Passenger rail to Richmond could once again become a reality for Hampton Roads — and Suffolk wants to make sure it is not forgotten in the plans.
City Council members last week passed a resolution to ask the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to consider placing a passenger rail stop in Suffolk on a proposed high-speed rail line between Hampton Roads and Petersburg.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board recently set aside $93.04 million in Virginia Rail Enhancement Funds for passenger rail service along the Route 460 corridor. The money would be used for improvements to the existing Norfolk Southern lines to allow passenger trains to run on the tracks.
The project is several years from getting started, but Suffolk officials made sure to get in on the ground floor.
“We wanted to make sure City Council knew that there appears to be an opportunity to create a depot or a stop for the trains,” Public Works director Eric Nielsen said. “Suffolk looks like a natural opportunity.”
The proposed track begins at Harbor Park in Norfolk, and then comes through Chesapeake and Suffolk roughly along the Route 58 corridor. Existing Norfolk Southern tracks wind through downtown, then go behind the Suffolk Golf Course, over Route 58 and parallel to Route 460 all the way to Petersburg. Plans to connect the tracks to stops in Richmond, Washington, D.C. and other East Coast points also are in the works.
“One of the benefits for Suffolk, if you follow the tracks [from Norfolk] … you’re not going to see too many opportunities to create a stop along the alignment of the existing track until you get to Suffolk,” Nielsen said.
Trains along the route would travel at up to 80 miles per hour, according to information on a website dedicated to the project, www.rich2hrrail.info.
Nielsen pointed out the many benefits of putting a stop in Suffolk. There are multiple parcels of land along the current track alignment that are served by sewer, water, fire protection, roadways and other necessary infrastructure, he said.
“We have infrastructure and availability of land right next to a track, where other places might be more difficult,” Nielsen said.
The city’s economic development department isn’t missing out on the action, either. Director Kevin Hughes indicated the tracks could have economic benefits for Suffolk.
“I think it comes down to increased activity and really another reason to be in Suffolk,” Hughes said. “Having that stop would be real important for us. It would be another big catalyst for redevelopment in the city.”
Transportation is one of the first requirements for economic growth, Hughes said. Companies will not locate where their customers and employees cannot get to them.
“Historically, you can really put your finger on development that is triggered from transportation modes, whether it’s interstate or train or port,” Hughes said. “Having a stop really encourages a lot of economic development growth.”
From a tourism standpoint, too, a passenger rail stop in Suffolk makes sense, he said.
“It would be easy for someone to jump on a train, and we could have visitors coming in that would have a very efficient and affordable way to see new cities,” Hughes said.
For more information on the project, visit www.rich2hrrail.info.