Will Richmond Re-connect With Its High-Speed Rail Dreams?

High-speed rail getting travelers from downtown Richmond to Washington in 90 minutes has been bandied about for years. But while the idea of bypassing clogged Interstate 95 in comfort appeals, the cost may be prohibitive.

Despite the challenges, high-speed rail seems to be gaining currency again, touted nationally as an important long-term infrastructure improvement. And Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a cost-cutting Republican, has fallen in love with the idea of a $10 billion magnetic levitation train that could whisk passengers from the nation’s capital to Baltimore in mere minutes.

The next high-speed shoe to drop in Virginia is the completion of a federal environmental impact statement in 2017. That should outline costs, says Danny Plaugher, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Virginians for Higher Speed Rail.

Being considered are plans to use some form of the state’s public-private partnership act to help CSX add a third rail for a high-speed passenger train from Richmond to Fredericksburg.

That route would link to another passenger-train-only third rail, which is being put in from Fredericksburg north to Washington by Virginia Railway Express, a state-funded commuter line.

Richmond could be in for some big changes, Plaugher says. If proper bridge and line improvements can be made, the venerable Main Street Station could handle high-speed trains. There’s also a chance that the Science Museum of Virginia, once a highly regarded passenger train station, could become a high-speed stop. Staples Mill would be included, too. “We want to keep downtown in service somehow,” Plaugher says.

Plans also might include routing slow-moving freight trains around Ashland and Fredericksburg on bypass lines. All of this is some years in the future and would extend Amtrak’s busy and profitable Northeast Corridor to Richmond and Norfolk.

If so, car travel on I-95 might become less of a nightmare.


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