NORFOLK, Va. - Amtrak will begin offering service between Norfolk and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, providing an alternative route for tourists, business travellers and military officials who usually drive on the state's congested highways between the two cities.
The train will make stops in Petersburg and Richmond before reaching the nation's capital, and those who choose to can remain on the train for travel to the Northeast. When trains start rolling at 4:50 a.m. from a station at Norfolk's minor league baseball stadium, it will be the first time passenger rail service has been offered in south Hampton Roads since 1977.
"This is a great moment for us. It's not every day that we have a chance to be part of history, but I think we can all agree that today is a historic moment," Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim said at a ceremony attended by hundreds who welcomed the trains to town.
The project to bring passenger rail to Norfolk finished 10 months earlier than planned and a permanent station won't be ready until 2013, although a temporary waiting area and restrooms are available until then. The cost of a one-way ticket will range from $38 to Washington to $73 to Boston.
On weekdays, trains departing Washington will leave at 3:55 p.m. and return to Norfolk at 8:50 p.m.
"Now we don't have to fight (Interstates) 64 and 95. We don't have to pay $25 to $35 to park our car in D.C. We can go up there by train and return," said Thelma Drake, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
Despite the early departure time, demand for tickets has been so high that Amtrak officials added several additional trains for its inaugural route. Amtrak officials are also offering discounted tickets from Norfolk to Washington for $19 through Dec. 30 to boost interest. Travel must be booked by Dec. 17. Discounts are available for veterans, active-duty military and their families, senior citizens and AAA members.
Among the route's most likely customers are members of the military travelling between Norfolk, home to the Navy's Atlantic fleet, and the Pentagon.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis