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Railway station in Spotsy closer

Plans for a Virginia Railway Express station in Spotsylvania County and a new stretch of third track are chugging along.

The station could be up and running by the end of the year, and the third track could be completed shortly thereafter.

On Friday, the VRE Operations Board got the process moving by voting to put out construction bids for the Spotsylvania station and third track. They hope to award a contract for the projects by May, so construction could start later that month or in June.

The hope is that the station, along with a 1,500-space parking lot, will be completed by December. The third track could be ready by January or soon thereafter.

Gary Skinner, Spotsylvania’s representative on the VRE board, said during the meeting that he understands the plan is aggressive, but that’s the way the county wants it.

“If we don’t have it open in December, we’ll have it open shortly after that,” Skinner told the board.

The estimated $3.4 million Spotsylvania station will be built at the Crossroads Business Park off the U.S. 17 Bypass. The third track will run from there and end just short of the Fredericksburg train station.

The original plans stipulated that the third track had to be completed before trains started running out of the station. But VRE officials say they have an agreement with CSX that will allow the station to begin operation before the third track is finished.

The $32.5 million third track is expected to tie into a much larger high-speed rail system.

VRE’s Mark Roeber said it’s a complicated process.

“There’s a lot of moving parts there,” he said.

In other business at Friday’s meeting, VRE Chief Executive Officer Doug Allen said ridership continues to be strong, with nine days of more than 20,000 rider trips in February. But there has been a pretty big drop in Friday riders in recent months.

There were 2,600 fewer rider trips on Fridays last month compared with February 2012, Allen said. He believes teleworkers have contributed to the drop.

He said VRE officials will also keep an eye on possible effects of sequestration, which has resulted in furloughs of some federal workers. Most of those furloughs happen on Fridays.

On a positive note, Allen said the Amtrak step-up tickets have been lowered from $5 to $3. That decrease is the result of the Interstate 95 express lanes project and an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation to help ease congestion while that work is being done.

Allen also mentioned that Caroline County officials have expressed interest in eventually joining the commuter-rail service. But it appears that a development planned in the Carmel Church area would have to come to fruition first.

Thelma Drake, VRE board member and director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said any such agreement is “way long out.”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436