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Options for Va. high-speed rail presented

(The following article by Debbie Messina was posted on the Virginian-Pilot website on November 18.)

NORFOLK, Va. -- State transportation officials presented four options for bringing high-speed passenger rail to Hampton Roads at a public meeting Wednesday evening.

Three of the four routes under study connect Richmond to South Hampton Roads. One terminates on the Peninsula.

Click here Cost and ridership estimates have not been developed yet, said Alan C. Tobias , manager of passenger rail programs for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The state rail department wants to have a plan ready so it can be first in line if and when federal or state money becomes available for high- speed rail development.

Plans have been made for improving rail service between Richmond and Washington. With $67 million in hand for the $370 million project, work is about to start on a small phase.

Consultants are still gathering information for the Richmond-to-Hampton Roads segment. Tobias said the department is close to securing more money to evaluate the options and recommend a route, possibly by May 2005 .

Selecting a route "could be a tough call," said Virginia Beach resident Jim Bayley , a retired Norfolk Southern executive who attended the meeting.

"I don’t see how there’s going to be a lot of agreement on that," he said.

Bayley already goes out of his way to ride the rail sometimes. To avoid the slow Amtrak service out of Newport News, he has driven to the Richmond suburbs, where the trains are more frequent, and somewhat faster, to catch a train to the Northeast.

Catching a higher-speed train closer to home "is an alternative I’d like to consider," he said. Hugh Nealy , a state trooper, said he supports high-speed rail because of the growing congestion problems he witnesses daily along Interstate 64 on the Peninsula.

The alternatives are: using the Norfolk Southern freight tracks from Richmond to Petersburg to Norfolk along U.S. 460; building a rail line along a new U.S. 460 alignment that’s under study; using the CSX corridor between Richmond and Newport News along I-64 now used by Amtrak; and extending the I-64 route south across the James River Bridge, eventually ending in Norfolk.

The trains planned for Virginia would hit top speeds of 110 mph instead of the current 70 mph.

At the planned speeds, Hampton Roads residents could get to New York City in about five hours , consultants said Wednesday.

At last week’s Norfolk City Council meeting, Mayor Paul D. Fraim said it’s time for the Southside cities to begin working together to make sure that high-speed rail comes into South Hampton Roads instead of ending in Newport News.

"There are more than a million people on this side of the water and less than half a million on the Peninsula ," Fraim said.

"This is one of the great issues of our time in this region. If we miss the boat on this, then we will become the cul-de-sac everyone says we are."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

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