Richmond, Va., March 3 and 4
From our Archives: "Amtrak southbound Silver Star awaits departure time from Richmond, Va. Broad Street station on May 5, 1975."
Quite a number of visitors lined up, old and young, to view the Exhibit Train. Photo by Doug Riddell.
The Exhibit Train poses at the Staples Mill Road platform. Photo by Doug Riddell
The Richmond Staples Mill Road station, located in the Henrico County suburbs north of the historic city core, is Virginia’s busiest Amtrak station and is served by a variety of long distance and corridor trains such as the Silver Star and the Carolinian. The waiting room was especially busy this weekend since many college kids were heading to or from Richmond to spend a few days with family and friends over Spring Break. Those with spare time took advantage of the opportunity to walk through the Exhibit Train displays.
Just a few years ago, Amtrak Virginia—a public-private partnership between Amtrak, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and Virginia’s freight and commuter rail operators—launched two pilot programs to expand intercity passenger rail service to a greater number of state residents. These three-year pilots are daily round-trip extensions of Amtrak’s most popular service, the Northeast Regional, to Lynchburg and Richmond, therefore allowing one-seat trips to destinations including New York City and Boston. In its first year of service, October 2009 to September 2010, the Lynchburg train handily beat its initial ridership projection by 147 percent to carry more than 126,000 passengers!
At a table staffed by Amtrak Virginia officials, visitors learned more about plans to extend the Richmond train to Norfolk by the end of this year—months ahead of schedule. In one of the display cases on the last car of the Exhibit Train, there is quite a bit of memorabilia relating to Amtrak Virginia and the initiation of the Lynchburg service. My eye is always drawn to a large advertisement that shows birds flying against a brilliant blue sky. If you look at it more closely, you notice that the birds are in a typical “V” formation, which of course plays into the Virginia theme.
Other exhibitors included Virginia Operation Lifesaver, the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons, the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Children’s Museum of Richmond. Official museum mascot Seymour the Friendly Dinosaur delighted kids in the crowd by dancing and posing for photos. The museum is a not-for-profit organization that strives to create innovative learning experiences for all children and give them the tools to become creative problems solvers.
Railfans might know the Children’s Museum due to the fact that it is next to the Science Museum of Virginia, which occupies the former Broad Street Station. Designed by architect John Russell Pope—of Jefferson Memorial fame—the neoclassical train station opened in 1919 and eventually united the services of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad (RF&P), the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the Norfolk and Western Railway, and the Seaboard Air Line Railway. Amtrak served the station until 1975 when the modern Staples Mill Road facility opened. The state had plans to demolish the grand old building in order to construct an office park, but luckily it was turned over to the Science Museum in 1976.
As at many other stops, members of local railroad clubs and historical societies joined with Amtrak employees to staff the Exhibit Train. Volunteers represented the Atlantic Coast Line/Seaboard Air Line Railroads Historical Society, the local RF&P Model Railroad Club, and the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. This last group also runs the Richmond Railroad Museum which is currently housed in an express car donated by the RF&P. The neighboring Hull Street depot was conveyed to the Old Dominion Chapter by the Southern Railway and will become the organization’s permanent home once renovations are complete. With their deep knowledge and interest in railroading, many volunteers were able to enthusiastically answer additional questions about Richmond-area railroad history.
Well, as they say, the railroad never stops—this week we head back south for a few weeks in North Carolina, a state that has also committed resources to expand intercity passenger rail options for its residents.