Rail travel is becoming more prominent in Hampton Roads with the introduction of light rail service, upcoming Amtrak service to the Southside, and ongoing studies regarding improved passenger rail service both into and throughout the region.
One year ago, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) began light rail service in the city of Norfolk. This light rail system, referred to as The Tide, serves a 7.4 mile corridor between the Medical Center Complex through Downtown Norfolk to Newtown Road at the Virginia Beach city line. Nearly 1.7 million passengers have used The Tide as of the end of July 2012. This averages to 4,818 daily passengers, or 5,228 passengers each weekday, much higher than the 2,900 passengers HRT estimated would use The Tide each weekday.
Intercity passenger rail service is provided to Hampton Roads by Amtrak at stations in Newport News and Williamsburg. Riders can board the train in Williamsburg and ride it all the way to Boston Mass. At the Newport News or Williamsburg Amtrak stations you can park for free, leave your car a week or longer. When your legs get cramped on the train—however unlikely, given the generous amount of leg room—you can walk to the dining car for a coffee or beer. You can talk on the phone and use Wi-Fi. If it annoys you to hear others talking, you can sit in the quiet car. You can read, work, write. The time flies. When you arrive in , Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, or Boston, you’re already downtown, near a subway or light-rail line.
There were a total of 175,500 passengers who boarded or departed Amtrak trains in Hampton Roads in 2011, with 122,400 passengers at the Newport News station and 53,100 passengers at the Williamsburg station. The number of Amtrak passengers boarding or departing trains in Hampton Roads increased 17% between 2002 and 2011, but has increased 36% since the lows seen in the middle of the 2000s.
This number of passengers is likely to increase when direct passenger train service to Richmond and Washington begins operating out of Harbor Park in Norfolk VA sometime in late 2012. Amtrak trains will depart Norfolk at 5:00 AM daily and arrive in Washington by 9:00 AM, then go on to New York and Boston from there.
Construction is underway on the project, including improvements to the rail line and the construction of a platform at the future Norfolk Harbor Park station.