As always, one must ask: What’s the cost, what’s the pay-off and what are the risks?

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18 responses to “A Washington-Miami “Corridor of the Future” in the Works?”

  1. Bill Garnett Avatar
    Bill Garnett

    Living in Richmond I would love to be able to travel to Washington or Virginia Beach for a day trip but check the schedules – it is almost impossible. I would welcome a rapid and comfortable trip at a reasonable price and I imagine many more would.

    After living in The Netherlands recently for almost three years, I find it perplexing that the northeast corridor doesn’t have better public transportation – in Holland it is pleasant and economical to get around just about any place using public transportation.

  2. Bill Garnett Avatar
    Bill Garnett

    “What’s the cost, what’s the pay-off and what are the risks?”

    What is the cost of not having high-speed corridor public transportation? What is the savings of the displaced vehicular traffic? What is the improvement in quality of life, impact on business travel, tourism? What is the value of saved commuting time? What about the environmental improvement by reducing pollution? A modern public rail transit system, like the implementation of the interstate highway system, perhaps is better addressed with common sense bold leadership and not forever entangled in analysis and political squabbling.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Richmond and Charlottesville to Washington is a natural for rail travel. Too long to drive and too short to fly.

    While you are at it, throw in Annapolis and Ocean City, or Virginia Beach.

    Routes such as these make a whole lot more sense than local light rail at truly exorbitant cost.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “What is the value of saved commuting time? “

    If you are talking about commuter rail, there is no time saved. In washington, I can almost always drive to my destination faster than I can take VRE or Metro.

    In New York, with the best rail service anywhere, commuters have the longest trips in the nation, in terms of time.

    Rail is good for what it does, but saving time isn’t on the list.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I take it back: Saving time is’tt ordinarily on the list.

    However, if you want to go skiing in Vermont, then the train makes sense. You can take an overnight train and get a sleeper and be on the slopes at 8:30. But if you fly, you dont arrive until 11:00, so you have basically shot one day, each direction.

  6. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    This is another one of those things I wonder about. Does anyone else?

    You drive the interstate, you see Yellow trucks, and Orange trucks, and millions of others owned by various companies. You fly the airways and pass United, Delta, and other planes on the way. Yet when it comes to railroads, the Feds foot the bill but only one company is allowed to use the track. Then the feds own trains must take a back seat to that company’s freight trains.

    Shouldn’t rail be treated just like any other transportation mode?

  7. Bill Garnett Avatar
    Bill Garnett


    And the government provides highways free of charge for all to use – what if the government nationalized all railroad right-of-ways and reimbursed the railroads with requirements that that money be invested in new equipment. And the government takes over building and maintaining rail tracks as they do for highways. Then new private carriers may enter the market to service attractive corridors.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I may have reason to travel from Huntington, Ind back to Fredericksburg, Va.

    For giggles and grins.. I looked at:

    1. – airline fares
    2. – AMTRAK fares
    3. – Bus Fares

    what I found out..

    AMTRAK and Bus fares are equivalent and $50-100 cheaper than airfare…

    but then the truly UGLY… Amtak is about 12 hours.. and the bus is about 20 hours…

    In each case… how to get/to from the departure and arrival.. is an additional issue.

    My wife has used AMTRAK before. After driving an hour to get to the station at 5 a.m., AMtrak was then delayed 2+ hours… and never said so… on their website or via other methods… until.. one actually arrived at the station.

    Here’s the sad part.

    I actually think Rail and Bus could compete… if

    1. – roads were TOLLED so that the true cost of building/maintaining them is a built-in legitimate cost to be recovered from those that use them.

    2. – AMTRAK and Buses employ existing technology to make it easy for folks to know and understand their schedules and especially their deviations

    3. – On their websites .. they show available modal options at their stations….

    4. – I’d support SOME government spending for one-time infrastructure expansions/upgrades in exchange for concessions from private enterprise with respect to useage….

    for instance, help CRX with a second rail corridor but demand accommodation for commuter rail.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Roads ARE paid for by those that use them, which is just about everybody. They do not pay for them strictly on an amount of service used basis, but they pay 100% of the cost of owning, operating, and insuring the conveyances.

    We may not be paying enough, but that is another matter. The fact remains that all of what is being paid is being paid almost entirely by road users. However, it isw true that the pro rata portion of what we pay maybe out of whack.

    Rails are NOT paid for by those that use them on amount of service used basis. Instead riders are heavily subsidized, by not only those that use the rails, but those that use the roads. Likewise, road users continue to have some support that comes from rail riders (who are also road users in any case).

    If, in fact, you tried to collect the full cost of using these services frome either group the amount of usage would fall dramatically, along with the revenue. However, the cost of maintenance would be nearly the same, and the cost of expansion would be the same or more, because of uncertain funding.

    Rail and bus cannot compete with autos or airplanes: they are not in the same business or provide the same service.

