Saturday, March 16, 2013

Things once old are new again - Richmonds Main Street Station

During the first half of the 20th century, great trains with splendid names made stops at Richmond's Main Street Station. The Silver Meteor, the Fast,Flying Virginian, the George Washington and the Orange Blossom Special all arrived and departed from here. Trains carried upwards of one million passengers per year through this station. In 1975 travel here ceased.

On October 7,1983 this lovely 5 story Beaux-Arts architectural gem nearly was destroyed by fire. The fire was one of Richmond's largest, a 6 alarm behemoth, requiring the services of a dozen engine companies, seven ladder companies and more than 110 firefighters to get the blaze under control. During the firefight, Ronald Lewis the Fire Chief had to be dissuaded from pulling down the large 4 faced clock tower crowning the building. He feared that extensive fire damage might cause the tower to collapse onto the nearby elevated interstate highway.

Restored with insurance proceeds, Main Street Station's second life as an outlet specialty mall was brief, lasting 2 years from 1985 to 1987. Next it housed the offices of the Virginia Dept. of Health.
In 2000 the city of Richmond completed negotiations with the Commonwealth of Virginia  and purchased the Main Street Station property. By 2003 passenger train service returned. Plans for the future will entail full build-out of the rail system with 38 trains rolling through on a daily basis.

I departed from this grand old station en route to New York City's Penn Station. Amtrak currently has one East Coast corridor train arriving and departing daily. It is a 7 hour trip, but provides a good deal more leg room and ability to move around than an airline flight. There are laptop plugins and wi-fi service. The food is a step up from airline grade and while Amtrak apparently will perform random passenger searches, I never had to take off my shoes, go through a metal detector or be X-ray scanned.

Amtrak is an attractive travel option.


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