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Virginia Association of Railway Patrons
Modern Transportation for the Virginias

Rail Transit Plans Advance in Richmond

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, summer 2003.

Richmond came a step closer to reviving streetcars in late April when the City Council passed a resolution “to express support for the concept of a downtown streetcar system and to direct the City Manager … to begin a public involvement process to determine an optimal route alignment … and to provide detailed funding plans for the construction and operation of a downtown electric streetcar system.”

In 2002, the Downtown Streetcar Study Steering Committee oversaw a study conducted by Burgess & Niple Inc. on behalf of Greater Richmond Transit Company and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The report identified two conceptual 2.54-mile routes, along with equipment and financing scenarios, needed to provide downtown electric streetcar service linking many activity centers, including Main Street Station, Shockoe Slip and the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Either of the routes would loop from Main Street up to Broad Street and could be expanded regionally in the future.

The starter streetcar system would cost $40 million to construct and would require an annual operating budget of $800,000. The initial fare would be fifty cents.

Once the public outreach process has determined the preferred route, funding will be sought for engineering and design work. The project is estimated to take seven years to complete.

Another steering committee has been directing a study to identify high-capacity rail transit corridors in the Richmond region. The firm of Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade & Douglas released the Draft Final Report to the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission on May 21, 2003.

Funding limited the scope of the Richmond Rail Transit Feasibility Study, but the committee was able to narrow down a large list of corridors to four, which will be studied in greater detail. The consultants said the Richmond region doesn’t have the right characteristics to support a robust commuter rail system but it compares very favorably with cities such as Portland, Oregon, which have effective light rail systems.

The steering committee eventually decided to direct further study toward two light rail routes and two commuter rail routes. The light rail routes form one contiguous corridor from Short Pump, in Western Henrico County, to Main Street Station, and from there to Richmond International Airport in Eastern Henrico County. The two commuter rail corridors also form a contiguous corridor, running from Ashland, in Hanover County, to Main Street Station, and from there to Midlothian, in Chesterfield County. The committee felt that the expenses to establish commuter rail would be lower, making further study worthwhile, because other rail upgrades associated with intercity passenger rail service are anticipated on these lines.

Rail transit advocacy got a boost in Richmond when the Virginia Sierra Club selected the city as the pilot locality for its Restore the Core program. Restore the Core seeks to curb the harmful effects of sprawl by promoting healthy urban centers and close-in communities. While the region studied rail transit services in 2002, Restore the Core developed a grassroots program to educate the public about light rail. VARP President Michael Testerman served as chairman of Restore the Core’s Light Rail Transit subcommittee, which produced a brochure to coincide with the reports from the Downtown Streetcar Study and the Richmond Rail Transit Feasibility Study. The “brochure team” also included Virginia Commonwealth University Urban Planning intern Osvaldo Quiroga and Justin Farmer, a recent graduate of VCU’s Communication Design Department.

The brochure will familiarize the public with modern rail transit and will complement the outreach efforts by government officials and business leaders who are promoting the Downtown Streetcar.