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Virginia Passenger Rail Authority appoints first executive director

Donald A. Stadtler Jr.
Donald A. Stadtler Jr. Photo courtesy Virginia Passenger Rail Authority.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority has appointed Donald A. Stadtler Jr. as its first executive director.

Established during the 2020 General Assembly session, the VPRA is responsible for promoting, sustaining, and expanding the availability of passenger and commuter rail service in Virginia.

Conducting a nationwide search to select an executive director was among the VPRA Board’s first tasks. Stadtler served as an executive vice president at Amtrak for the past 12 years and has extensive experience in the rail industry.

This appointment comes on the heels of a recent announcement from Gov. Ralph Northam and the leaders of Amtrak, CSX, and Virginia Railway Express of finalized agreements launching a $3.7 billion investment to expand and improve passenger, commuter, and freight rail in Virginia and create a vital connection in America’s national rail network between the Northeast and Southeast corridors.

“The Commonwealth welcomes DJ Stadtler to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority as we transform the future of rail in our Commonwealth,” Northam said. “The work of the VPRA will be critical to expanding service, improving reliability, and enhancing mobility—and ensuring it happens in an equitable, environmentally sustainable way.”

Through the Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative, the Commonwealth will construct a bridge over the Potomac River dedicated to passenger rail, acquire more than 380 miles of rail right-of-way and 223 miles of track, and invest more than $1 billion in additional infrastructure improvements over the next decade.

These investments will allow Virginia to expand Amtrak and VRE services, create a pathway for the separation of freight and passenger rail in Virginia, and preserve future rail corridors.

“DJ Stadtler’s expertise includes operational excellence, strategic vision, and extensive experience partnering with host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern,” Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said. “His leadership will create a great opportunity for the Commonwealth to continue its focus on customer service, safety, and performance as we unlock the potential of rail in Virginia.”

Over the next 10 years, the Commonwealth’s unique partnerships with Amtrak, CSX, and VRE will:

  • Double Virginia-supported Amtrak trains providing nearly hourly service between Richmond and Washington;
  • Increase VRE commuter service along the Fredericksburg line by 60 percent;
  • Lay the foundation for a Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor;
  • Preserve an existing freight corridor between Doswell and Clifton Forge for future east-west passenger service; and
  • Create the potential to expand rail to all parts of the Commonwealth.

Governed by a board of directors with members appointed by the Governor, the VPRA functions as an independent political subdivision and works in collaboration with the Commonwealth’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Stadtler will be charged with helping build the start-up Authority, providing leadership for all operations, maintenance, capital programs, human resources, administrative, and financial operations while maintaining agency-wide efficiency and safety.

“The executive director is accountable for all strategy, policy development, and operations of the Authority,” said Jennifer Mitchell, chair of the VPRA and director of DRPT. “The VPRA Board is very pleased to welcome DJ Stadtler, a demonstrated leader with the skills and ability to navigate the complex rail environment and mobilize the new Authority.”

At Amtrak, DJ Stadtler served as the executive vice president of finance, executive vice president of operations and executive vice president of administration. He led administrative functions for the railroad overseeing human resources, labor relations, police and corporate security, real estate, stations and facilities, and procurement and logistics.

He was also responsible for providing executive oversight for over 18,000 employees, operating more than 300 daily trains, and attracting and retaining loyal customers resulting in the growth of revenue and ridership. Additionally, he spent 11 years at the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration where he oversaw accounting, procurement, and real estate.

“I have been involved in various aspects of Virginia passenger rail since its growth in 2009,” Stadtler said. “During my time at Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, I have worked hand in hand with states, Congress, commuter railroads, and freight railroads to deliver improved passenger rail service. I have a proven track record of delivering complex railroad projects within scope, budget, and schedule, and I am confident I can continue those successes in Virginia.”

The VPRA will be assembling its team over the next 12 months.

To learn more about job opportunities, please visit the Virginia Jobs website.

Established under Chapter 1230 of the 2020 Acts of Assembly, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority is responsible for promoting, sustaining, and expanding the availability of passenger and commuter rail service in the Commonwealth.

The new authority will assume all administrative and fiduciary responsibilities for Virginia’s state-supported passenger rail services, including the current six daily roundtrip Amtrak Northeast Regional services originating in Roanoke, Norfolk, Newport News, and Richmond.


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