The Federal Railroad Administration officials recommended a new train station location in Colonial Heights

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Colonial Heights may be the winner in the years long sweepstakes to build a new passenger rail station in the region.

The Federal Railroad Administration officials studying the best location for a station are recommending a new site on the Boulevard in Colonial Heights for the new rail facility.

The recommendation – released as a draft of an environmental assessment of four possible locations – came as a bit of a surprise to local officials. It appeared the two most discussed sites was at the existing Amtrak location in Ettrick or the Collier Yards in Petersburg. The other site under consideration was adjacent to the railroad crossing on Branders Bridge Road in Chesterfield County just outside Colonial Heights.

Options for building a new station in the area to handle expected growth in Amtrak traffic have been under consideration since 2012, and have produced multiple government and consultant reports. A consultant report in 2015, for example, recommended building a new station adjacent to the current location in Ettrick.

But the federal report made the Colonial Heights site the “preferred alternative” among the options. The report noted the Colonial Heights location – the former S.E. Nichols store site on the west side of the Boulevard just south of the railroad underpass and across from Newcastle Drive – is close to population centers and Interstate 95.

“The proposed preferred location of the Boulevard location was recommended by the FRA to best provide for convenient access to population centers in the region, establish a visible and direct linkage between rail service and the I-95 corridor, and integrate into a built environment that supports existing transit and future improvements to walk/bike access,” according to a press release announcing the draft environmental assessment.

The Boulevard location “is the most accessible and visible under consideration, as it is located approximately one mile (1.1 miles) from I-95 on a major arterial [highway] that provides convenient access to population centers in the region,” according to the report.

The cost of the Boulevard site is roughly in the middle of the four options. The Ettrick site would be the least expensive location for a new terminal – $7 million to $9 million, according to FRA estimates, compared with $9 million to $11 million for Branders Bridge, $9 million to $12 million for the Boulevard and $14 million to $17 million for Collier Yard.

The report is a setback for Chesterfield and Virginia State University officials who have for several years been strongly supporting keeping the local railroad station in Ettrick. Both the county and the university see the station as a key resource in ongoing plans to expand the college and revitalize the community.

But obviously federal rail officials are taking a different take on the best place for a rail station. And it appears Colonial Heights may be the winner in the railroad sweepstakes.

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