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VRE urges Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board to restore funds

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Virginia Railway Express officials are seeking to restore millions in federal transportation funding that they say could have a huge impact on service.

This month, VRE operations board Chairman W.S. Covington III wrote to Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton asking that $9.6 million expected from the federal government be allocated to VRE, as it usually is.

The money is generally used to pay track access fees charged by CSX, Norfolk Southern and the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

That money was included in federal transportation legislation and sent to Virginia, but under a different budget heading this year. VRE was told that because of that, the money was sent to the budget controlled by the Commonwealth Transportation Board and chaired by Connaughton, instead of directly to the rail service.

Covington, a Prince William County supervisor, said he has been assured by state and federal officials that the money is there for VRE. He asked Connaughton to ensure that language be included in the budget sent to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) allocating the funds.

“I think it goes without saying that this is the most pressing need facing VRE since you’ve assumed the post as Secretary of Transportation,” Covington wrote. He said VRE would be forced to eliminate trains, increase fares or add VRE member localities if the money isn’t re-directed.

“None of those options are viable,” he wrote.

Covington said he spoke with Connaughton, who made no commitments to him but has said that he would work on the issue. Connaughton could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

If the funding is not restored, Covington said, VRE’s options to deal with the shortfall are “fairly draconian and would hurt the services we provide.”

Covington said he planned to attend a Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting Tuesday.

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