Aug 8, 2022 - News

High-speed rail remains a faraway dream in Virginia

Illustration of a multi-colored train moving fast towards the viewer.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

People have been talking about bringing high speed rail to Richmond for decades now.

Yes, but: While there's been some progress, those fast rail trips up and down the East Coast remain a faraway dream.

What's happening: This summer, the feds announced a $58 million grant to begin developing a high-speed corridor between Raleigh and Petersburg.

  • And last year, the state announced a $3.7 billion plan that will double rail capacity between D.C. and Virginia.

That all sounds promising, but there's still a long way to go.

  • The broad federal plans for high-speed rail between Richmond and D.C. are being pursued piecemeal, and many elements have yet to be funded.
  • As for the Raleigh-to-Petersburg development, for now it's limited to an engineering study, meaning "it's too soon to put a date on the actual rail improvements," Karina Romero, a spokesperson for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, tells Axios.

The earliest a true high-speed rail connection to D.C. might materialize is 2040, Danny Plaugher, the president of the advocacy group Virginians for High Speed Rail, tells Axios. At that point, passengers could see speeds go from 50 mph to 90.

  • He's encouraged by the funding federal lawmakers have dedicated so far and expects they'll follow through with more grants to finish the job.

What's next: Passengers should still begin noticing improvements in speed and reliability in the near-term, even if true high-speed service remains decades away.

  • One under-the-radar upgrade: Amtrak's plan to roll out new trains over the next seven years will significantly boost reliability over the current fleet, which in some cases is pushing 50 years old, Plaugher says.
  • That's welcome news to Karri and Ned, whose last last work trip out of D.C. was delayed two hours when a part underneath one of the carriages randomly caught fire.

Our thought bubble: Allow us to daydream a little while we Google international rail timetables.

  • In Italy, you can make it from Rome to Naples — about the distance from Richmond to D.C. — in an hour and 10 minutes at a cost of about $20.
  • In Spain, a rail trip from Madrid to Barcelona — think Richmond to New York City — takes about 2.5 hours and costs about $35.
  • And in China, a trip from Shanghai to Beijing — similar to a trip from Richmond to Orlando — can take as little as 4.5 hours for a cost of just under $100.
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