    It is time to drop the competitive mentality and look for the best combination solutions. Such solutions are neceesarily going to involve the best combination funding, because it cannot be done with user fees alone.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Cmon Ray you are smarter than this

    Larry is arguing for you pay for what you use

    If you drive 100 miles a month you shouldn’t be paying as much as the guy that drives 1000 miles a month

    I do agree with you that without subsidies rail bus and metro would all fail

    The question is if we went to a totally user based system would roads fail

    Would more people switch to mass transit if they had to pay the full cost of traveling on roads?


  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Roads ARE paid for by those that use them, .. not strictly service used but 100% of the cost.

    I shortened it.. just for space.. tried to maintain the essence…

    seems like if they paid 100% then there would not be a 100 billion dollar backlog… right?

    … revenues.. will pay ONLY for maintenance within 5 years.. then how do you ADD to existing road infrastructure?

    … no go on the gas tax.. at least so far.. so it’s starting to look like TOLLs….

    .. once TOLLs are put in place, the question becomes will rail become more competitive than it is right now?

    If you had a trip… from point a to point b … say 400 miles…

    would TOLL roads, bus, rail or air be cheaper?

    what if TOLLs would cost you .. say $50 bucks on top of your gasoline costs?

    and I’ll admit from the getgo that in terms of the quickest time.. personal auto will win.. hands down .. beating all the rest..

  12. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    I once took Amtrak from Newport News to Fresno, CA. Great scenery, BTW. The cost for a berth was way out of the budget, as were the meals. One good thing was the train pulled into a stop over every morning, giving me time to stock up on food for the day. The other good thing was the train was nearly empty, allowing me to sleep across seats.

    The experience proved to me that a train is good for about 600 miles. After that it gets tedious, and expensive.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “If you drive 100 miles a month you shouldn’t be paying as much as the guy that drives 1000 miles a month”

    I agree, and the guy driving a 20,000 lb vehicle should pay more than the guy driving a 2000 lb vehicle. The guy using 500 HP should pay more than the guy using 75 HP. Which is why I support higher gas taxes, even substantially higher ones, if that is what it takes to a) put a fairere share on the users, and b) raise enough to do what needs to be done.

    “seems like if they paid 100% then there would not be a 100 billion dollar backlog… right?”

    Nope, we have paid for what we got, but we have paid nothing towards what we have not got yet. We need more money and it is only a queston of whther we all pay, or if we are foolish enough to think we can get just as much money more painlessly by sticking the costs only on the unfortunate few who get stuck with paying the tolls or other fees in no way related to use.

    Without subsidies not all rail and bus service would fail, but only the best and most efficient routes would survive. Costs of Metro rail is $0.45 per passenger mile: about what the government pays you if you use your car on goverment business. Metrobus is more like $0.80 per passenger mile.

    And those are only operating costs, not construction, or capital costs. And they aren’t even taking in enough money in fares to cover those operating costs: they get it from auto drivers. So Metro is in exactly the same mode as the roads: barely enough money to cover maintenance and no money to expand service (on which they will lose even more money).

    “The question is if we went to a totally user based system would roads fail “

    No, according to Winston and Shirley. If bus, rail, and autos all paid their own true costs we would discover that the costs attributed to autos are inflated as are the savings attributed to mass transit.

    The end result would be that mass transit would shrink considerably, maybe to 2% of what it is today. But because mass transit is such a small part of total transit, auto use would go up only a little to cover the deficit. And with the savings from not subsidizing transit, we could easily have enough money to make up the difference in increased auto costs.

    According to Winston and Shirley, one of the main benefits of transit is the patronage it offers politicians.

    But. We can’t put any more roads in the places we need them most. Mass transit offer at least the possibility of increased peak hour transport. For a while. Until the Orange line is packed to SRO. Until you can’t get the cars to the Metro station fast enough to fill the trains.

    So when roads and metro both can only afford maintenance and not expansion, and when they are both full to capacity, then what?

    Then maybe we will look around and decide what the true root problem is: too many people being attracted to the same place at the same time. We either need more times or more places, or both.

  14. Anonymous Avatar



    “Now hold on to your hat. The world’s most rigorous effort to get you out of your car and into public transportation comes from Singapore.

    The government has implemented a range of measures to manage car ownership and usage. These include the Certificate of Entitlement (COE), Vehicle Quota System (VQS), road taxes and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). All motor vehicles must be registered with the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

    Here’s the way “Expat Singapore” describes the system.


    The COE scheme has been one of the most controversial and hotly debated public policies ever implemented in Singapore. Anyone wishing to buy a car or motorcycle has to bid for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE).

    Each month, a certain number of COE’s are released for bidding and if successful, the vehicle entitlement is valid for 10 years from the date of registration of the vehicle. The scheme aims to peg long-term vehicle population growth at 3 per cent a year.

    The catch? COE’s have become so expensive that it is cost prohibitive to own a car. The government wants the people to take public transport.

