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Improving Hampton Roads Passenger Rail Service

Improving Hampton Roads Passenger Rail Service

October 30, 2023 - Note: HRTPO staff is revising this document approved by the HRTPO board on 10-19-23 based on comments received 10-26-23 concerning the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground.

 View of I-264 Overpass from Norfolk Train Station

Norfolk Train Station
Source: HRTPO staff

Recent years have seen advances in passenger rail service to and from Hampton Roads. After a 35-year absence, service returned to Norfolk in 2012 and the new Norfolk station opened in 2013. A second daily train was added in 2019, and a third train started service in 2022. Using funds allocated by the HRTPO and others, a new station is under construction in Newport News.

Currently, five (5) daily trains serve Hampton Roads. In the future, one (1) additional train will run on the Peninsula (2026), and three (3) more daily trains may be added to the Southside. Although train additions have, and will, improve service for Hampton Roads, more improvement is needed. Even with recent increases in ridership, less than 1% of trips to/from Hampton Roads are made by rail. One reason for this is that rail trips take longer than auto trips.




Map of Eastern VA depicting rail access to Hampton Roads from I-95 corridore

Current Passenger Rail Tracks and Stations
Source: HRTPO staff via Google My Maps

Travel Time Delays

To help understand and better plan for passenger rail service, HRTPO staff recently investigated the location and cause of travel time delays for existing train service and identified projects of independent utility for improving Hampton Roads passenger rail service.  The draft report is up for HRTPO Board approval at its October 19, 2023 meeting.

Photos of Amtrak train at Staples Mill Station in Richmond

Train at Staples Mill Station
Source: HRTPO staff

The staff analysis included an averaging of a year’s worth of Global Positioning System (GPS) data from Amtrak trains serving Hampton Roads to estimate train travel times and associated delays per mile. Other than delays at stations, the greatest delays (orange) occur between the two Richmond stations (Staples Mill [RVR] and Main St [RVM], left portion of chart).

Bar chart depicting travel delay by mile

Delay by mile, Peninsula trains, Southbound, 2021, minutes
Source: HRTPO staff processing of Amtrak data

The “preferred alternative” in the 2019 “DC to Richmond Southeast High Speed Rail” (DC2RVA) final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) included “Constructing one main track [between the Richmond stations], with track shifts to improve speed…” State rail agencies, however, do not intend to build this additional track. The Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground, where slaves were interred, is located in the vicinity. According to Gerica Goodman, spokesperson for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA), “Our leadership is committed to not disrupting and disturbing this space.” (Times-Dispatch, 2-21-23)

Staff Suggestion: The RVA757 Connector

Due to the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground mentioned above, and the associated unlikeliness of reducing the delay between Richmond stations, staff sought projects for increasing the frequency of Hampton Roads train service, particularly trains accessing downtown Richmond. Today, of the five Hampton Roads trains, only the two Peninsula trains take passengers to/from downtown Richmond; Southside trains travel directly between Petersburg and Richmond’s Staples Mill station, bypassing Main Street station.

Photo image of Richmond Main Street Station (RVM)

Richmond Main Street Station (RVM)
Source: Amtrak

Staff developed a project idea for a special train to increase frequency between Hampton Roads and downtown Richmond Main Street station called the “RVA757 Connector”. Unlike all existing Hampton Roads trains which run to/from the Northeast (Boston or New York), the RVA757 Connector would run back and forth between Hampton Roads and Richmond. The short distance enables one physical trainset to complete eight (8) runs per day (four eastbound and four westbound), the equivalent of adding four more two-run-per-day trains (like the existing Hampton Roads trains).

In addition to typical Amtrak trip purposes—personal visits, business, and vacation— because of its short length, the RVA757 Connector would also serve shopping, commuting, and dining trips. The Connector would triple the current number of train runs between the Peninsula and downtown Richmond, and provide new connections to/from the north and south at Staples Mill station (RVR).

Map depicting the route of the RVA757Connector

RVA757 Connector
Source: HRTPO staff via Google My Maps

The RVA757 Connector is a staff proposal and needs to be discussed and vetted with state rail agencies and other stakeholders. For more information on the travel time analysis as well as the staff proposed RVA757 Connector see the full report.

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