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Virginia wants to move more goods through Port of Virginia by rail

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Virginia wants to move more goods through Port of Virginia by rail

Sep 29, 2022 | 6:12 pm ET
By Nathaniel Cline
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Virginia wants to move more goods through Port of Virginia by rail
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Cranes looming over the Port of Virginia viewed from the waterfront in Norfolk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia plans to increase the use of freight rail to transport goods by partnering with the Port of Virginia, according to the draft 2022 Statewide Rail Plan published on Wednesday.

Using freight services to transport goods is expected to help relieve traffic congestion, reduce carbon emissions and yield annually $2.1 billion in benefits.

“The fact that we’re looking at it and talking about it and looking for ways to improve it, we think it’s a sign of strength, and it will help our overall efforts to expand,” said Joseph Harris, spokesman for the Port of Virginia.

Harris said the plan is critical due to the growth of the port and expansion of the central rail yard at Norfolk International Terminals that is expected to process 1.1 million rail lifts per year. He said the port’s rail volume is up by 4% or about 446,000 containers, versus 428,000 containers moved by rail during the pandemic.

Jennifer DeBruhl, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said the previous plan included recommendations for freight investments, but the draft plan calls for transportation officials to be “much more strategic” with their partners.

With the increase in freight transportation, DeBruhl said transportation officials want to help facilitate “the growth of business in the commonwealth” and “support that economic growth with rail” and at the same time improve travel on highways.

Total rail tonnage is expected to grow by 60% between 2017 and 2045. Coal has been the primary commodity carried by rail followed by chemicals and allied products.

DRPT has committed close to $50 million under the existing rail plan through its grant program.

Virginia is expected to invest $5.8 billion into 174 rail projects, according to the plan. About $227.9 million will go to freight projects in the next six years and another $213.8 million afterwards, the plan states. The remaining investments will go to passenger rail projects expected to yield annually $171 million in benefits.

The plan, which is open for public comment until Oct. 27, is scheduled to be finalized in November. Comments can be submitted to [email protected].