Friday brought the opportunity to go visit friends in Richmond VA, a 3 hour trip on the Northeast Regional took me to one of the oldest cities in America. One stop from the Main Street Station we hit a delay. A northbound train containing 9 passengers set to transfer to my train had been delayed by a freight down the line. Our train paused as we waited for our fellow passengers.
As I began to speculate what the solution would be to this issue moving forward, I received an email from a colleague working on the high speed rail development from Richmond to DC. The environmental impact study had been completed and was now open for public commentary and review.
What this study recommends is an additional 8 round trips to Richmond from DC as well as extending all services to the Main Street Station in Richmond. The goal is to reduce travel times, delays, and increase reliability in a community that benefits greatly from this rail service. We would see a 62% expansion of passenger rail service as well as 24% increase in on-time performance.
For Virginians looking to get out of town for the weekend or commute towards DC, this is obviously a great next step in developing accessibility. VHSR estimates as much as 136,000 metric tons of Co2 emissions could be prevented by utilization of this expansion by travelers and tourists as well as 723,000,000 passenger miles removed from roadways creating less traffic and better road conditions for those who choose to drive as opposed to travel by rail. Seems like a win-win for the Capital of Virginia.
As I arrived in town, I met up with Danielle and Tyler, originally from Pulaski, VA both had relocated to Richmond for its job opportunities and accessibility via public transportation. Tyler described his experiences as an up and coming food truck chef who relied on public transportation to get to and from the commissary kitchen on the other end of town.
When I mentioned the proposed rail service expansion, he told me this was indeed needed from DC to Richmond. In the late fall, tourism between the north eastern cities and the beaches that lie south of Richmond tapers off and food trucks often face the choice of closing for the winter or drastically reducing their staff.
While we chatted about new rails and new opportunities, we made our way to GWARbar, an infamous stop in Richmond named after the metal band GWAR. A few pitchers of PBR and host of affordable appetizers (including house made vegan and vegetarian options) were shared with our friends from the foothills of Appalachia. Because there is no train route from their county to Richmond, our friends Laina, Amy, and Jeremy had to drive two hours to meet us.
Laina and I crushed an abundant serving of totchos, fried artichoke hearts, and Asian ginger seitan wings. sipping heartily from our pint glasses, we discussed the issues of Rural Accessibility that chronically plague Appalachia. We talked about how frustrating and alienating it can be to not have access to the world beyond one’s hometown without relying on a car as well as the dangers of driving through some of the steepest and least maintained roadways in the US.
49% of vehicular fatalities occur in rural settings despite the fact that only 19% of the national population live in rural communities. When I brought these statistics to the attention of Laina and Amy, they confided that they were not surprised, just disappointed. I highlighted the advancements made by Amtrak in Mississippi and Illinois and they presented a valid line of questioning; When would it be their turn? When would the people of Rural Virginia, West Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky no longer be included in the 1200 counties that still don’t have access to public transportation? We hoped to one day see our families join the communities that have seen economic benefit from being included in future Amtrak routes and toasted to that hopeful dawn.
As the next morning came round, we found comfort in a gorgeous brunch at 3 Monkeys. Located in the Fan, a slowly changing neighborhood close to UVA campus, we were met with pitchers of mimosas, chicken n waffles, eggs benedict with lump crab meat and beautiful fresh produce. Amy had her first ever Bloody Mary and dare I say she found a new signature drink. Our server was lively and knowledgeable, the restaurant clean despite the bustling brunch crowd, all in all a place I would definitely recommend visiting if you are near the area. Two bus stops frame this little gem so even if you miss your first stop, it’s a forgiving location.
One thing I did notice as we shopped and toured the neighborhood was how many cars were paralleled up and down every street. Danielle described a car dependent capital that would benefit from an expansion of bus service as well as rail service. We watched as people descended upon Richmond for a variety of events the city was hosting this weekend. Flyers for GalaxyCon, Greek Food & Culture Festival, and a number of concerts were visible on every telephone pole. It was fascinating to see the juxtaposition of revolutionary era statues and Dr. Who fans in costume. We even saw Peter Capaldi, the 12th doctor, who gave us a cavalier wave and a cheeky smile on his way into the venue at which he was scheduled to appear.
As Laina, Jeremy, and Amy said their goodbyes and headed back to the holler, we had to commiserate their two hour drive back home before Laina and Jeremy both worked a grueling Saturday close at one of the few late night eateries in their county of residence. How nice it would be to nap on the train before hours laboring in the kitchen…
Danielle and I headed back to her house to walk her senior rescue dog and take in the quaint historic sights of the neighborhood. As a lazy sun set over Chimborazo Park, we called it an early night.
Sunday brought a Richmond tradition known as Sugar Shack. Traditional as well as trendy donuts served in a tiny building as the dawn breaks each day. I went for an old fashioned cake donut and the largest almond milk latte I could acquire. On initial bite, I immediately understood why this destination had grown from a literal shack into multiple popular locations. The crumbly rich decadence of a 100 year old cake donut recipe melted in my mouth and its texture is unparalleled.
Danielle ordered a beautiful assorted dozen and flashed a gleeful smile as she shoved a maple glazed yeast donut into my face. Her logic being that one can’t just try the cake donut, both are necessary for a real sugar shack experience. We waddled away from this blue ribbon breakfast and I gently cupped the boxed dozen she procured as we made our way to Diversity Thrift.
A regular thrifter, former employee, and community volunteer, Danielle was welcomed into the shop as family and I tried my best to make a good impression. Walking in with red velvet, maple bacon, and chocolate dunked donuts surely helped.
We were given a tour of the shop, sorting room, and the art gallery attached to the front of the building. The staff works tirelessly to provide community resources to LGBTQA+ projects in the region. I departed with a locally printed T-shirt, an affordable handbag, funky vintage trousers, and a new blazer for $17. A steal if you ask me.
As I said my goodbyes to my dear friend Danielle and prepared to board my train, she gave me a massive hug and promised we would visit each other again soon. I told her so long as we work to continue improvements to Richmond rail access, we could see each other even sooner. The community of Richmond is elaborate; ever evolving to incorporate a revolutionary history as well as an assuredly bright future and I truly hope to return again soon.