Passenger trains to start running soon

Published 11:02 pm Friday, October 5, 2012

Preparations for new passenger rail service will mean more trains through downtown Suffolk beginning this month.

Amtrak will begin training engineers and conductors on the new routes in mid-October, according to Steve Kulm, a spokesman for Amtrak.

“We’re making it public now to let people know that we’re preparing for the new service, to let them know there’s going to be some Amtrak trains running back and forth,” Kulm said. “The public and the motorists need to be aware there’s more trains going through there.”

Email newsletter signup

The speed of freight trains will not change from its current maximum of 60 miles per hour.

However, passenger rail trains have a top speed of 79 mph. According to a press release, train speeds through downtown Suffolk will increase from 40 to 60 mph in the summer of 2013. They will operate at 79 mph on the remainder of the route.

Kulm said a number of improvements have been made to the rails and associated infrastructure to make them suitable for high-speed trains. Among the improvements are re-timing the signal system so that the gates go down in time to stop traffic.

“As your train speeds increase, you need to make simultaneous changes to the signal system so that the gates go down in conjunction with the higher speed,” Kulm said.

“Motorists are reminded to obey railroad crossing signals and warnings and to use caution when approaching all highway-rail grade crossings,” according to the press release.

Virginia Operation Lifesaver presenters are available to make presentations to community groups, school children, bus and truck drivers and others who live or travel near train tracks to offer safety tips. Operation Lifesaver is a nationwide public education program to promote public awareness of the highway-rail crossing environment and to encourage compliance with the traffic laws relating to crossing signs and signals and trespassing.

The new passenger rail service will run from Norfolk to Richmond, from where passengers can continue on as far north as Boston.

The actual service will begin Dec. 12, Kulm said.

“We think this is a good market for us,” he said, adding state officials have been working with Amtrak to bring the service to the area.

There will be no passenger rail stops in Suffolk, although the city had hoped to get one. It is possible one could be added in the future.