Virginia officials hopeful about high-speed rail

Published 8:46 am Saturday, January 14, 2012


RICHMOND—Advocates of a high-speed rail system through Virginia and North Carolina will seek federal funding this year and hope to begin service around the year 2030.

“We are going to go to Washington sometime in the summer or fall to meet with congressional representatives to talk about federal funding for rail transportation with an emphasis on high-speed rail,” said state Delegate Richard Anderson, R-Woodbridge.

The Virginia-North Carolina initiative is part of a bigger project called the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, which would begin at Harbor Park in Norfolk and cut through Chesapeake and Suffolk, over Route 58 and run parallel to Route 460 going through Windsor and onto Petersburg. Passengers would be able to continue their journey on Amtrak to Richmond, Washington, D.C., and up the East Coast.

Windsor officials a year ago expressed interest in having a train station in the town.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board set aside $93 million for passenger rail service along the Route 460 corridor.

Anderson, whose 51st House District includes part of Prince William County, is a member of the Virginia-North Carolina High Speed Compact, a group of officials from the two states.

The compact, which met Monday at the state Capitol in Richmond, is examining ways to advance high-speed rail initiatives that would link Washington, D.C., and North Carolina.

“It’s really a crucial part of the whole national high-speed rail concept. What it will do is link this northeast corridor to this southeast corridor,” Anderson said. He said members of the compact envision that high-speed trains will go at least 90 mph.

Kevin Page, chief of the rail division of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said the project faces some big challenges. In a presentation at this week’s meeting, Page said:

■ Virginia is not allowed by the state Constitution to have a railroad.

■ It’s unclear where the new railways would be located.

■ Virginia needs reliable sources of funding for the project. Federal dollars are scarce — and even then, the state would need money of its own.

Still, officials are hopeful.

Page said that if Virginia can develop a funding plan, it should be able to begin building the D.C.-Richmond high-speed railway in 2022, with service beginning in about 2030.

That service would run through Anderson’s district. He is very supportive of the rail initiatives discussed by the compact.

”I think that’s a worthy goal for the country to develop a high-speed rail infrastructure,” Anderson said.

“If you really think about it, it entails walking into an inner-city railroad station without having to travel a long distance to outlying areas, to an airport, and it precludes having to go through, at least for now, an onerous airline security process.”

The Virginia-North Carolina High Speed Rail Compact includes five Virginia legislators. Besides Anderson, they are Delegates Ronald Villanueva of Virginia Beach and Jeion Ward of Hampton and Sens. Yvonne Miller of Norfolk and John Watkins of Midlothian. The compact also includes five members from North Carolina.

Besides discussing the plans for high-speed rail, the compact on Monday elected North Carolina Sen. Fletcher Hartsell as chairman for the year. The chairmanship alternates annually between Virginia and North Carolina.

The compact’s next meeting will be held in North Carolina in June.