VCU President Emeritus Dr. Eugene Trani has a vision. For all of the millions of dollars that have been invested into Main Street Station–over $80 million–he and a growing number of voices in the area are pitching what they say is a better alternative to the tentative plans to bring higher speed rail to the area in the future.
The conversation concerns the Washington, D.C. to Richmond segment of the Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR) project, part of a larger nationwide higher speed intercity passenger rail plan identified by USDOT in conjunction with Virginia and North Carolina. The purpose of this project is to provide a competitive transportation choice in the corridor by increasing intercity passenger rail capacity and improving travel times.
While much discussion has been had over using the recently-renovated Main Street Station as Richmond’s rail hub, the SEHSR committee has considered several alternatives, one of them being a future train station on North Boulevard. Dr. Trani gave a presentation at the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association on Wednesday morning, outlining what he says is the “best and only option” in terms of location for a regional transit hub, adjacent to the current Greyhound Bus Station.
Dr. Trani’s vision goes against the preliminary recommendations of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which were released in December of 2016. Under that plan, the existing Staples Mill Road station would be improved and the newly-renovated Main Street Station would serve passengers as well.
His presentation is available in full below.
That plan, as it stands now, would total around $1.5 billion. The agencies say a multi-station approach would allow for a distribution of passenger capacity in two different areas of the city.
The main arguments Dr. Trani makes for a Boulevard station include what he says is better access to major highways–a favorite of those who opposed a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom back when those plans were tabled–as well as the notion that the neighborhoods west of the Downtown Central Business District are growing faster than areas east of the city’s core.
He also presented data that he says show those same neighborhoods–VCU, The Fan, Scott’s Addition, the Museum District, and other nearby communities–contributed to the majority of the city’s growth over the past fifteen years and that a Boulevard station would be more easily accessible than the current downtown station.
Under his vision, long distance trains would bypass the current Staples Mill Road Station in Henrico County and stop at a proposed Boulevard station to be built near the current Diamond site. He then proposes building a loop that would allow trains to turn around, rather than back up, which he says could shave at least 20 minutes off commute times. No mention was made as to where the proposed loop would be constructed, how large it would be, or whether open land exists to accommodate its construction, but Dr. Trani hinted during his presentation that part of the 300 acres of land surrounding The Diamond–which could soon be redeveloped–could be a suitable option.
In pushing for a central transit hub outside of the Central Business District, Dr. Trani cites the success of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s 30th Street Station in Union City–located across the river and outside of the city’s most concentrated commercial area. The station is the third busiest in the nation, and succeeded the city’s old Reading Terminal, which shut down in the 1970s and now serves as the city’s convention center.
The plans are sure to be met with controversy, however both the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association and Richmond City Councilwoman Kim Gray, who represents the city’s Second District (including the Boulevard area) have publicly endorsed Dr. Trani’s vision. She is the first councilmember to endorse the plans; there is no word on whether other members or Mayor Levar Stoney’s office have seen the proposal.
Councilwoman Gray, in supporting the tentative vision, voiced her concerns that Main Street Station’s current track platforms aren’t long enough for some passenger trains, and expanding their footprint would mean moving into “sacred burial ground” that has been identified as potentially one of the most significant areas for archeological exploration by the Smithsonian Institution due to the station’s proximity to the Shockoe Bottom slave trade and burial areas. She takes the position that this land should be protected and further memorialized–something she maintains extending Main Street Station’s raised track platform would trivialize.
Gray told a packed auditorium gathered for the neighborhood association meeting at the Science Museum of Virginia Wednesday morning that she has met with numerous high speed rail experts and engineers who claim Main Street Station’s track length is indeed too short to serve the needs of high speed rail users in the future. At press time, none of those individuals had been identified nor spoken publicly on the subject.
Attendees at the meeting asked questions and sought clarification over the course of over 45 minutes Wednesday morning, with several making mention of forming a grassroots effort to support the cause.
The Boulevard plan was hatched when Dr. Trani penned an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch back in September of 2016, outlining his alternative vision. One vocal detractor of the plan, local political and transportation wonk Taber Bain, has many thoughts on why he feels the plan is flawed and poorly thought out, and regardless of your feelings on the subject, it’s worth a read.
The plans for higher speed rail in Richmond are merely in the planning stages, and implementation of new lines and potential alternative routes would be played out over the next ten to twenty years by most estimates. Public meetings have been held and will continue to be held (schedule here), and additional meetings specifically outlining Dr. Trani’s vision of a station on the Boulevard are also expected to be held, though no schedule has been announced.
- Full presentation outlining Dr. Trani’s vision for a Boulevard train station (PDF)
- Recommendations from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation
- Richmond corridor draft plan from state and federal officials (PDF)
- A thorough argument against a Boulevard train station from Taber Bain
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure and to ensure the journalistic integrity of our publication, we’d like to note, simply for transparency’s sake, that Trevor Dickerson is the Vice President of the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association. This article is presented without any bias toward or against the proposed Richmond area transportation hub(s) or with a preference for any particular location.