Officials from the Virginia Rail Authority say bringing passenger rail service to the New River Valley will be more costly than first expected.
In figures released last week, costs could reach $1 billion.
At the center of the future plans is a train tunnel that is almost one mile long. The Merrimac tunnel was built in the early 1930’s and has undergone some work in the past 10 years to allow “double-stacked” freight cars. But with the increase in speeds from a planned Amtrak service and the need for new safety measures, the tunnel is facing some major improvements.
Under the National Fire Protection Association standard, this would include construction of three ventilation fan banks that would be installed throughout the tunnel. In addition, work would have to be done to widen the tunnel to accommodate emergency walkways at the track level.
Also, a 15-story and a 20-story shaft would have to be driven to the surface to allow for emergency access.
The state of Virginia has purchased the former Virginia Line, which runs from Salem through the tunnel. Any travel westward would still have to progress through the tunnel and in the case of Christiansburg, a secondary track would have to be laid down to allow a train to move into Christiansburg.
The initial plan was to have passenger service up and running to the New River Valley by this year. Now, the earliest any type of service could start is 2028.
When the plan was unveiled, there was talk a train station would be located near the New River Mall. That could also be changing.
During last week’s public information, the Virginia agency floated three alternatives.
Alternative A would cost an estimated $366 million with work on the Slate Hill tunnel with a platform and possible layover facility along Cinnabar Road.
Alternative B would include a mall site with work on both tunnels with a needed connector track that would bring the service to the mall at a cost of $785 million.
Alternative C would be the costliest at $951 million with the mall site and a Cinnabar platform.
Officials deeper in western Virginia, including those in Bristol, are hoping the service can be extended all the way there, but again would require some major work to the infrastructure including the Merrimac tunnel.