The American public is ready for a passenger rail renaissance. Virginia, among the states proving that point with enthusiastic ridership, has the potential to create an outstanding intercity rail network reaching most of its citizens. That is the hopeful conclusion of a longtime rail analyst-advocate and former government official, Meredith Richards.
Virginia can create a versatile and efficient passenger rail network that brings convenient intercity rail access to at least 70 percent of its citizens, including the Shenandoah Valley and Southwest Virginia, Richards says. In her vision, high-speed rail lines could connect Virginians easily to the Southeastern states and to the already well-served northeast high-speed rail corridor. Commuter rail could be operating smoothly in all the state's major metropolitan areas.
But to do this will require strong public investment and the resolution of chronic problems of longtime neglect that threaten to prevent passenger rail from reaching its full potential, she says. Her article offers a detailed analysis of the steady decline of passenger rail over the previous half-century as a result of policy decisions favoring highways.
To lay out goals for a strong Virginia passenger rail system and build upon the achieved recommendations of the 2004 Warner Commission report, Richards advocates convening a statewide stakeholder task force representing rail advocates, environmentalists, local governments, colleges and universities, businesses and economic development groups, tourism and national security agencies.