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After 35-year hiatus, passenger rail returns to Norfolk

Rendering of the design for the Amtrak station at Harbor Park. (City of Norfolk/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT)

Thirty-five years after the last train left the station in Norfolk, passenger rail service will return to Virginia’s second largest city in December, linking it to Washington and the rest of Amtrak’s northeast corridor.

Reconnecting Norfolk and its larger adjacent neighbor, Virginia Beach, to the passenger rail grid has been in the works for a while, but on Thursday, elected officials and Amtrak announced the service would begin Dec. 12.

Trains will run seven days a week, providing the increasing number of Washingtonians who don’t own cars with another way to (almost) reach the beach next summer. A one-way ticket for the almost five-hour rail ride will cost $38, Amtrak said.

“It takes cars off the highways, helping ease congestion on already highly-traveled roads,” said Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). “The new station [in Norfolk] provides a one-seat ride to Richmond, Washington and major cities along the northeast corridor, offering an economical and environmentally friendly way to travel.”

Thelma Drake, Virginia’s director of trail and public transportation, said the commonwealth would shoulder responsibility for the cost of the Amtrak service, as it already has done for passenger service to Richmond and Lynchburg.

While she wasn’t able to provide a dollar figure for the expense, Drake said that ticket sales have covered the cost of service to the other cities and that “our ridership projections do have our Norfolk train in the black.”

She said Virginia’s overall passenger rail expense will be reevaluated in October 2013, when new federal guidelines will require that the state take additional responsibility for the cost.

Amtrak has been questioned by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) about its operation of lines that are money losers.

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