What is High Speed Rail?
High-Speed Rail, sometimes called High-Speed Ground Transportation, is self-guided intercity passenger ground transportation that is time-competitive with air and/or autos on a door-to-door basis for trips in the approximate range of 100 to 500 miles. This is a market-based, not a speed-based definition: it recognizes that the opportunities and requirements for High-Speed Rail differ markedly among different pairs of cities.
Where is High Speed Rail service currently proposed along the East Coast?
There are five High-Speed rail corridors authorized by Congress under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and six under the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) for a total of eleven corridors. To date, the U.S. Department of Transportation has designated ten corridors and numerous corridor extensions. Three corridors of importance to this project are
- Boston – New York – Washington, DC Corridor: The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is the only high-speed rail service at present in the United States. It is also the busiest passenger rail line in the U.S. by ridership and service frequency. Amtrak operates a 150 mph train service known as “Acela” in this corridor.
- Washington, DC – Richmond, VA – Charlotte, NC: In 1992 the U.S. Department of Transportation designated the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor connecting Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, and Washington, DC. This corridor designation has been extended south to Northern Florida through subsequent actions of the Department. (Visit www.sehsr.org)
In 1995 the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor designation was extended from Richmond, VA to Hampton Roads, VA.
What are the potential benefits of high-speed rail in the Richmond/Hampton Roads region?
- Provide an alternative to congested highways and help manage traffic congestion between Richmond and Hampton Roads
- Provide an alternative to regional air service, provide competitive travel times to and from Richmond/Hampton Roads and offer rail connections to regional and national destinations
- Reduce fuel consumption
- Enhance local economies
- Support tourism and local business
- Attract employees and boost job growth
- Generate new tax revenue
- Revitalize urban/rural centers
- New and/or improved freight access for a faster and cheaper way to bring goods to market
- Improve rail safety and enhance rail service capacity
- Improve air quality
What is the Richmond/Hampton Roads Passenger Rail Project?
The Richmond/Hampton Roads Passenger Rail Project is tasked with exploring the feasibility of higher speed passenger rail access between Richmond and the Hampton Roads region with linkages to other cities and states to the north and south. The project is being conducted through the mechanism of an Alternatives Analysis and Environmental Impact Statement to satisfy the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Are there any other high-speed rail projects in Virginia?
The Southeast High Speed Rail Project (SEHSR) is currently being studied. The SEHSR project is determining the specific alignment and costs of adding high-speed rail service between Charlotte, NC and Washington, DC with stops in Petersburg and Richmond. Depending on the alternative selected for Richmond/Hampton Roads Passenger Rail, the projects could share the same route between Petersburg and Richmond. For more information on this project, visit www.sehsr.org.
What prompted this Project?
This project expands upon two previous studies that have recommended passenger rail improvements in the Richmond/Hampton Roads area.
I-64 Major Investment Study (MIS): In the late 1990s, the Commonwealth conducted the I-64 MIS between Richmond and Newport News that included a conceptual analysis of intercity rail alternatives. The Richmond Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Hampton Roads MPO and the Commonwealth Transportation Board have adopted the Locally Preferred Alternative of the MIS. The adopted alternative included a recommendation to widen I-64 and to improve passenger rail service by double tracking the existing CSXT rail line, increasing passenger train speeds to 110 mph, and increasing frequencies to eight round trips per day.
High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study: In 2002, the Commonwealth completed a study of the feasibility of running high-speed rail between Richmond and South Hampton Roads via Petersburg and the U.S. Route 460 corridor.
Why is improved passenger rail needed in this corridor?
The Richmond / Hampton Roads travel corridor has been rated as one of the worst highway traffic bottlenecks in the country. Regional highways and the airports along the Eastern seaboard are nearing the limits of capacity.
As our population grows, we will need more affordable, safe, modern and reliable alternatives to driving on crowded interstates or flying short distances. The corridor would serve an additional public safety role by providing another evacuation route for Hampton Roads in the event of an emergency.
