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The Tide Light Rail 6/30/2015

by Chris Guenzler

Robin and I slept in at the Tazewell Hotel in Norfolk and both had a good rest. Since this hotel does not offer breakfast, we went to a cafe four blocks away but it was closed on Tuesdays. We asked someone on the street who said to walk down to St. Paul Street and we would find the best place to eat. We walked and found the Brick House Cafe at Crown Center and I had the best breakfast of the whole trip, enjoying Silver Dollar pancakes both bacon and sausage and orange juice, after which I felt like a new man. Afterwards, we walked over the Norfolk City Hall and took the elevator up 11 floors to get Norfolk municipal pins for Elizabeth. After that I walked back to the Tide Light Rail Civic Center station and picked our day passes to ride the Tide. We took the Tide one stop back to MacArthur Square station and walked back to the hotel to pick up my camera.

Tide Light Rail Background

The Tide is a 7.4 mile light rail line in Norfolk, Virginia, connecting Eastern Virginia Medical School, Downtown Norfolk, Norfolk State University and Newtown Road. Service began on August 19, 2011 and it was the first light rail system in the state. The Tide is operated by Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). Fares match local bus fares and the line accepts HRT's GO Passes.

History The Tide's current route

In November 1999, the City of Virginia Beach conducted a referendum regarding the construction and operation of light rail into Virginia Beach along the Norfolk Southern railroad right-of-way. The proposed route would connect downtown Norfolk to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. The referendum led to a community discussion of the proposed light rail and feeder bus system. Local media and many special interest groups debated the matter in great detail, using information provided by a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The voters of Virginia Beach rejected the proposed light rail system. The Virginia Beach City Council then passed a 10-year resolution declaring that the city would no longer have any future involvement in the proposed light rail line. Years later, a major economic and development hub has been built along the Norfolk Southern rail corridor, known as the Virginia Beach Town Center. The new Town Center, along with record high gas prices in 2008, has now made many Virginia Beach residents that opposed the rail line have second thoughts on the plan. A renewed public interest in light rail has been stirred up as some that were opposed to rail see the viewpoint of proponents. A new referendum on light rail will not necessarily be needed in Virginia Beach due to the 10-year expiration of the previous referendum.

Since then, the City of Virginia Beach agreed to purchase the portion of the former Norfolk Southern Railway right-of-way within Virginia Beach from Norfolk Southern. This line extends from the Norfolk/Virginia Beach boundary (near the end of the light rail line in Norfolk), continuing almost due east through the Pembroke Town Center area to Birdneck Road, ending very near the waterfront area of the resort city. However, no firm plans (e.g. for LRT, Bus Rapid Transit, or other uses) have been announced for the purchased right-of-way.

After Virginia Beach pulled out of a proposal that would have seen the construction of a light rail line connecting downtown Norfolk with the Virginia Beach oceanfront in 1999, Norfolk began developing a network that would be constructed entirely within its city limits.

Beginning in 2000, HRT and federal transit officials worked to create a plan that would attract federal funding. On September 22, 2006, the Federal Transit Administration announced that the proposal met federal criteria for design and would receive funding for a final design. On October 1, 2007, the FTA signed the agreement to appropriate $128 million for the construction of the network. The remainder of the project will be divided three ways, with the city of Norfolk contributing $33 million, the Commonwealth of Virginia contributing $31.9 million, and $39.2 million being contributed from other federal sources.

Officials announced in June 2007 that the system would be called The Tide, a name that beat out other proposed names including Bay Runner, First Rail, Dash, Bay Breeze, Sail and Shore Line.

The trains generally run every 15 minutes; they run every 10 minutes during peak periods and every 30 minutes during early weekend mornings and late evenings. Service will be from 6:00 a.m. through 10 p.m Monday-Thursday, 6:00 a.m. through midnight on Friday-Saturday, 7:00 a.m. through 9:00 p.m. on Sundays, and 9:00 a.m. through 9:00 p.m. on holidays.

On 21 June 2011, HRT announced the line would open on 19 August initially with demonstration rides followed by regular service beginning on 22 August. Due to high ridership during the initial demonstration period, estimated at over 46,000 riders, the demonstration period was extended, with regular service to begin on 28 August.

On 21 September 2011, Hampton Roads Transit announced the introduction of online ticketing and onboard WiFi to The Tide.


