Changing the VRE Manassas Line: Exploring the Godwin Road Station Alternative
The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is exploring if it should extend the line that runs from Broad Run through Manassas to Union Station, as well as add three new trains to carry commuters into DC each morning.
The “full bore” expansion option is to build new stations at Innovation, Gainesville, and Haymarket, while closing the existing Broad Run station and the end of the Manassas Line That would require adding a second (and potentially a third) railroad track for the 11 miles to Haymarket, plus construction of a new railyard west of that town.
Compared to the “minimal change” alternative of adding the three new trains but maintaining the existing station at Broad Run, constructing a new 11-mile extension to Haymarket would cost an additional $250-$350 million. Despite the expense for the additional infrastructure, VRE would carry only an additional 300 daily commuters each way in 2025 compared to the “minimal change” alternative.
Adding additional trains but still using the Broad Run station would provide a better benefit/cost ratio than the alternative of building three new stations, new tracks, and a new railyard near Haymarket. However, retaining the Broad Run station would create a major problem with train storage.
The railyard at Broad Run is limited in size. The current passenger platform blocks addition of the extra storage tracks that would be necessary, if VRE added three additional trains in each direction.
A third alternative, costing perhaps $10 million more than the “minimal change” option, is to build a new station where the railroad crosses Godwin Road in Manassas.
Godwin Road would become the end-of-line station and the platform at Broad Run would be closed. The Godwin Road alternative would allow expansion of the existing railyard.
It would cost far less to implement the Godwin Road alternative, compared to the high costs of building an extension to Haymarket with three new stations and a new railyard . A Godwin Road end-of-line station would also minimize annual operating costs, since the trains in the yard would be located just 1.5 miles away from the location where service starts/ends each day.
Most significantly, a station at Godwin Road is not underneath the flight path of Manassas Airport. Unlike Broad Run, the new end-of-line station could trigger transit-oriented development and create economic benefits consistent with the City of Manassas Comprehensive Plan.
The Manassas Landing area is described as a “gateway” for development. Placing a VRE station there could result in high-tech companies choosing to locate there. Adding more trains to VRE would offer the potential for skilled workers living within the urban core to commute to jobs in Manassas without using a car.
Planning for growth at Godwin Road provides a clear contrast to the planning by Prince William County for the land west of Haymarket. VRE has proposed a new station located west of Route 15, but at that site the station would be located within the Rural Area.
The Rural Area is supposed to be a zone of low density development. Unless current land use planning is ignored in order to speculate on rezonings that would transform the area, there would be few (if any) economic benefits for a new VRE station located west of Haymarket.