Officials weigh station options

Published 8:27 pm Saturday, January 8, 2011

Station complex: Suffolk officials have talked about the potential suitability of the Golden Peanuts site, between Wellons and Saratoga streets near the downtown core, as a new train station complex. The state, however, has not decided where — or even if — the so-called “western stop” should be located.

‘We want Suffolk to be the first choice’

Editor’s Note: This is the final story in a four-part series about the move to bring passenger rail service to Southeast Virginia.

The city of Suffolk is clamoring for a stop along the coming-soon passenger rail line that passes through town.

But so are all of its neighbors.

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“The discussion that is taking place is, should there be a western Hampton Roads stop, and if so, where should that be?” said Thelma Drake, director of the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

For now, there are no answers to that question. But Suffolk is uniquely positioned to bargain for the stop if one is allowed, Drake said.

The passenger rail service would begin at Norfolk’s Harbor Park and come through the Bowers Hill area on its way to Suffolk. It then would follow roughly the alignment of U.S. Route 460, passing through or near such towns as Windsor and Ivor.

“Suffolk is very much a viable option,” Drake said. “But it depends on where in Suffolk.”

A study currently is being conducted to answer the question of where would be the best place for what’s being referred to as a “western stop” — if one is needed at all.

Bowers Hill and Windsor also are options to be considered, Drake said.

“Bowers Hill does have some great interstate connectivity,” Drake said. “You need population centers. You need easy access. But the track doesn’t exist today.”

Windsor is another town that would like to see a stop, Drake said. However, people who want to ride the train shouldn’t have to drive too far — either to Norfolk or to Windsor — to board, she said.

Although every community likely will want to build a stop, that will not be possible, Drake said.

“You get there faster if you don’t stop as often,” she said. “There’s not going to be a lot of stops on this train. Everybody would like to have a station.”

Drake said the city likely will want to look at a number of options, but should be careful to keep in mind that a federal high-speed rail project coming down the pike could affect where the most viable options are.

“They don’t want to put that station where it would become obsolete,” Drake said. “They’ve got to be careful.”

She added any stop in Suffolk west of the Kilby area would not be affected by the federal line, whether it’s ever built or not. But a stop along existing track in downtown Suffolk could ultimately be bypassed when the high-speed rail project comes along.

“Those are all decisions that will get answered down the road,” Drake said.

Suffolk Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts added that like Bowers Hill, a Suffolk stop would also have connectivity to highways like Routes 13, 32, 58 and 460.

Roberts said a conceptual site south of downtown, between Wellons and Saratoga streets, was chosen because it is a straight stretch of track with good connectivity to nearby roads. The old train station was eliminated quickly because the track curves nearby on both sides of the station, making it a less viable option for passenger rail.

“We definitely want to learn more, and we’re still interested,” Roberts said. “If it makes good sense, we certainly want Suffolk to be the first choice.”