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Posted at 5:50 PM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Virginia rail board fights back against elimination proposal

By Jennifer Buske

An advisory board that rail officials said has strengthened freight and passenger rail relations in Virginia and helped advance rail projects is in jeopardy as the governor looks to make government more efficient.

Formed roughly six years ago under Gov. Mark Warner (D), the Rail Advisory Board brings members of Virginia Railway Express, CSX, Norfolk Southern, the railroad unions and a few other organizations under one roof to advocate for rail projects and improve both freight and passenger rail in the Commonwealth.

Governor Robert F. McDonnell's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring recommended in its report released last week that the rail board be eliminated. It is one of 133 recommendations the commission made to McDonnell, who is now reviewing all the items in order to streamline government and cut costs.

"I think a major part of our transportation future in this country and in the Commonwealth of Virginia is expansion of rail opportunities," said Sharon Bulova, VRE's representative on the Rail Advisory Board. "Without a Rail Advisory Board, we lose a very valuable forum for rail issues to be vetted and for rail opportunities to receive advocacy.

Bulova, a founding member of the rail board, said the board has been crucial in strengthening the relationships between VRE and the two freight companies, which own the lines the commuter-rail system operates on. Prior to 2004, VRE struggled with its on-time performance as passenger rail tried to operate among freight trains, she said. That, however, started to change thanks to the rail board.

In an October 20 letter to the commission, VRE Board Chairman Paul Milde also emphasized the Rail Advisory Board's role in securing funds for numerous transportation projects. The board's recommendations have helped allocate nearly $125 million in capital funding for rail projects in Virginia, Milde said in his letter.

Del. G Glenn Oder (R-Newport News), who was a committee chair on the governor's reform commission, said the commission estimated that eliminating this board could save $10,000 a year, mainly in the staff time it takes to prepare for the board's quarterly meetings. Oder said the advisory board was created at a time when the Commonwealth lacked a lot of communication regarding rail issues. That, he said, has since been addressed and there are other avenues that stimulate rail discussions.

CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said the rail board has been a "valuable asset" in elevating the discussion of rail issues. Regardless of the outcome of the commission's recommendations, CSX supports the continued existence of a venue of some form to advance rail developments, he said. NS officials said they have not taken a position on the commission's recommendation.

Bulova said she also questions the commission's recommendation considering the state's efforts to advance rail transportation. The state recently received roughly $45 million in federal funds to pave the way for future high-speed rail. State officials have also stressed the importance of exploring all mass transit options, including rail, to alleviate overcrowding on Virginia roadways.

"The recommendation seems to counter what the administration is pursuing," Bulova said. "The potential for expansion of rail in Virginia is enormous and without the Rail Advisory board, you don't have a place to have those discussions. We don't cost much but I think the board makes a big difference."

By Jennifer Buske  | December 7, 2010; 5:50 PM ET
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Here's the thing:

Over the years I've seen a lot of business and governmental people attempt to demonstrate their fiscal prudence, which usually focuses first on spending.

Many times they descend to spending too much time and effort focused on the small - how many pencils ordered, can we save $1,000 on subscriptions - when the big issues are on the revenue side or real structural inefficiencies on the spend side.

This is one of those cases. The Governor's reform commission has truly disappointed. I read their entire report, and nearly all of it was little nits and picks of little consequence, and virtually nothing that would be considered significant. The biggest item (which constitutes about all of the "savings") is that every agency should spend no more than 98% of its budget.

You don't need a commission to tell you that.

The Rail Advisory Board probably consumes less than pencils and many Governor's office trinkets for visitors, yet plays a critical role. To abolish it over $10,000 of staff time tells me that Virginia has a real management problem.

Posted by: aclearview | December 7, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for this important story. We need "More Trains, Less Traffic" to grow green jobs in Virginia, save lives, cut dependence on oil.

I support and second the remarks of the previous poster, A Clear View.

We need to keep the Rail Advisory Board to grow the economy.

Just two weeks ago I attended the Green Party Convention with my family in Freiburg, Germany were I was a student at the university. Green rail is a tremendous asset to the economy.

Our IndependentGreens Youtube channel has several videos made for you to see their great rail systems. We need even more Rail here.

See for yourself..

Posted by: CareyCampbell | December 8, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse


We need to keep the Rail Advisory Board to grow green rail jobs.

We need "More Trains, Less Traffic"

Posted by: CareyCampbell | December 8, 2010 11:06 PM | Report abuse

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