What is the current status of the project?
The project team is currently completing the Tier I Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS). This document evaluates the benefits, costs and environmental impacts of several possible alternatives. The Tier I Draft EIS is scheduled for completion in summer 2009, with public hearings immediately following to allow the public to comment on the alternatives studied.
DRPT will publish the Draft EIS for public comment, including preliminary conclusions based on the data, but without a preferred alternative since public comments will not be available yet. The Final EIS will be prepared by DRPT after the public comment period, and will include a preferred alternative based on the study data and the public comments received.
The FRA will make its decision based on the Final EIS. The FRA will review the final report and issue a Record of Decision, which indicates the federal government’s preference for a particular alternative. This Record of Decision is the final ruling on the specific alternative that will be eligible for federal funding. Without this ruling, the service will not be eligible for federal funds. It’s important to note that there may be a need for additional federal environmental review or other studies after the Final Tier I EIS, but it’s difficult to say what the next steps will be until the study is complete and FRA has reached a final decision.
Which alternatives are currently under consideration?
The project is currently focusing on five alternatives: the No Action Alternative, the Status Quo Alternative, Build Alternative 1, Build Alternative 2a, and Build Alternative 2b. More details are provided below:
Status Quo Alternative
This alternative shows what would happen if no major improvements are made – service would remain exactly as it is today. This alternative includes two daily round trips on the Peninsula only. Trains would continue to operate at a maximum of 79 mph between Newport News and Richmond. The two trains represent Amtrak’s existing train service. Amtrak serves the Newport News Amtrak Station, Williamsburg Station and Richmond Main Street Station.
This alternative shows what would happen if no major improvements are made beyond what is included in the existing regional transportation plans. It includes three daily round trips on the Peninsula only. Trains would continue to operate at a maximum of 79 mph between Newport News and Richmond. The three trains represent Amtrak’s two existing trains plus one additional daily round trip planned by Amtrak in the future. Trains would serve the Newport News Amtrak Station, Williamsburg Station and Richmond Main Street Station.
Serves both the Peninsula and the Southside, with three daily round trips on the Peninsula and six daily round trips on the Southside. The Peninsula service would remain the same as in the No-Action Alternative, with three 79 mph maximum speed daily round trips between Newport News and Richmond serving the Newport News Amtrak Station, Williamsburg Station and Richmond Main Street Station. The Southside service would include six daily round trips operating at speeds of 90 mph or 110 mph between Downtown Norfolk, Chesapeake (Bower’s Hill Station), Petersburg and Richmond Main Street Station.
Serves both the Peninsula and the Southside, with six daily round trips on the Peninsula and three daily round trips on the Southside. The Peninsula service would include six daily round trips operating at maximum speeds of 90 mph or 110 mph. This alternative would serve the proposed Newport News Downtown Station rather than the existing Newport News Amtrak Station. The Peninsula trains continue to provide service to Newport News, Williamsburg and Richmond Main Street Station. The Southside route of Norfolk, Bower’s Hill, Petersburg and Richmond Main Street Station would be served by three 79 mph daily round trips.
Serves the Peninsula only, with nine daily round trips. Trains would operate at maximum speeds of 90 mph or 110 mph, providing service to the proposed Newport News Downtown Station rather than the existing Newport News Amtrak Station. Trains would continue to provide service to Williamsburg and Richmond Main Street Station.
Will the project select only one route, along either the Peninsula or Southside, between Richmond and Hampton Roads?
Not necessarily. The project will analyze the feasibility and desirability of higher speed passenger rail service on both sides of the James River. Some of the build alternatives being evaluated would provide service to both sides of the James River. However, the environmental analysis being conducted for the Tier I Draft EIS is also providing a comparison of the No Action Alternative and a Status Quo Alternative to the proposed Build Alternatives. It may ultimately be decided that either the No Action or Status Quo Alternative would be the preferred alternative based on the analysis and comparison of cost and potential environmental impacts to the Build Alternatives.
