Updated plans unveiled for high-speed rail project

June 4, 2015

Source: Scott Shenk, The Free Lance Star 

Preliminary alternative designs of a proposed high-speed rail line between Richmond and Washington, D.C. were laid out for Fredericksburg-area residents Tuesday night in the city.

About three dozen people showed for the public hearing at the Dorothy Hart Community Center. They got a chance to check out maps, watch a video on the proposed new rail line and talk to officials from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.

One thing that drew a lot of attention was a map of preliminary design concepts that showed a new track either running through the downtown train station or bypassing the city before tying back in with the main track lines north and south of Fredericksburg.

“We’re trying to keep everyone informed,” said Kevin Page, with the DRPT. He said the high-speed rail line would improve intercity train travel by allowing trains to go faster while also opening up rail lines congested with passenger and freight trains.

He added that the meeting also was designed to gather input from residents.

The project is the 123-mile Richmond-to-Washington segment of the proposed Southeast High Speed Rail, where trains would be able to travel up to 90 mph. Current speed limits in the corridor are 70 mph; there are speed restrictions in certain areas, such as around the Fredericksburg station.

The Richmond-to-Washington network would be part of a high-speed rail corridor stretching south to Florida and connecting to a Northeast high-speed rail network.

The Southeast Corridor would be integrated with current rail lines, including those in the Fredericksburg area.

The downtown train station presents some particular challenges for the new track. Space is an issue, as well as impacts on historic property.

Officials are dealing with similar issues in two other areas in the proposal—Richmond and Ashland.

Officials so far have developed three alternatives for running the high-speed tracks through Fredericksburg.

One option would be to build no new tracks, which would make Fredericksburg a choke point for the new line, with the high-speed tracks stopping short of the city limits.

The other options each would add a new track, which would include a new or expanded bridge over the Rappahannock River.

One option would add the new track along the east side of the current two tracks and run through the station, which would get an extended platform as part of the project.

The other option would involve the construction of a new track that would bypass the city, looping around to the south and east of Fredericksburg before tying back in with the main line tracks.

Officials have also developed overall project alternatives, three of which include the addition of a new track and one with no new track added.

The options include building the new track in the current right-of-way as well as outside the right-of-way.

The option with no new track construction would focus on upgrades to tracks and station platforms. Under that option the trains’ highest speeds would remain 70 mph.

The plans for the high-speed rail could be completed and approved in 2017, with the line possibly up and running by 2026.

If the project comes to fruition, it likely would be built in segments.

More public hearings on the project will be held.