Plans for high-speed rail between Richmond and Washington moving slowly

June 3, 2015

Source: John Ramsey | Richmond Times Dispatch

The push for high-speed rail between Richmond and Washington continued its slow roll forward Wednesday as state and federal rail officials presented their latest plans at a town hall meeting on Broad Street.

An additional rail line between the two cities will in theory allow trains to travel up to 90 miles per hour and could cut up to half an hour off the travel time while also adding needed capacity for freight trains. It would also improve reliability and could increase the frequency of service.

But officials say completion of the project is still likely a decade away.

The 123-mile stretch of tracks is planned as part of a larger initiative to connect high-speed rail that already runs from Boston to Washington as far south as Jacksonville, Fla.

The plan, which has been in the works for more than a decade, has advanced to the stage where a series of specific routing options are being developed and studied for environmental and other impacts. Drawings of the various routes the rail line could take should be available by the end of the year, said Emily Stock, the project manager with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The options being considered in Richmond include whether the trains would stop at the Staples Mill and Main Street stations as well as a proposed station on the Boulevard, or some combination. The Richmond area of the route is the most complicated in part because it historically had five competing rail lines — now all the track is owned by CSX — that weren’t designed to work together, said project consultant Mike Knott. Freight trains sometimes clog the rails while backing up through the city to hit the only line that will take them south, he said.

“Solving that problem is part of what we’re doing,” he said.

This portion of the project, which has taken more than a decade in other cases, will be reduced to three years for the Washington to Richmond segment. It’s the second step of a two-tiered federal review.

More than 100 people attended the Wednesday meeting in Richmond, more than the meetings earlier this week in Fredericksburg and Alexandria combined. In addition to reviewing the plans, they were encouraged to leave comments to help in the process.

“I hope that the momentum from tonight can carry forward for the rest of the study so we can identify funding and move forward,” Stock said.

The most recent cost estimate for the route, in 2009, was about $2 billion.

Among those who attended the Richmond meeting was Dan Widner of Mechanicsville, who travels to D.C. for business a few times a year. He said he avoids the highway because it is one of the most congested routes in the U.S.

“I can just look (from the train) at the cars stopped on 95,” Widner said.