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Southeast High-Speed Rail Workshops

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, spring 2006

From correspondent Jerry Grosshans

Two public workshops were held in Virginia to introduce the Southeast High Speed Rail Project Extension (Petersburg to Richmond) and to receive public comment; 97 citizens and public officials attended the first workshop on March 14 at Union Station in Petersburg, and 24 attended the March 16 workshop at the Science Museum in Richmond.

While it seems as if this project is proceeding at a glacial pace, I noted some progress, and apparently the whole idea is still on track for a decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to proceed, due in late 2008.

One area of study was the situation of trackage and routes in the Petersburg area. At one time the only alternative was to use the present CSX (former Atlantic Coast Line) route from Centralia to South Collier Yard, where the dormant Burgess Connector would be reactivated to connect with the dormant Seaboard Air Line alignment near Burgess—referred to as Alternative 1. Two other alternatives have surfaced.

Alternative 2 is a routing on the old Seaboard alignment to a location on the southern bank of the Appomattox River and then into downtown Petersburg at the passenger station, then a turn north to a location in Colonial Heights called Dunlop, where the tracks would again connect with Atlantic Coast Line trackage.

Alternative 3 is a similar routing to the Appomattox River, where a new bridge would be built, and trackage built to the Atlantic Coast Line routing just south of the present Ettrick station.

Proposals for a Greater Petersburg Area station to serve the project range from the present Ettrick and Petersburg stations to a station to be built at North Collier, or at the Appomattox River (alternatives 2 and 3), or a station at Dunlop. Only one station in the Petersburg vicinity is planned.

In conjunction with the Southeast High-Speed Rail study is the continuing project of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation for improved and enhanced service to Hampton Roads, which has narrowed down to the present CSX (north of the James River) and Norfolk Southern (south of the James) lines.

Because most of the Hampton Roads population is south of the James (in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, and Chesapeake) rather than on the north side (Newport News and Hampton), and because of the superior condition of the Norfolk Southern double track, known as the “speedway,” compared to the CSX single track with passing sidings, the southern routing enjoys an advantage—especially if a routing from Poe to the downtown

Petersburg station and on to Dunlop is used for the route to Richmond. (Poe is east of Petersburg, where the downtown NS trackage joins the bypass line past North Collier.) This assumes that the CSX line on the north side of the James would keep the present Amtrak services.

While speeds of 90 mph and above are planned for points south of Petersburg, alignment and shared tracks between Richmond and Petersburg seem to rule out speeds over 60 or 70 mph, perhaps slower from DuPont north to Main Street Station.

From Michael Testerman

Attendees at the Petersburg workshop learned that about three years ago, North Carolina paid for the Environmental Impact Study for the 138-mile segment of the S Line between Raleigh and Petersburg; most of that line is in Virginia. Virginia was to pay for the Environmental Impact Study of the Petersburg-to-Richmond segment but never came up with funding. Subsequently, North Carolina had to partner with Virginia to see that the Environmental Impact Study for the remaining 30-mile segment between Petersburg and Richmond was paid for. On April 8, Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board approved extending the project study area from Petersburg on to Richmond, using money from the Virginia Rail Enhancement Fund to match North Carolina’s contribution. The overall study area now covers Richmond to Raleigh and is approximately 168 miles long. The addition to the project will probably add 16 to 18 months to the study.

David Foster of North Carolina’s Rail Division was asked how much the Richmond-to-Raleigh high-speed rail line would cost. He said about $3 million per mile. Then he said that China’s proposed 820-mile high-speed rail line will cost $20.59 million per mile and be capable of 220 mph travel. The Richmond-to-Raleigh high-speed line will initially have four round-trip trains per day and handle about 2.2% of intercity trips between the paired cities.

Citizens are encouraged to add their input to these studies by contacting Winston Phillips, project manager, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, 1313 E. Main Street, room 300, Richmond, VA 23219-0590.

For more information, please visit the Southeast High-Speed Rail website at