3.12.12

THE CASE FOR PROPER TRAIN STATIONS.

Destination: Freedom analyzes the traffic at Richmond's two stations.  Classic old Main Street is back in service for downtown passengers.
Amtrak passenger arrivals and departures increase year after year, despite limited service options and numerous cancellations of trains for a variety of reasons. Recent observations of those traveling by way of Main Street Station suggest that most of them are likely to be reasonably affluent folks who are increasingly living downtown, or nearby. They probably own an automobile, but are “choice” train riders. Many are, or appear to be, university students or young professionals. It is not clear to this observer that there is much difference between Megabus© (pictured in this article) riders and the train passengers. Quite a different picture emerged from a visit to the local Greyhound terminal. Our observations have been limited. However, it seems clear that a significant demand exists for alternatives to driving when service is available by rail or luxury bus. This seems especially so in urban corridors within mega-regions such as our I-95, I-64, 29 Piedmont, and I-81 corridors. Making Main Street Station a “real” multimodal transportation center is just as important a priority as a new Richmond ball park, and arguably higher yet than the City’s recently-approved Redskins Training Facility.
Train stations served by trains with first-class service might bring high-value travelers. Stadiums offer jobs for beer vendors and parking attendants. Discuss.

Main Street was one of two Steam Era stations in Richmond.  A much larger Broad Street Station proved to be too costly to operate, as well as having a convoluted one-way traffic pattern that cost trains an additional half hour in platforming and departing.  There's not much room for expansion at Main.
Everything is elevated, more complex and constrained. Major expansion of rail capacity will be costly to put in place, and costly to maintain. It is unlikely that Main Street Station will ever be made adequate to accommodate all the trains that should be Richmond’s future. However, high-yield incremental improvements can be, and should be, made to enable the routing of some additional trains to, from, and through Main Street Station. Given what the State of Virginia has spent on restoration of Amtrak Virginia service to Norfolk -- which we heartily applaud -- a similar amount of money, judiciously allocated to rail infrastructure capacity enhancements, could bring additional trains to center-city-Richmond. This is not an unreasonable, nor unrealistic, undertaking. A meaningful allocation should be included in the next round of State rail infrastructure funding.
I forget which railroad ran its passenger trains right past Main on tracks that had no platforms, to get to Broad. Either Seaboard Coast Line or Amtrak saw some advantages of building a new, less complex station on cheaper land with better access to the highways. But at the time, nobody expected the southern corridors to take off the way they have.
The Henrico station is an orphan. Amtrak owns it but has no money to spend. Henrico hosts it, but has never seized the opportunity to claim it as a “signature gateway” asset. The Richmond Region was persuaded by the City to support Main Street Station -- before anybody bothered to understand the rail access challenges there. The State says “we don’t do stations”. Meanwhile, the 300-car RVR parking lot regularly overflows with 325 or more. Passengers take taxis (which don’t want to accommodate them) to and from a near-by park-and ride-lot (no courtesy van service). VDOT has only recently, and apparently reluctantly, agreed to put up a stop light. This is the highest volume Amtrak station in Virginia.
Proper passenger facilities matter. The emerging Quincy corridor in Illinois has a few classic Burlington stations left, as well as newer buildings in Naperville, Mendota, Kewanee, and Galesburg. Station staffing is uneven. The well-restored Macomb station is closed at weekends.  Apparently some transients used the station as a shelter, and damaged a rest room.  As a consequence, the large crowds of weekend travelers must stand outside until train time, a situation in which global warming is undoubtedly welcome in winter and annoying in summer.

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