Council eyes possible rail stop

Published 10:43 pm Friday, September 24, 2010

Passenger rail: These dilapidated buildings at the former site of the Golden Peanut Company in Saratoga are standing on the site where city leaders hope to build an Amtrak passenger rail station. The complex also would include a Hampton Roads Transit bus depot.

By Tracy Agnew

News Editor

Suffolk officials are dreaming big for the possibility of a passenger rail stop in the city.

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City Council members on Thursday saw a proposal to create a combined Amtrak and Hampton Roads Transit station in downtown Suffolk, near the Saratoga neighborhood. City leaders pinpointed the former site of the Golden Peanut Company, in between Saratoga and Wellons streets, as a suitable location for a train and bus transportation hub. The site still includes the company’s abandoned buildings, which feature broken windows, graffiti and at least one tree growing on the roof.

Instead of the dilapidated structures, Suffolk officials would like to see an Amtrak station with two platforms, an HRT terminal, parking, grocery and retail space, a playground, walking trail and water feature. The preliminary proposal would swallow up Peanut Park, as well as several surrounding homes and businesses. It also includes the site of a proposed recycling center city planners shot down this summer after outcry from the nearby community.

The idea of passenger rail once again becoming a popular mode of transportation has been moving at full steam in the state for some time. In February, the Commonwealth Transportation Board selected a preferred route for passenger rail service between Hampton Roads and Richmond. The route would start at Harbor Park in Norfolk, come to Suffolk and stop at the proposed site, then continue on toward Richmond along U.S. Route 460.

The transportation board also set aside $93 million in Virginia Rail Enhancement Funds for the service. The money would improve the existing Norfolk Southern lines, rather than replace the tracks.

Suffolk City Council passed a resolution in July asking the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to consider placing a passenger rail stop in Suffolk.

The Suffolk site in the Saratoga neighborhood already has active Norfolk Southern railroad lines running through it.

According to Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes, a passenger rail stop in Suffolk would decrease congestion on the region’s overworked system of highways, and would bring in more visitors and spark redevelopment in the area.

There’s still a long way to go until the plan materializes — if it ever does — but City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn remains hopeful.

“It’s part of the dream and part of the vision,” she told the council members Thursday. “We just want to let you all know what we’re thinking.”