About 80 people gathered Tuesday in the renovated Main Street Station train shed in Shockoe Bottom to weigh in on the future of high-speed rail service in the Richmond region.
Thirteen speakers addressed Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation officials during a 30-minute public hearing, offering a range of views on where the Federal Railroad Administration should fund high-speed rail service between Richmond and Washington to the tune of more than $1 billion.
Several who spoke were generally supportive of two stations in the region receiving upgrades and full service, an option DRPT staff recommended last year involving Main Street Station in downtown Richmond and Staples Mill Station in Henrico County.
Many speakers weighed in on which location in the city should be the beneficiary of high-speed service: either Main Street Station or a new station on North Boulevard.
Many who spoke expressed concern about Main Street Station’s location in what was once a central slave trafficking hub, as well as its proximity to the Lumpkin’s Jail site and African Burial Ground.
Ana Edwards, chair of sacred ground historical reclamation project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality, said the organization isn’t opposed to Main Street Station’s inclusion in the project, as long as improvements to accommodate the service or increased traffic at the station don’t encroach upon the historic sites.
“We really want to make it clear that we’ll be as vigilant as we can to make sure this site and its resources are protected,” Edwards said.
Councilwoman Kimberly Gray was the only elected official to offer comment at the hearing. She cited Shockoe Bottom’s history as contributing to her support of a single station built on the Boulevard.
Those advocating for a single Boulevard station included former Virginia Commonwealth University President Eugene Trani and the president of the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association, Mike Cline, who said the neighborhood association’s board had endorsed the option.
Trani said a Boulevard station could accelerate development in what is already one of Richmond’s fastest-growing areas and reap benefits for the city as a whole.
“I believe (the area) would be developed a lot more quickly and result in dramatic tax revenues, which will help the city schools and city services,” Trani said.
Clay McDonald, a 30-year-old resident of South Richmond, said any alignment that circumvents the Shockoe Bottom station would render the city’s investment in the facility a waste.
“We’ve already put all this money into this beautiful place. It’s functioning right now,” McDonald said.
In 2016, the previous Richmond City Council passed a resolution indicating Main Street Station as its preferred site. Factoring into decision was the station’s location in what is the city’s central business district and its potential to serve as a multimodal hub connecting other alternative forms of transportation, including the GRTC Pulse bus rapid transit line under construction.
Currently, four passenger trains pass through Main Street Station each day. If chosen for the expanded service, that number could grow to 32 trains per day, a DRPT representative said.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first of five events DRPT is holding this month during a 60-day public comment period on its draft environmental impact statement on the corridor, which it released in September. It is also accepting input online. The public comment period will close Nov. 7.
An open house and public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Ashland.