    Registration Fee and ARF

    All motor vehicles imported into Singapore are slapped with a customs duty of 41 per cent ad valorem. There is also a Registration Fee to be paid. The fee is $1,000 for private vehicles and $5,000 for company vehicles. In addition, when a car is first registered (whether new or used), an Additional Registration Fee (ARF) of 150 per cent of the car’s Open Market Value is payable.

    Electronic Road Pricing

    Electronic Road Pricing is Singapore’s latest attempt at tackling traffic jams during peak hours. ERP is based on a pay-per-use principle that is intended to reflect the true cost of driving. ERP has been extended to choke-points on other expressways and major roads in order to alleviate congestion.

    In-vehicle units (what many Americans might call E-ZPass) have now been installed in all vehicles and every new car purchased in Singapore must have one.You may only renew your road tax if your vehicle has a valid inspection certificate. Cars between 3 to 10 years old must be inspected once in 2 years; cars older than 10 years must be inspected every year.

    It’ll Cost You

    So what does all this mean for your dream car? Some estimates (including annual registration fee, import duty, road tax, registration fee and number plates) are: Audi A41.8 (A) $182,000 (including COE), BMW 328 (A) (2.8cc) $238,000 (including COE); Mercedes 200E $201,902; Volvo 940 Turbo Estate 2.0 (A) $160,753.

    Either start saving up or make sure your company gets you a car. If not, we’re sure you won’t find the public transport system here wanting!

    Traffic in many parts of America and the world is getting tougher to deal with. Some are dealing with it but most are not.”

  15. Anonymous Avatar



    “Tuesday, May 1, 2007

    The Road to Hell is Paved with HOV Lanes.

    Carpool lanes, also known as HOV lanes or diamond lanes are designed as a relatively low cost solution to traffic congestion. The underlying logic is simple. If every car contained two people then we would have half as many cars on the road, and traffic congestion, the main cause of the ironically named “Rush” hour, would disappear. And while the logic is simple, the reality is less clear.

    For example, in Vancouver a special HOV lane was built on one of the busiest in the city. While the number of cars with more than one rider in the morning commute increased from 600 to nearly 1,000, the number of single-occupant vehicles increased 46% to 5,200. That wasn’t foreseen. Neither was the 8% decline in bus ridership. It seems that as people began to ride-share and moved into carpool lanes, it freed up capacity in the regular lanes, encouraged more people to take the route, and because the bus riders saw only a 3 minute saving with the new lane, many of them abandoned the bus in favor of their cars.

    So the HOV Lane caused less bus ridership, and in the end, more traffic. Somewhere there is a city planner banging his head on the desk.”

  16. Anonymous Avatar



    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
    – Thomas Jefferson


    “NoVa commuters getting railroaded
    The Post has an interesting graphic showing just some of the badly needed transit projects Northern Virginians could look forward to, “If Richmond lawmakers come up with additional transportation funding.” The most notable is the very necessary widening of I-66 inside the Beltway.

    A more accurate reporting, however, would be “if Richmond lawmakers weren’t spending virtually all of our transportation dollars on a wasteful Metrorail extension.”

    Projected construction costs are now over $5 billion for a developer’s bonanza that will run an annual deficit of at least $110 million, all to accommodate only about three percent of all trips taken in the area (most of whom already use the Metro bus system and don’t represent cars taken off the road.)

    Even worse, construction of the railroad takes away right of way needed to expand and improve roads, cutting off future opportunities to address traffic.

    So take a look at your area and imagine what $5 billion in transportation funds could be doing to reduce traffic congestion, instead of allowing developers a chance to squeeze in more mixed use and commercial office space near the newly proposed stations.”

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Then maybe we will look around and decide what the true root problem is: too many people being attracted to the same place at the same time. We either need more times or more places, or both.”

    NoVa has how many people? a million and Wash DC Region.. 5 million?

    How many cities in this country and around the world have higher populations… and did not resort to “more places” as the answer?

    The solution is simple. Every SOV is replaced by a HOV for most daily home-to-work and return trips.

    How many folks do you think drive solo SUVs to NYC vs how many folks take multiple-occupany vehicles?

    Ditto other cities…with much larger populations than Wash/NoVa.

    Here’s the bottom line.

    Driving a vehicle SOLO everyday from home to work and back …is a very expensive luxury… made possible by expanding taxaction to those who do not do this.

    When you start charging the actual costs of the infrastructure to support this kind of commuting to those who actually want and use it – the expense of it will convince enough folks that it is simply not worth it – if there are viable alternatives.

    Note I did not say pleasurable nirvana alternatives.

    Charge the folks who want to drive SOLO to work – what it actually costs to provide them with the infrastructure necessary to provide them with the service they are …. willing to pay for – and not pass those costs on to other folks who either choose not to commute longer distances or if they do – they use multi-passenger vehicles.

    This is super simple.. and it is employed nationally and worldwide… to deal with SOLO commuting…

    and Eureka!!! this is the same market process for any commodity… charge per use… and let folks decide what level of service that they are willing to personally pay for.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    US President Tim Kalemkarian, US Senate Tim Kalemkarian, US House Tim Kalemkarian: best major candidate.

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