Interesting to see so many of the same topics/issues still being talked about. A few points on recent postings on Virginia service:
1. Chesapeake/Suffolk station. When the train to Norfolk was inaugurated, VDRPT said they would, at some point, establish at stop in the Bowers Hill section of Chesapeake (lots of open land along the tracks and ready access to 664—the sort of place usually favored for park-and-ride type stations). Nearly six years on, I don’t think anything has happened. As for the Virginian ROW, while it may have been mentioned as a possibility some years back, I don’t know of any current plans that involve building a dedicated passenger corridor between Norfolk and Petersburg.
2. Acca Yard/Main Street Station/Bellwood Sub. The stated goal is that eventually all Amtrak service that terminates in Richmond or continues south or east (except the Auto Train) will stop at Main Street to provide service to downtown Richmond, in addition to Staples Mill. Currently, only the Newport News trains stop there. To make a Main Street stop feasible for other services, two major pieces of infrastructure word need to done—an Acca Yard bypass (benefitting trains terminating in Richmond, those continuing to Newport News, and those headed further south [including the Norfolk train]) and rebuilding the Bellwood Sub (benefitting only trains headed further south).
As designed, the CSX (RF&P) mainline goes right down the middle of Acca Yard. That’s a very slow trip, and one often interrupted by freight movements. MAS is 25mph and, in my experience, that speed is merely aspirational. To avoid the congestion, CSX and the state got together to build a line that bypasses Acca on the west side of the yard. Construction did begin on this and it was supposed to be completed this past spring. Does anyone know the status? Once complete, Amtrak is supposed to be able to pass through at 40mph, with many fewer fouling freight movements. It’s also a precondition for extending trains that terminate in Richmond to Main Street. The Acca bypass has lots of benefits for intra-Virginia service.
In contrast, the primary beneficiaries of rebuilding the Bellwood to passenger standards will be passengers to/from points further south (especially North Carolina), although it would also benefit the Norfolk train. I think that’s why it is further down on the priority list. The Bellwood was a passenger route in pre-Amtrak days for SAL, but IIRC, SAL moved from Main Street to Broad Street in the late ‘50’s. I don’t know if they continued to use the Bellwood for passenger movements after that.
A final point on Main Street: there ought to be Thruways (shuttles, buses, whatever) between Main Street and Staples Mill for every train to/from the north and between Staples Mill and Petersburg for every train to/from the south. I assume that there must be some issue with local taxi companies that prevents this from happening.
3. Long Bridge. I think it’s undeniable that as train volumes grow, more capacity (i.e., more tracks) will be needed. The immediate question is whether there is room for more passenger trains today. We are told that there are no more slots for trains to cross the bridge. But what does that mean? In my non-professional eyes, it’s hard to believe that it means that additional through-put of trains is physically impossible. Spend some time at Long Bridge Park in Arlington, and notice the gaps between movements. It’s no doubt a busy line, but it's not the Portal bridge. I think the more accurate interpretation is that CSX won’t make more passenger slots available unless they get more money. I suspect that when the state wants to get serious, an accommodation acceptable to all parties will be reached.
More immediately, I second the idea of combining consists. But I’m not sure that pocket tracks are necessary. I’ve pointed out before what our neighbors to the north do: J (for joined) trains. VIA dispatches two complete consists (loco + cars) joined together leaving Toronto for Montreal and Ottawa. At Brockville, the consists are separated, one going to Montreal and one to Ottawa. The long southbound platform at Alexandria would seem to be a fine place to separate consists headed to Richmond and Charlottesville/Lynchburg/Roanoke. But I freely admit there may be technical problems with this that are not apparent to my amateur eyes.