October 04, 2014

Train Ride to Williamsburg from Richmond

The Train Ride to Williamsburg

Throughout the day, I took some notes on my experience taking the train from Richmond's Main Street Station to Williamsburg Transit Center. I did for my Uncovering Richmond class to talk about the regional transit. Overall, I was impressed with the speed and reliability of getting to Williamsburg, but what I saw was immense opportunity to bring commuter rail to Richmond, simply by using existing infrastructure. 

Pt. I – Commuting to the Station and In-Station Experience

There's a charm to the station when you first arrive here.There's a charm to the station when you first arrive here.

I'm currently sitting in the waiting room of the Richmond Main Street Station (RVM) waiting for the Northeast Regional train to Williamsburg. I'm doing this out of a mix of a class assignment (write about regional transit and share the experience), and sheer curiosity to see how trains outside of the New England/upper Mid-Atlantic run and operate.

Before I go any further, I'll backtrack and explain how I got to the station. I woke up around 9:30 this morning, and hopped on my bike and took it downtown. Apart from a minor traffic obstacle due to a bike race, I was able to cycle to the station in about seven or eight minutes. With ample, free bike parking literally in front of the station, it was absolutely no problem trying to park and enter the station. 

Often riding the train is understandably ridiculed in the U.S. due to its slow pace, frequent and long delays, playing second fiddle to freight lines (if Amtrak doesn't own the lines), and the fact certain demographics don't like their idea of having a nationally funded rail service.

Inside the station, it's unfortunately rather empty. I'm one of only about eight or nine people in the waiting room. One is a mother and child, another looks to be a William & Mary student on his way back to school, there's a mid-aged couple, and a gentlemen who looks to be in 40s riding alone. Train security is one guard that is cleaning the underside of his fingernails. There's about seven other people in the station taking in the "museum" aspect of it, which I think is always a plus to the renovation of the station. 

The station had plentiful bike parking directly in front of the station.The station had plentiful bike parking directly in front of the station.

It doesn't take an expert though to know why this station is so empty and underused. For once, it's only been serving trains again for just 10 years, secondly, it only offers direct service to Williamsburg and Newport News. To take matters into consideration, Richmond Staples Mill Station, while ugly as it gets, offers service to Washington, Raleigh, Miami, Columbia, New York, etc. It's the main terminal for the city. Although plans exist to turn this station back into the central transportation hub for all bus and train fronts, funding shortages have stalled it to being a tiny station where two trains a day leave the station, and three trains a day arrive at the station. 

Very little in terms of train volume for the station. But I do appreciate how there is service.Very little in terms of train volume for the station. But I do appreciate how there is service.

I will admit as a promising sign, there is now about 20 people here waiting for the train to Williamsburg or Newport News. The train is suppose to arrive in about five minutes. So I'll end part one here. 

Pt. II – From Richmond to Williamsburg 

The train arrived on time, and made no waste leaving. As expected, we traveled through city limits at a rather slow pace, crawling around 35 mph. However, once we left the city and out to the countryside, we've bolted at a blistering 70 mph. I get it, it's not that fast, but it still poses a more relaxing trip than having to drive. I can really take in the scenery, do homework on my computer, and sit in a pretty comfy chair that significantly outpaces sitting in a car or plane. The train itself is actually fairly crowded, or at least, more crowded than I anticipated. 

There's just something captivating about the train.There's just something captivating about the train.

En route to Williamsburg.En route to Williamsburg.

Pt. III – Round Trip to Richmond

As I have emphasized before, the train is extremely relaxing, and efficient. The train came on time to the station, and within two minutes, the train was gone and en route to Richmond's Main Street Station. Like my time going to Connecticut, I kind of wish I was on the train more going on more of a journey on the corridor, but in truth, it isn't a big deal. This trip really makes me wish there can be some form of commuter rail for the Richmond area. If done right, it will likely be effective and pivotal for not only the City of Richmond's economy, but for the economies of Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover Counties. Also at only 40 minutes, it could easily extend itself out Williamsburg, as well as have terminuses in Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and Petersburg, and further integrate these cities with Greater Richmond, and help stimulate the economies of these places. 

Wrap Up of It All

Honestly, there really wasn't much else on my mind other than more urban planning thoughts, and reshapping the way we live and travel. My ideas my clash with others dreams and ideals, but I know there are ways to make it feasible to cater to everyone's need. I'll just end here instead of delving deeper. This post is long enough as it is.

Williamsburg Train Station. It's a small station, but it has a charm to it.Williamsburg Train Station. It's a small station, but it has a charm to it.

About the Author

Tyler Walter

Author & Editor

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