Passengers at the Ettrick station prepare to board an Amtrak train heading northbound.
The nearly 70-year-old train station in the South Chesterfield village of Ettrick is slated for a much-needed facelift, with more than $14 million in federal, state and local funding committed to modernize the station, enhance its parking and make significant improvements to transportation infrastructure in the surrounding neighborhood.
Considering the positive momentum now behind the project, it’s hard to imagine that just four years ago, a federal agency had all but decided to shutter the train station and replace it with a new one outside Chesterfield.
“I’m in awe,” said Tina McCray, a leader of the local group Concerned Citizens of Ettrick, whose dogged determination and tireless advocacy rallied support from members of Congress and eventually convinced the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to abandon its plan to relocate the Ettrick station.
“We knew our shared vision with the county for the future of the station was phenomenal. If we could only get [people outside Chesterfield] to really look at it, it was a no-brainer,” McCray added. “They finally came to realize what an opportunity it is to make something better for our community.”
Despite the efforts of Chesterfield officials and Ettrick residents, both of whom argued vigorously for revitalizing the train station at its current site, FRA announced in May 2018 that it had identified property in a neighboring locality as its preferred location for a new facility.
Under federal standards, the existing Ettrick station is considered inadequate to effectively accommodate the roughly 30,000 riders it serves on an annual basis – including many students at nearby Virginia State University who don’t have access to a car and rely on trains to travel between their homes and campus. Fort Lee also is a frequent user of the train station and Chesterfield's relationship with the U.S. Army installation remains strong.
A proposed high-speed rail line along the Eastern Seaboard is projected to increase ridership to about 100,000 a year, while potentially allowing people to commute daily from South Chesterfield to high-paying jobs in the Washington, D.C. area.
Recognizing the transformational impact that could have on Ettrick, both Chesterfield and VSU envision a modern train station as a key piece of a long-term plan to invigorate the village with new commercial and residential development.
“As ridership increases, and through our partnership with VSU, there are going to be a lot more benefits associated with this station in the future,” said Matoaca District Supervisor Kevin Carroll.
McCray, a 35-year Chesterfield resident, refers to the university and train station as Ettrick’s “two hidden jewels.”
“If we had lost the station, it would’ve been a disaster for the village and the county,” she said. “It would’ve been devastating for VSU students and the university would’ve lost a major resource, as well.”
Instead, the Concerned Citizens of Ettrick met with U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin and convinced him to throw his support behind keeping the train station in the village. They then gained two more significant allies in senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine; both sent letters to FRA leadership urging them to reconsider their initial relocation decision.
Members of the Virginia General Assembly and VSU’s Board of Visitors also joined the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors in publicly endorsing Ettrick as the best site for the station.
In June 2019, FRA announced it had effectively closed the book on relocating the facility.
“I give the Concerned Citizens of Ettrick all of the credit,” Carroll said. “It wouldn’t have happened without the legwork they did and all of the information they gathered.”
Chesterfield will formally recognize the Concerned Citizens of Ettrick with a resolution of thanks at the Board of Supervisors' June 29 meeting.
U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin (second from left) visited Chesterfield in May to present a ceremonial check for $1 million for train station upgrades.
Members of the group accompanied Carroll, Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland and Chesterfield County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey during a May ceremony when they received a $1 million check from McEachin for improvements to the Ettrick station.
This year, the U.S. House of Representatives implemented a new effort as part of its annual appropriations process, which allowed for specific Community Project Funding requests. This process was created to ensure that members of Congress, in concert with the communities they represent, can submit direct applications for federal funding to support locally planned projects.
Chesterfield, meanwhile, has allocated $3 million to realign and reconstruct Bessie Lane, and add a sidewalk, shared-use path, landscaping and streetlights to improve multimodal access to the Ettrick train station.
Finally, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) announced last week that it has been awarded a $6.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to revitalize the Ettrick facility.
The grant, part of the FRA's Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program, will fund substantial enhancements to the passenger experience, including improvements to the building, parking and lighting.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility will be improved from the parking lot to the station and from the station to the platform and trains. A new 850-foot platform will be constructed to provide passengers with safe access to trains. Other projects include the replacement of the canopy over the platform, a new wheelchair lift enclosure and a covered walkway. Inside the station, projects include a new ticket window, lighting repairs and new restroom doors. All interior and exterior signage will also be replaced.
“At VPRA, our mission is to increase the quality of rail services for all passengers to make us a reliable transportation option for all, including those with physical impairments,” said D.J. Stadtler, executive director of the authority, which acquired ownership of the Ettrick station and many other railroad properties from CSX last year as part of its Transforming Rail in Virginia Initiative.
The total budget for the project is $10.6 million, with the remaining funding to be provided by VPRA. Current plans call for construction to begin in 2024 and continue through 2025. When complete, the upgrades are expected to attract 10,050 new passengers to the station.
It’s part of Virginia’s $3.7 billion investment to expand and improve passenger, commuter, and freight rail and create a vital connection in America’s national rail network between the Northeast and Southeast corridors.
“When you get the right people working together, this is what can happen,” McCray said. “I’m so glad people see the vision and the promise that could be. We were just trying to help the place we love.”