Northern Virginia’s commuter rail service, VRE, is taking the first steps to extend its Manassas Line 11 miles farther west, to Haymarket.

Map of the proposed extension and station locations. Image from VRE.

The extension would bring commuter rail to three new stations in Prince William County, which is growing quickly. It would split off as a spur from the Manassas Line, with some trains going on to Broad Run on the existing line, and some trains going to Haymarket.

It would would also bring the Manassas line’s total number of stations to nine. There’s a new Fredericksburg Line station in Spotsylvania set to open this summer, meaning the whole system would go from 18 lines to 22.

VRE engineers are studying what it’s going to take to get the extension up and running. That includes deciding on where to put the new stations and how frequently trains will run through them, as well as looking at how the extension would affect the environment.

Once the study is complete, elected officials will need to approve the new service, as well as find a way to fund it. Virginia’s General Assembly recently passed a bill that gives more money to transit, but the new funds won’t be enough to cover a project this big.

To reach its potential, VRE needs to be able to run more trains

Service capacity is still an issue because CSX, the freight company who owns the tracks between Alexandria and Union Station, only lets VRE run 40 trains per day. VRE uses 30 of those spots for existing service, and it needs to reserve some of what’s left for potential changes to the Fredericksburg line. VRE will need a larger allowance for the Manassas extension to have a real impact.

More frequent service, particularly reverse or midday runs for the Manassas Line, would likely lead to an more people riding.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Burke.