I-81 Freight Rail Study and Norfolk Southern Cresent Corridor compared and contrasted in new paper for CTB
Because both are rail intermodal efforts
affecting the I-81 Corridor, there has been public confusion over
what these two projects are and how they differ. In a new paper
prepared for the Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting in Roanoke
on November 7, RAIL Solution details the differences and highlights
some curious ways the new NS direction departs from the vision of
its own CEO, Wick Moorman (2nd item below).
"I-81 Crescent Corridor" Initiative
RAIL Solution has been asked our views on
Norfolk Southern's recently announced "I-81 Crescent Corridor"
initiative. To understand its significance, one has to separate what's
old from what's new.
Norfolk Southern President, Chairman, and
CEO Charles "Wick" Moorman made a major address at Hotel
Roanoke, which he called a "coming out party" for the
railroad's I-81 strategy.
A Multi-State Plan Needs Multi-State Involvement
Solution is reaching out to Tennesseans,
Pennsylvanians, Marylanders, and
“Our neighbors need to know
that the H-1581 process offers opportunity
for significant transport- ation
improvements at less cost to taxpayers,
highway users and our environment
up and down the I-81 Corridor. These
citizens need to be pressing their
transportation planners to gain
access to the intermodal rail planning
RAIL Solution Exec. Dir.
Letters to the Editor
previous to Sept. 2005:
April 10, 2006 - Roanoke
I-81 study lacks
Citizens now have the opportunity to comment on the Virginia Department
of Transportation's Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Interstate
81. Public hearings will be held in Roanoke on Tuesday.
The DEIS claims that rail cannot take enough trucks off I-81 to avoid
widening it to eight lanes in the Roanoke Valley. However, the DEIS limited
its study of rail to Virginia's piece alone.
Most truck traffic on I-81 travels through Virginia on long hauls. For
rail to compete, improvements need to extend into neighboring states.
The 2006 Virginia General Assembly passed HB 1581 requiring Virginia to
study what it would take to remove "significant" truck traffic
This new study would see what is required to do that job right, rather
than just show that we can't do enough with a limited effort.
More lanes won't make I-81 safer. Moving long-haul trucks onto rail will.
More lanes will have to be paid for with tolls. Rail improvements can
be financed with loans.
The DEIS does not offer a viable rail alternative. We all need to tell
VDOT that the DEIS does not give us the data we need to make the best
choices for the I-81 corridor.
March 3, 2006 - Times-Dispatch
The editorial, "Be It Resolved," horrified those of us living
along the Interstate 81 Corridor. We are quite capable of making our own
transportation decisions without help from The Times-Dispatch, thank you
very much.In your endorsement of a massive I-81 highway project, you are
out of step with the people of Western Virginia.
The time is long gone when building more lanes of highway can be seen
as the answer to the problem of congestion and growth. It didn't work
in California and it hasn't worked in the Northeast.
We can be smarter here in Virginia. We don't need to repeat the economic
and environmental policies that have led to extravagant failure elsewhere.
Through intelligent and balanced planning Virginia can pioneer a new transportation
paradigm for the 21st Century, one that can be a model for smarter capacity
expansion nationwide -- one that makes use of a core network of high-capacity
rail lines. A strategy that relieves truck congestion without compromising
the natural beauty of our region. One that accommodates the growing freight
flows passing through our state without sacrificing our farms, forests,
homes, businesses, historic battlefields, and clean environment.
So butt out, Times-Dispatch. We're way ahead of you.
David L. Foster
Feb. 26, 2006 - Times-Dispatch
Next Time, Do Not Wish Upon STAR Solutions
Editor, As a resident of the Shenandoah Valley, I was very disturbed to
read your editorial supporting the STAR Solutions plan for I-81.
Let me start off by agreeing with you when you say, "Growing traffic,
excessive speeding, and frequent wrecks mar I-81, one of the nation's
busiest byways for tractor-trailers." I also agree that Todd Gilbert's
proposal does not adequately address the problem -- but that is where
our agreement ends.
The Shenandoah Valley has a serious pollution problem. The air quality
does not always meet even the low standards set by the EPA. Widening the
roads will cause more truck traffic, and is only a temporary solution
anyway. By the time the major work is finished, the road will be overcrowded
again. We will be sacrificing the quality of life in the Shenandoah Valley
and the health of the Shenandoah National Park, and will have spent millions
of dollars in the process.
Whenever we have a traffic problem, it is automatically assumed that we
need more roads. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we really
need is a long-term, multi-state, integrated approach to traffic mitigation.
