The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and its state partner, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT), have issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for two routes connecting the Hampton Roads area to Richmond and the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor. The newly identified route south of the James River recommends a new, 90-110 mph alignment from downtown Norfolk through Petersburg to Richmond, while maintaining Amtrak's current service from Newport News through Williamsburg to Richmond.
"Connecting to the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor is vital for the economic development of the Hampton Roads area," said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "From Charlotte to Washington, there will be easy access to historic Williamsburg and to our military bases at Norfolk and Newport News."
The new route south of the James River could include up to six daily round trips operating at speeds up to 110 mph between downtown Norfolk, Chesapeake (Bower's Hill Station), Petersburg and downtown Richmond. The FEIS also recommends continuing Amtrak's "Northeast Regional" service between Newport News and Richmond to serve the communities and attractions north of the James River.
Both routes will connect to the Southeast High Speed Rail corridor in Richmond, providing passengers the ability to travel south to Charlotte, N.C. (and Atlanta in the future) and north to Washington, DC and beyond. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated the "Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor" to connect Richmond and Charlotte with Washington; and in 1995, the corridor designation was extended from Richmond to Hampton Roads.
"The approval of the FEIS represents a major milestone in the process including a thorough analysis incorporating public input to recommend these routes," said FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. "This plan will expand the passenger rail network connection with a vital passenger rail corridor."
After a 30-day comment period and resolution of all outstanding issues, FRA will issue a Record of Decision (ROD) on the project, the final step in the environmental review. The ROD will identify the selected route, present the basis for the decision, identify all alternatives that were considered, specify the "environmentally preferable alternative," and provide information on the adopted means to avoid, minimize and compensate for environmental impacts. Upon signature of the ROD, the National Environmental Protection Act process will be complete.
The FEIS is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-08-31/pdf/2012-21568.pdf.
For more information on this project, please visit http://www.rich2hrrail.info/index.html.