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Virginia Losing Rail and Public Transit Leader at Key Time

With Virginia poised to award construction contracts for the centerpiece of its $3.7 billion plan to transform passenger rail travel, the leader of the state’s rail and public transit agency announced her plan to retire in June.

Jennifer DeBruhl says she will retire at the end of June as executive director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which has become a critical agency for managing Virginia’s ambitious plans to expand passenger and commuter rail service.

DeBruhl has led the agency for nearly two years, after serving as its chief of public transportation for almost six years and working nearly 19 years in two separate stints at the Virginia Department of Transportation. She also worked for almost five years in community planning at the Federal Highway Administration in her 30-year career.

“I know this team is strong, capable and focused on the future, which makes this the right time for me to step away and pursue other priorities,” she said in a message to the agency’s rail and transit partners on Nov. 27.

DeBruhl is the third state department head to step down from a major state agency this fall, following the resignation of Travis Hill as CEO of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority and the retirement of Joe Damico as director of the Department of General Services, which manages the state’s real estate and procurement operation.

She promised to help Secretary of Transportation Shep Miller find a replacement to lead the rail and public transit department, which she said they both agree “is on the right track.”

“Over the next six months, I will remain laser focused on leading DRPT and will ensure a smooth leadership transition,” she said.

DeBruhl is also a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which makes transportation funding decisions for the state, and chairs the board of directors of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, created nearly four years ago to expand opportunities for passenger rail travel across the state.

The authority board of directors is expected to approve contracts on Wednesday to build a new rail bridge across the Potomac River and rail bypass in Fairfax County that will double rail capacity to cross the river between Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The $1.9 billion project will allow separation of passenger and freight train traffic, expanding passenger rail service to and from Richmond as well as other parts of the state.

The project includes the construction of a new rail bridge across the Potomac next to the 119-year-old Long Bridge, which currently limits traffic to two tracks, and a new pedestrian bridge across the river.

Construction of a new rail crossing of the Potomac is the centerpiece of a deal that then-Gov. Ralph Northam signed more than two years ago with CSX Corp., the transportation company that owns Long Bridge, and Amtrak Corp. The deal also will allow the Virginia Railway Express, known as VRE, to expand commuter rail service in Northern Virginia and as far south as Spotsylvania County.

Virginia committed to purchasing 350 miles of railroad right of way and 225 miles of track from CSX to boost passenger rail service along the traffic-clogged Interstate 95 corridor between Richmond and Washington, eventually allowing trains to run almost hourly between the Amtrak station on Staples Mill Road in Henrico County and Union Station in the nation’s capital. The expansion will also allow more passenger trains to run to and from Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom in downtown Richmond.

DeBruhl’s retirement will not affect those plans, but Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, said, “It’s going to be a void when she leaves.”

McQuinn, who led the House Transportation Committee when Democrats last controlled the House of Delegates from 2020 to 2022, said DeBruhl “came with a wealth of knowledge” from her long career in transportation planning and management.

“I think she’s just taking a break,” she said.

Source: Daily Progress