I support Gilbert's proposal for spot improvements, but think it would
be disastrous to uniformly widen I-81. Instead we need to support a new
rail line that would run parallel to I-81. The beauty of rail is that
if it gets too crowded, more cars can be added without adding more tracks.
It is also a proven way to move freight.
I have visited many communities in which the quality of life was ruined
by the addition of huge multi-lane highways. And the quality of life of
the people who live there has got to be taken into consideration when
contemplating huge public projects.
February 26, 2006 - Times-Dispatch
To the Editor:
Your editorial, "Be It Resolved," addressing I-81 improvements,
completely missed the mark. As a lifelong resident of the Shenandoah Valley,
I resent the implication that you know better than eight well-informed
"I-81 legislators" about what is best for the corridor, and
that we who live along it "have no need for outrage."
The legislators and we who live along the corridor have been involved
in a long-term struggle to maintain some control over what improvements
occur on I-81, who will do the work, and how those contractors will be
chosen. VDOT and STAR Solutions have been too cozy for comfort, and we
have every right to be outraged at (1) their plan to widen unnecessarily
the entire length of I-81, (2) STAR Solutions being chosen to handle a
project before it was even defined, and (3) local contractors along the
corridor not having the opportunity to bid on and benefit from this work.
You are also flatly misinformed about (1) only trucks being tolled, (2)
the assertion that "the STAR Solutions project . . . has been subject
to a full and open debate," (3) the sentiment that "the Commonwealth
has come too far in its negotiations with STAR Solutions to stop now,"
and (4) STAR Solutions "offering the best available options."
You are ignorant about this issue, and should refrain from commenting
without first fully researching and understanding it.
February 13, 2006 - Bristol Herald Courier
(this letter also appeared in the Roanoke Times
on Feb. 12)
"Get us off the fast track"
Interstate 81 is crowded with trucks. How many of those trucks could take
the train instead, if we committed ourselves to an interstate railway?
Rail improvements only inside Virginia's borders are not a meaningful
choice for long-distance hauling. But that's all the Virginia Department
of Transportation looked at in its recent I-81 Draft Environmental Impact
Statement. Meanwhile, plans for a massive expansion of I-81 go ahead.
A huge highway would bring tolls, increased traffic on parallel roads,
greater air and water pollution and uncertain long-term benefits. A well-designed
interstate rail system would take our beautiful valley into a better future.
Let?s not be hurried into an enormous mistake by "fixing" I-81.
I urge your readers to contact the governor, their legislators and their
local government officials and ask them to pull off that fast-moving road
and consider the alternatives.
February 6, 2006 - Roanoke Times
Taxpayers would benefit from improving rail
by Kris Peckman of Roanoke,
Invest in rail now for long-term benefits
by Richard Rusk of Blacksburg, and
I-81 corridor study lacks needed information
by Peggy Dyson-Cobb of Lexington.
Download pdf of newspaper clippings
Friday, December 16, 2005 - Bristol Herald Courier -TriCities.com
A national rail solution
Editor, I applaud your editorial series that addresses the transportation
problems surrounding Interstate 81. However, I believe your focus is too
I am a proponent of increased rail traffic and I think the group in Virginia
has made a good start. That start was to stop the expansion plans for
I-81 because once a program of that magnitude begins, it assumes a life
of its own and continues forever, regardless of the merits.
The problem, as I see it, is that it is conceived only as a Virginia problem.
Increased rail facilities for the I-81 stretch would do, as the Virginia
Department of Transportation indicates, little or nothing. I agree.
What is needed is a longer, high speed rail system with no grade crossings
and appropriately designed load-off points. Looking to the future, the
nation needs a steel interstate. Two or three lines north-to-south and
similarly east-to-west carrying primarily freight would have enormous
benefits to the nation. But it has to be a national system.
The present interstate system would not have been constructed if it had
been left to the states. I envision a steel interstate with the rail bed
owned by the government, but open to all companies that have the necessary
equipment. This is a big jump, but the present day interstate was also
a big jump.
Michael D. Eckart
December 12, 2005 - The Roanoke Times
Solve I-81 problems by more use of rail
Traffic on Interstate 81 is a concern to many local residents. It's dangerous,
expensive and pollutes our beautiful valley.
I've worked at Norfolk Southern for 27 years, and I know that one way
we can help ease congestion is to ship more goods long-haul by rail.
One intermodal train can haul 280 truck trailers; other types of trains
can haul as much as 500 truckloads.
