Yesterday there was a special meeting of the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), Hampton Roads' Federally-mandated Transportation planning board. The meeting was called to try to settle on an alignment for future Higher Speed Rail service to our region.
I arrived early for the meeting and the three draft Resolutions were already out on the Staff table. After having been told by two sources last month that it would be Peninsula first, I was stunned to see that all three Resolutions were Norfolk first. It was the proverbial snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.
There were three Presentation given to the TPO: by their own Staff, by Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transport (DRPT), and by Amtrak. After considerable discussion, the TPO Staff Resolution was passed with about a half-dozen floor amendments. The Resolution:
1. Designates the 460 Corridor to Norfolk route for Higher Speed Rail service.
2. Designates the Peninsula's CSX Corridor for enhanced rail service.
3. Establishes a High Speed Rail Task Force.
The Resolution passed unanimously after a few feeble trial balloons by Peninsula representatives to postpone a decision until the TPO's regular November meeting. With applications for rail funding by Federal stimulus money due in March, 2010, the TPO needed to act now or risk missing the train.
Having sat through the Presentation yesterday, let me take on the disinformation on this issue that has been spewed by VBTA Vice Chairman/Transportation Chairman Reid Greenmun:
1. Higher Speed Rail is not an end in itself, by an interim measure. A Service Development Plan for the region will now be drawn up in a collaborative effort by Amtrak, DRPT, the TPO, Norfolk Southern, and CSX. The Service Development Plan will lay out steps to eventually get us to High Speed Rail.
2. High Speed Rail (i.e. trains over 150 mph) requires a separate track with buffering from much slower freight trains. Therefore, such systems take years to bring to fruition.
3. Rarely is there even an application to jump directly from no service (as in Norfolk today) to High Speed Rail.
4. The only place in the U.S. with trains running over 150 mph today is in some stretches of Rhode Island with Amtrak Acela service.
Rail service is like airline service: you start with turboprops or regional jets, then build your way up to Boeings.
Higher Speed Rail would be a huge Transportation boost for Hampton Roads. Currently Amtrak carries as many passengers from New York City to Boston and Washington as the airlines. Amtrak's average speed Washington to New York City is 83 mph.