Where will the trains start and stop?
The project has identified the following potential station locations along the two main routes. The specific stations will be determined once the preferred alternative is chosen. Note that two of the alternatives include service on the both Peninsula and the Southside.
Peninsula Route: Three stops would be associated with this route: Richmond’s Main Street Station, Williamsburg Station, and either the existing Newport News Amtrak Station or a new Newport News Downtown Station.
Southside Route: Four stops would be associated with this route: Richmond’s Main Street Station, Petersburg Station, Bower’s Hill, and a new Norfolk Downtown Station.
How much time will it take to travel between Richmond and Hampton Roads?
The project is evaluating potential travel time savings for each alternative under review. Results will be available as part of the Tier I Draft EIS.
How much will the system cost and how will it be paid for?
More precise cost estimates will be included in the Draft EIS. Currently the team is adjusting the costs based on inflationary pressures that have impacted material costs, especially concrete, steel and other rail construction costs.
Those costs will include some contingency for negotiations with railroad owners and other engineering details that will affect the final cost. No costs associated with the Southeast High Speed Rail project are included.
There are several funding options available including funds from federal, state and local sources. These will be considered in more detail as more reliable cost estimates become available.
How much will a ticket cost?
The project will examine a variety of revenue options and provide estimates of ticket prices.
How soon can we expect to see higher speed passenger rail service in our area?
Implementing the Richmond/Hampton Roads service will be a lengthy process. Detailed cost estimates, environmental clearances, construction permits, equipment selection and manufacturing, ordering of materials, and actual construction/rehabilitation of the rail lines must take place before higher-speed trains can operate. The project team is working through the federal NEPA process to meet federal standards and qualify for federal funding, an integral component of the project’s financial package. Based on the findings of the environmental analysis, the preferred alternative would be selected and implemented. As previously stated, the preferred alternative may not be the implementation of higher-speed rail.
Is the Third Crossing needed to bring passenger rail to Southside Hampton Roads?
No. The Richmond/Hampton Roads Passenger Rail Project has a planning horizon of 20 years (2025). The project assumes that the Third Crossing will not be in place during that period.
How fast will the high-speed rail trains go through my town?
The project has examined maximum speeds between 79 and 110 mph. There are, however, many areas where such speeds are not possible, especially in congested areas, near station stops, etc. Built up areas would receive security fencing and landscaping as appropriate to maximize public safety and minimize the line’s intrusion to the community.
What safety measures will be in place for these passenger trains at grade crossings?
Grade crossings are where roads cross the railroad tracks. Grade crossing safety is a key consideration in any rail corridor. The project inventories existing and proposed grade crossings and the existing level of protection at the crossings. It also makes recommendations regarding the appropriate level of protection at each crossing in the event that high-speed rail is implemented in the corridor. Options include upgraded protection (lights and gates), grade separation, and closure.
If the trains don’t stop in my community, what benefit will there be for me?
New passenger rail service will help manage traffic congestion between Richmond and Hampton Roads. The construction and operation of the project would have a positive impact on the economies of the entire region. Estimates of construction employment as well as permanent employment attracted to the corridor by the advent of higher speed rail service will be made as part of the project. Because the lines would carry both passengers and freight, new and/or improved freight access and improved reliability could bring goods to market faster. The improved rail infrastructure would make the Hampton Roads region more competitive, thereby retaining existing businesses and attracting new business ventures to the region.
Who is actually doing the planning work?
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is the project sponsor and leads the Environmental Impact Statement process as well as overall project management. The Federal Railroad Administration serves as the lead federal agency on the project.
Is Amtrak involved?
Yes, Amtrak is being consulted on this project. No decision has been made as to whom the operator of service would be, but Amtrak is the only national passenger railroad company. The success of rail service to Hampton Roads is dependent on those trains being able to travel through Richmond and Washington to points in the Northeast Corridor.