The Roanoke Times has covered this issue in depth, reporting that the
stretch of I-81 between Christiansburg and Daleville will have an "F"
rating by 2035.
What I don't see enough of in the newspaper are reasonable and inexpensive
solutions to this growing problem.
Promoting policies that would encourage more rail growth allows us to
combine the long-haul efficiency of rail with the door-to-door service
of trucks. It improves the treacherous conditions on I-81 and would save
us all money.
Monday, November 28, 2005 - The Roanoke Times
Intermodal offers best solution to transportation
Anyone in the Roanoke Valley who drives Interstate 81 has seen
a steady increase in overall traffic in recent years.
Experts predict that the volume of large trucks traveling on I-81 will
increase nearly 70 percent over the next 20 years, making traffic problems
The heavily traveled corridor between Wytheville and Northern Virginia
is not only becoming increasingly congested, but is also frequently the
site of numerous auto/truck collisions.
We need to ask our lawmakers and business leaders to work together to
encourage use of more intermodal rail service (where trailers and containers
travel on rail cars) to combine the long-haul efficiency of rail with
the door-to-door service of trucks.
This would ease congestion, improve safety and improve air quality, too.
September 14, 2005 - Bristol Herald Courier - TriCities.com
Trains would help I-81
To the Editor:
In "Railroads can’t fix I-81", Mr. Shaffer maintains,
"[Shipping by rail] would take several weeks to receive things that
are now delivered by truck in a matter of days." He’s right
about today’s railroad, but advocates for a rail alternative to
massive border-to-border widening of I-81 are envisioning a totally different
kind of railroad than we currently see poking along the track.
By dual tracking the railroad, smoothing out curves and relocating or
burying the track in congested areas, a new railroad would be created.
This new railroad would have no highway crossings and allow scheduled
trains to operate at speeds and with delivery times competitive with interstate
Mr. Shaffer is correct; all deliveries must begin and end on trucks at
shipping origin and destination points. However, he fails to grasp the
value of intermodalism-moving long distance freight the bulk of the distance
on a new, cheaper, faster railroad. Yes, loads will be shifted from truck
to train car to truck again, but drive on-drive off loading techniques
expedite quick and efficient load transfers. Freight studies show that
up to 70% of trucks traveling I-81 travel straight through Virginia; these
trips are long enough to make use of faster rail service.
Mr. Shaffer balks at using taxpayer money to fund private railroad companies.
He fails to concede that construction and maintenance of the interstate
highway system, airport and port facilities and air traffic control all
are tax subsidies of different forms of private transportation businesses.
The only transportation mode that has been paying its own way (and suffering
years of degenerating infrastructure and service) is railroad. If use
of rail makes a safer I-81 and avoids imposition of highway tolls, everyone
Add to this the steady decrease in air quality and the destruction of
our beautiful area with bigger highways and all the support commerce that
goes with it and the rail solution begins to look terrific.
M. Cybil Britton
September 7, 2005 - Washington County News
To the Editor:
"For anyone who travels Interstate 81, the recently passed federal
transportation act is welcome news. Congress dedicated $142 milllion for
safety improvements to Virginia's 325-miles [sic] of the interstate, the
largest single earmark for any highway project in Virginia and one of
the largest in the country. Those funds, combined with over $160 million
already allocated by the Virginia Department of Transportation, mean that
after years of study and debate, significant improvements to this dangerous
and overcrowded road are finally on their way [emphasis added].
"Nearly three years ago, the STAR Solutions team submitted to VDOT
a comprehensive proposal under Virginia's Public Private Transportation
Act (PPTA) to widen I-81 and work towards separating truck and passenger
traffic. That plan called for the improvements to be paid for in part
by truck tolls. Virginia law prohibits tolling of passenger vehicles.
Federal dollars were also part of the proposed funding plan.
"The PPTA encourages private companies to bring forward creative
solutions to meet the state's pressing transportation needs. In
return, the private sector shares the risk, and the reward, associated
with building new roads.
"Last year after numerous public hearings and a thorough analysis
of two competing proposals VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet decided to
move forward with negotiating an agreement with the STAR Solutions team.
At the same time, VDOT, in cooperation with the federal government, initiatied
a study required by law to fully analyze the environmental and historical
resources impact of widening the interstate. The results of this study
will determine exactly the types and scope of improvements allowed for
"For years, Virginians have waited patiently for major improvements
to begin on this deadly road. Hardly a day goes by without a report of
a serious or even fatal accident. I-81 was never designed to handle the
volume of traffic--both car and truck taffic [emphasis added]--it
"Our polling data shows that improving I-81 is widely popular. The
idea of separating cars and trucks enjoys a 75 percent approval rating.
