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Ettrick Station ridership grows ahead of redevelopment

Four people prepare to board a train while standing near a "Petersburg Station" sign.
Virginia Passenger Rail Authority
Several people prepare to board a train at Ettrick Station in southern Chesterfield County near Petersburg. The stop will undergo a $10.6 million renovation during the next four years.

Renovations are set to roll out during the next four years.

At Ettrick Station in southern Chesterfield County, stray cats recently roamed over uneven pavement in a parking lot without painted lines.

“We’re going to clean this place up to where it needs to be,” Virginia Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller III said at a rail safety event at the station near Petersburg.

The stop — which sees several Amtrak lines run through it each day — was first constructed in 1955 and is set to undergo a $10.6-million renovation during the next four years.

The U.S. Department of Transportation granted $6.4 million to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority last year for the improvements — renovating the parking lot, adding tactile pavement (which lets people who are visually impaired know when they're too close to the tracks) and replacing an exterior canopy. The authority will pay the balance.

Virginia Passenger Rail Authority
Virginia Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller III speaks Thursday at the Ettrick Station in southern Chesterfield County during a rail safety event.

VPRA Executive Director DJ Stadtler said the authority will select a contractor for the project in the next few weeks. But the timeline for renovations is a source of frustration for the transportation secretary.

“Four years, federal money, lots of federal regulations and lots of stuff we want to do,” Miller said. “I want it next year — not 2027, but we’re pushing as hard as we can push.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared September Rail Safety Month. Virginia ranks 19th in the nation for miles of tracks, with 3,200 across the state; a person or vehicle is hit by a train every three hours in the country.

Among upcoming safety initiatives around the state is the installation of quad gates — which block both lanes of traffic when a train is passing — to better protect drivers and pedestrians at railroad crossings. Though it is forbidden to cross tracks when gates are down and the lights are flashing, 94% of all rail-related fatalities and injuries “occur at railroad crossings or due to trespassing,” according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Miller said rail safety is everyone’s responsibility.

“I’m glad we did it, but for God’s sake, why did we need to do that? We can’t fix people’s behavior. They have got to get with the program and help us here,” he said about the gates. “It’s sort of like putting up additional traffic lights.”

In addition to safety, updates to railroad tracks and stations in Virginia are essential to keeping the state’s commerce afloat, Miller said. About one-third of the Port of Virginia’s cargo is delivered by rail.

Each rail car can carry more freight than a single truck. Utilizing trains could reduce the number of trucks on the highway, diminishing congestion, and the amount of wear and tear roads. Trains are also more fuel efficient — emitting fewer greenhouse gasses than trucks.

Ettrick Station — near Virginia State University’s campus — services several routes: the Carolinian, the Silver Meteor, the Silver Service/Palmetto lines and the Northeast Regional. The Virginia section of the Northeast Regional splits into four routes. One takes passengers out to Roanoke, another to Newport News, another to Norfolk and some trains terminate in Richmond. Ettrick Station is located on the Norfolk route.

More than 33,000 passengers used the station between June 2021 and May 2022, creating $1.6 million in ticket revenue. Those ridership numbers are higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to a VPRA spokesperson.

The station’s located off smaller back roads because of drainage issues, VPRA’s Stadtler said. Creating a more accessible entrance will be addressed, he said, but won’t be included in this series of renovations.

“Access is going to be important, especially as we see ridership continue to grow,” Stadtler said.