Last night the Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), Virginia Beach's civic league federation, had a program on High Speed Rail and light rail. There were two presenters. First, Thelma Drake, Director of Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). Second, Marie Arnt of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). Marie is public outreach person for the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study.
Conventional rail Amtrak service to Norfolk will begin in 2013 with one train each day. That should be boosted to three trains per day once the Appomattox River Bridge is upgraded. On the CSX line outside Petersburg, it is a single track railroad bridge. Virginia may assist in upgrading to two tracks. 90% of the funds for the Norfolk service are in the bank, with the track upgrades on the Norfolk Southern line to Petersburg already begun.
Two new mass transit agencies have begun service in Virginia in 2011, with two other localities studying implementing transit. When businesses look at an area for a potential relocation, one of the first things they'll ask is "How would employees get to work?" That spawns transit service.
The Federal government may cutoff our region's Federal highway dollars, based on air quality, if we do not adequately do mass transit to try to mitigate the impact. Given that air quality here is in the yellow zone of Federal requirements, that's a serious issue.
The #1 issue employers in Hampton Roads raise with Drake: parking. That's not a problem if your employees take mass transit to work.
There are two major new initiatives by DRPT in 2011:
1. A motor coach service being launched from Roanoke to Lynchburg to feed into Amtrak trains there. Some want trains extended to Roanoke, with this being a precursor to see if the market's there. Lynchburg's Amtrak service is carrying three times the projected passengers.
2. A partnership with the Army for moving soldiers. Each week 1,000 go from Fort A.P. Hill to Fort Lee on Monday, and return on Thursday. The Army had been using motor coaches, making for a horde of buses on the road. They're now making the trip on Virginia Railway Express (VRE) trains.
There was little to report on the timed-out Virginia Beach study, so Marie spent most her time talking about Norfolk's Starter Line. At HRT "everyone is working their butts off" towards revenue service launch. Most likely trains would run on a Saturday and Sunday with no fare required, before a revenue launch on a Monday morning.
Arnt worked her way down the line west to east, noting features at each stop. She also touched on feeder bus service and the light rail safety program.
The golden nugget: the final hours of operation at launch were agreed to at a Tuesday evening meeting. It will be Monday - Thursday 6 A.M. - 11 P.M., Friday & Saturday 6 A.M. - Midnight, and Sunday 11 A.M. - 9 P.M.
I'm elated: I can go to a weeknight Admirals game, and that extra hour of service means I can catch the train out afterwards.