Truck tolls are also viewed favorably. People who live in the corridor
are not convinced by arguments that tolls hurt the economy or that widening
will harm the environment. Instead they just want action, and they want
it now [emphasis added].
"Unfortunately, there are several groups that object to making these
needed improvements. Some believe a new rail network is the solution.
Others are opposed to truck tolls. Yet none of these special interests
[emphasis added] has come forward with its onwn viable alternative for
addressing the obvious overcrowding and other safety problems with the
road. The stark reality is that the problems on I-81 cry out for an innovative
solution. It is universally recognized as one of the most treacherous
roads in the interstate highway system, and the problem will only get
worse in the future.
"We are not opposed to using rail as a means to reduce the number
of trucks on the interstate. In fact, our plans included spending over
$130 million on rail improvements to eliminate more than 500,000 trucks
from I-81 each year. It is wishful think, however, to believe a new
rail line parallel to the interstate will divert a significant amount
of freight and passenger traffic from I-81. Such a rail line would cost
Virginia billions and currently there is no source of funding. And even
if Virginia did manage to build a new line, what happens when other states
don't follow? The idea that trucks will stop at the state line, ship their
trailers by rail, and then get back on the interstate north of Virginia
is unrealistic. Finally, rail does nothing to solve the existing and future
problems on the overcrowded, aging interstate [emphasis added].
"We also find claims that tolls will cause trucks to use local roads
dubious and self-serving [emphasis added]. Consider the truck-dependent
nature of our economy and its demand for the prompt delivery of goods,
we are convinced that an improved interstate will not only be beneficial
to the trucking industry, but a boost to our economy as well. Rising
fuel prices are affecting all Ameicans and experts are convinced that
high gas prices are here to stay. Congestion and stop-and-go traffic waste
fuel and cost time, making alternate routes on local roads simply uneconomical
"In its present condition, I-81 will only grow more dangerous and
more congested, threatening the safety and quality of life for people
in Southwest Virginia and throughout the Shenandoah Valley. The time
for debating and complainging about he problems on I-81 is over [emphasis
added]. We formed STAR Solutions out of a shared desire to make improvements
that address the long standing safety issues on I-81 [emphasis added].
Our coalition developed an innovative and cost-effective approach to improving
a long and dangerous stretch of highway. We are encouraged that Congress
and the Commonwealth of Virgining are ready to move forward [emphasis
Jack Lanford of Adams Construction Company
(a STAR Solutions partner in Roanoke)
August 29, 2005 - Bristol Herald Courier - TriCities.com
In Support of Rail
The factual errors in the Aug. 29 letter, "Railroads can’t
fix I-81," are too numerous to correct in a single letter. However,
the concluding argument – "... the railroads are privately
owned. Why should our tax dollars be used for their benefit?" –
is totally biased. It ignores the following facts:
From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, steam trains carried most
of our freight and long-distance passengers, unified our continent, and
shaped our nation.
Privately owned trucking companies and bus lines have benefited from the
billions of dollars spent by local and state governments over the last
200 years on constructing and maintaining our nation’s roads and
airports. Since 1916, the federal government has spent more than $100
billion to aid states in building and improving highways, airports and
While the governments of most countries support railroads as an essential
part of their infrastructure, our federal government provides far less
aid for railroads than for any other form of transportation, but regulates
railroads more strictly. It would require as many as 1,000 cars to carry
as many passengers as one commuter train.
An average "piggyback" train of 70 cars can carry 2,500 tons
of trailers/containers for a fraction of the cost of individual trucks.
Compared to trucks and aircraft, trains offer significant reductions in
congestion, fuel costs, and pollution.
With oil prices near $70 a barrel and still climbing, our neglected, abused
and maligned railroads may once again offer the most cost-effective solution
to our problems.
J. Edward Updyke
Archives for Letters
to the Editor previous to Sept. 2005 - coming soon
June 7th at 10am
CSX's Innovative I-95 Corridor Proposal
Rail: Perpetually Underfunded
Tier 1 EIS
-Overview of DEIS.
-VDOT I-81 Site
-Write to VDOT>
-EIS Process Overview
-Letters to Editor
RAIL Solution's I-81 Transportation Issues & Priorities
Maximize Rail/ Minimize Road Expansion
-VA Gen. Assembly
-Analysis & Reports