Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

It’s not triangulation of crossfire that’s the key; it’s links and networking

Posted in America, Commuter, Infrastructure, Metro by Chairman Pip on 25 August 2011

I’ve noticed today that, with some degree of fanfare, Virginia’s first light rail system has opened. Hampton Roads Transit, the public transport authority for the Hampton Roads metropolitan region, has cut the ribbon on The Tide, a 7.5 mile electrified line connecting Eastern Virginia Medical School with the city limits through the downtown area of Norfolk, using the old route of the Norfolk & Southern Railway. This route is within the limits of South Hampton Roads, which, in addition to the city of Norfolk also features the neighbouring cities of Virginia BeachChesapeake and Portsmouth. However, Hampton Roads also contains the Virginia Peninsula, together with the cities of Newport News and Hampton. And it is Newport News that has the intercity rail connection to the rest of the country, with its railway station being the terminus of the Northeast Regional service from Boston South. Indeed, there is no heavy rail service running in South Hampton Roads. So why, even though Norfolk and Virginia Beach are the two largest cities in the region, was Norfolk chosen for this project when the line as built is physically isolated from any passenger rail connection anywhere? Although a connection across to the peninsula is mooted as in the long term expansion plan, which would connect with both Newport News railway station and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, why was this not considered in the first place? To me, the whole point of building a light rail metro system is to connect localities and transport hubs with each other. While the desire to build such systems, and thus remove traffic from the roads, is admirable, more thought should be given I think to what precisely is desired from the system before any work begins. Of course there are difficulties, especially in a location such as this (given that to connect Newport News and Norfolk would need a either fairly long and expensive tunnel or a long and quite tall bridge to be built). Of course, we should at the very least congratulate another significant metropolitan area for investing in new rail infrastructure, and we certainly hope it is successful. We should further be pleased about the plan for Amtrak Virginia to extend its service from Richmond to Norfolk, which will at least provide a limited daily rail connection to the outside world. The hope must be that any proposed future crossing of the James River, whether undertaken locally within Hampton Roads, or on a state wide basis through the Virginia Department of Transportation, has a Tide extension embedded within it from the get go, that will allow further connections to be made.

Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan
Amtrak Virginia Norfolk Extension

“Passenger trains to return to Norfolk”

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