High-speed rail just around the bend?

High-speed trains will be passing through Chester in a few years. They won’t stop here, but those who live along the CSX tracks will be impacted. What type of impact to expect is what representatives from Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and the Southeast High Speed Rail Association (SHSRA) will discuss during a special meeting in Chester on Thursday, May 27 at the Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation headquarters on Centre Street, opposite the Chester Library, at 7 p.m.

The Chester Community Association will be hosting DRPT Rail Planning Coordinator Christine Fix and SHSRA Executive Director Daniel Plaugher to hear what local residents might expect as an additional track is added, overpasses and underpasses constructed and rail crossings eliminated. The Draft Tier II Environment Impact Study (EIS) has been completed and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) signature is expected this month.

The Village News reported on Tier II of the EIS at the end of March, when archeologists studied significant historic sites, including the site of the old Chester Hotel, along the high-speed rail route. As the process toward actual construction proceeds, the Chester Community Association is advocating for pedestrian connections at various locations along the track as it passes through Chester. The completion of the high-speed rail project is contingent on funding, but the goal, according to Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR) group, is to have trains carrying passengers by 2018 to 2022.

Fix said she would be focusing on two projects during her presentation at the CCA meeting: The Richmond to Hampton Roads Passenger Rail Study and the SEHSR Study.

“The Hampton Roads Study is a Tier I Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This document looked at possible routes for new high-speed rail service to Hampton Roads,” Fix said via e-mail. “We held public hearings in January and in February 2010, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved of Alternative 1, a 90 mph [train], from Main Street Station, Richmond to downtown Norfolk, following the CSX corridor to Petersburg, Norfolk Southern corridor – along Rt. 460 – and the abandoned Virginian line. We are now writing the final EIS to reflect the public comment we received and the preferred alternative chosen by the CTB. That document we hope to have completed by the fall of this year and approvals by the FRA by the end of the year. In the meantime, we are undertaking preliminary engineering to begin conventional train service (one round trip train) from Norfolk to Richmond.”

The SEHSR study, according to Fix, is little farther along in the process and at the Tier II Draft EIS level. “This is a more detailed study where we have been conducting field research along with conceptual engineering for high-speed rail,” Fix said in her e-mail. “The Federal Railroad Administration is currently reviewing the SEHSR Tier II Draft EIS where we expect to hear back from them any day now and we anticipate it will be available for public review (June) and hearings (July) this summer. Once we hold the hearings and receive citizen comment, we will revise the document to reflect the comments received. We anticipate the SEHSR Final EIS to be complete by the end of this year.”

The CCA is eager to bring to Chester some good information from reliable sources on the high speed rail issue. “We are excited to have such talented speakers coming to Chester to share information about these rail projects that will affect our future,” said CCA President Mike Sawyer. “We hope this provides an opportunity for our local residents to come and hear where we are headed along the tracks that created this village.”

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