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Updated: 8 hours ago
Stopped on the tracks and waiting — sometimes for hours — for freight trains to pass. If you’ve ridden a train at some point, you’ve probably been in the same situation. A new authority is looking to improve and expand the passenger train experience state-wide. “We believe that the rail initiatives we are putting forward are addressing transportation issues for decades,” Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine explained. The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) has officially left the station, meeting for the first time on October 26. The group, charged with transforming rail transportation throughout the commonwealth is made up of a variety of stakeholders and experienced transportation officials. The membership includes Charlottesville’s Charles “Wick” Moorman, former president and CEO of both Amtrak and Norfolk Southern. “We did try to encourage a commuter rail, passenger rail, to the extent that we could,” Moorman explained of his time working for both rail companies. “Working through what we’re always and will always continue to be difficult issues.” The infrastructure and access improvements the VPRA is proposing are made possible by a deal struck in December of 2019. At that time, the commonwealth acquired several hundred miles of rail and track from CSX Transportation. Not only does Virginia own the rails, they own the right-of-way, potentially giving passenger trains priority on those routes. Those purchases include the Buckingham Branch Railroad, running from Richmond to Charlottesville. While there’s no direct passenger rail between the two now, that’s an area they’re looking to expand into over the next decade. “We’ve talked about the increase in passenger rail, six new Amtrak trains, five new VRE trains and that’s just in phase one and phase two,” Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Michael McLaughlin explained. “We will be looking to expand even further with more passenger trains and phases three and four.” While the pandemic threatened to derail the VPRA’s fast start and keep it from gaining steam, Valentine says that the Commonwealth has managed to keep the initial projects moving. “All the projects are remaining in our six year improvement grant program on time and on schedule,” she said. “Not knowing exactly what is going to unfold, with the knowledge that we have today, we believe this is the smartest path forward for Virginia.” To this day, the deal struck between Governor Northam and CSX has not been finalized, in part due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. Providing an update during her opening comments to the VPRA, Valentine explained that the final execution of that agreement is being worked out. She hoped to bring more information to the authority over the next few weeks.
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Updated: 9 hours ago
A fire destroyed a mobile home in Broadway on Sunday evening. The owner, Patty Brooks, and her two dogs were inside at the time, but luckily no one was severely injured. Sunday night, Melissa Breeden, Brooks' daughter-in-law, said she heard and felt an explosion from her house. She ran outside and heard calls for help and came out to find her mother-in-law still in the mobile home behind their house. Breeden said within ten minutes, everything was gone. “I heard her screaming ‘help me, help me,’ so I run down, and I grabbed her up, and was like ‘we need to get you out, there’s bits of fire everywhere inside of her house,'” Breeden said. Breeden said just a few seconds after Brooks and her dogs were out safely, the whole home went up in flames. “I turned around and looked and the whole thing was totally just engulfed in flames," Breeden said. After the fire was put out, her family saw one thing that was somewhat untouched in the rubble. “We saw was kind of like a little unburnt spot, and we went and looked at it and it was a photo album of her family and her son and grandkids and everything. All of the edges were burnt up and it’s got some water damage, but there’s definitely some salvageable pictures for her,” Breeden said. Brooks is being treated for burns to her face and hands in Richmond. Her family says they are unsure of what to do next, but the most important thing is that she is okay. “We are extremely grateful that somebody was home to help her out of the house and that she made it out alive. I mean that was the best outcome that could’ve came from this,” Breeden said. The family started a GoFundMe page to help out with Brooks’ recovery costs. She is also battling stage three lung cancer and has COPD, and her family wants to make her recovery and easy as possible. Chief Jeremy Holloway of Rockingham Fire & Rescue says the exact cause is still under investigation by the fire marshal’s office, but they do know there was a gas leak of some sort. Holloway also wants to remind people that it is critical to have gas appliances serviced annually and to have chimneys cleaned this time of year. You should also always have a working carbon monoxide and smoke detector.
Updated: 9 hours ago
JMU announced Friday their plan to cancel spring break to curb travel due to the pandemic, leaving students with mixed reactions. JMU student Giovanni Gibbs says she was “definitely surprised but also a little disappointed.” Instead of the usual week-long break, JMU has scattered the days off throughout the spring semester. Gibbs says she would prefer not to have long weekends. “Three days off is okay, but it’s nothing like having a full week with a couple extra days, so personally I think I would’ve just rather it just been no spring break whatsoever than like a half spring break,” Gibbs said. "I think it should be either all or nothing.” Gibbs also says that more days off can allow for more time with family. “When you have students in enclosed spaces, in a place where some of it isn’t really familiar, especially for out-of-state students where it’s hard for them to go home as it is, I think it can definitely take a toll on their mental health and their ability to perform well in their classes," Gibbs said. Jackson Lapovski, another JMU student, says he needs more days off to catch up on school. “I’m taking like 15 credits, that’s a lot of work. I think three days isn’t enough to get a lot done. I think we need four or something like that," Lapovski said. JMU student Hannah Johnson says not having the break halfway through the semester could affect students' mental health. “I think it’s also like a psychological thing," Johnson said. "You know, that you’re gonna have that break off so you’re like grinding up until that break, you know. So, I could definitely foresee that happening.” University Spokesperson Mary-Hope Vass says that they wanted students to be aware of the news as soon as possible as they are planning for the spring semester. “We’ve certainly seen students who are not in favor of this, however, this falls in line with many other institutions throughout the state of Virginia, so ideally this is not how our spring semester would go, but we’re also still dealing with a pandemic," Vass said. She also says it was the safest option for everyone involved. “It’s an ongoing conversation that’s been happening, not just between JMU but also our local community to ensure that we’re following the appropriate guidelines and making the safest decisions for our students and our community at large," Vass said. An extra week of winter break has been added to the school’s calendar, and the spring semester will still end at the normal, scheduled time.
Updated: 9 hours ago
The Page County School Board members have been back and forth on whether or not to allow high school students back in the classroom, but Monday night, the board approved a return date. Like other Page County students, high schoolers can attend on a rotating AA/BB schedule beginning Nov. 16. Some students will attend Mondays and Tuesdays, others will attend Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be used as a remote learning day for all students, and allow teachers additional time to prepare, as well as thorough cleaning of school facilities. Face masks will be required when 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. Wendy Gonzales, the PCPS Superintendent, said teachers will be facilitating work in the classroom like other schools have been doing to remain equitable to students working 100 percent remotely. “What that looks like in the classroom with new instruction, with working on work, with giving independent practice, small group practice," Gonzales said. "It’s all going to be multiple modalities being used to help our children be successful.” Gonzales said, based on surveys returned by high school students, there was high interest from freshman and sophomore students to return for a hybrid in-person model. High school teachers will be teaching both in-person and remote students, but Gonzales said PCPS is looking to get equipment to make things easier for teachers. “We are helping them and we’re getting resources in their hands, like web cameras where they can videotape the class they are currently teaching,” Gonzales said. “That way they don’t have to make a separate video. We are trying to get them support and resources in place, but we do recognize it will be an adjustment for a few weeks, no doubt.” There was a previous discussion about bringing more students in grades 3 through 8 back four days a week, but after a recommendation from the Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene, the board did not move forward with any decisions on that.