The Tide cost $318 million to construct and is estimated to cost $6.2 million a year to operate.

The line was primarily financed by a $232 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration approved in October 2007. Additional federal funding came from a $32.8 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The final cost of the project was estimated to be $318.5 million, $106 million over the original estimate - or approximately just under $27 million per kilometer ($43 million per mile).

Rolling stock

In September 2007, HRT's commission voted to purchase nine Siemens-built S70 vehicles, similar to those currently in operation in Houston, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina. These vehicles will form The Tide's initial fleet of light rail vehicles. The first car arrived on October 6, 2009.


Daily ridership in 2011 was projected at 2,900 passengers. Actual daily ridership up to April 17, 2012 was approximately 4,900, allowing the service to reach its goal of 1 million rides 150 days earlier than had been projected.


Part of the Tide's original route parallels I-264.

The Tide is designed with the hope that TOD (Transit-oriented development) will be constructed along the light rail line, creating a smart growth transit corridor to help guide growth using compact mixed-use development practices, as well as curbing traffic congestion.


Most of the Tide's route east of downtown Norfolk operates on newly-laid track along the former Norfolk Southern Railway line that runs due east to the resort area of Virginia Beach. The Norfolk Southern Railway had previously abandoned that line. That right-of-way had carried both freight and passenger traffic until the end of World War II, and then operated as a freight-only railway for several additional decades. The current eastern end of The Tide is at Newtown Road, which is the Norfolk-Virginia Beach boundary line.

By contrast, The Tide's route from the Harbor Park area west within downtown Norfolk and north-west to the Medical Center area is entirely new right-of-way.


The Commonwealth of Virginia's Department of Rail & Public Transportation is studying possible extensions to The Tide in several different directions within the multi-city Hampton Roads area.

Hampton Roads Transit, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization and local cities are exploring extensions of the starter line. Possible extensions might run north to the Norfolk Naval Base, east to the Virginia Beach oceanfront and resort area, west to Portsmouth, and south to Chesapeake.


One possible extension would run south from Norfolk, probably terminating in the Greenbrier area of Chesapeake, Virginia.


A second possible extension would continue The Tide from the Medical Center terminus to Naval Station Norfolk, which would connect Old Dominion University to the light rail service. The naval base is one of the largest employers in the Hampton Roads area and ODU is a large public university.


The Peninsula Rapid Transit Project is exploring the feasibility of light rail in Newport News. Likely stops for The Tide on the Peninsula would include downtown Newport News, the Newport News Amtrak station, the Oyster Point area and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. An extension between downtown Newport News and downtown Hampton is also being considered.

Virginia Beach

This proposed LRT extension would continue along the former Norfolk Southern Railway right-of-way. Major stops would be located at the "Town Center" project in the Pembroke area near Oceana Naval Air Station and would terminate in the resort area at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, a few blocks west of the Atlantic Ocean. A possible spur would branch at the NS Railway's Oceana Junction (just east of London Bridge Road and just north of Potters Road) and use the existing abandoned railway right-of-way along the west side of Oceana Naval Air Station to the south. As another possible LRT extension, most of the former NS Railway line from the Witchduck Road area south to the Virginia Beach Municipal Center remains currently undeveloped.

The city of Virginia Beach may extend The Tide light rail service east from the Newtown Road terminus. Virginia Beach's mayor, Will Sessoms, said that the city hoped to purchase the right of way. The city subsequently purchased the tracks for $40 million, using $10 million of local tax funds - which would allow a total rail length of about 18 miles. The extension is estimated to cost $254 million to the Town Center and $807 million to the Oceanfront. In April 2012, the Virginia Beach City Council voted 10 - 1 to allow voters to determine the fate of the extension in the November 2012 general election.

In the April 2011 State of the City, Sessoms said "whether the corridor is eventually developed with Bus Rapid Transit or a light rail line is unknown at this time," citing cost and ridership issues.

In April 2011, HRT paused the study until 9 - 12 months of ridership data from The Tide light rail in Norfolk is collected. This will allow the travel forecasting model for any extension to be calibrated based on actual ridership. During this pause, HRT will work on improving the definition of the alternatives under study. After the data has been collected, HRT will restart the VBTES, currently anticipated in the third quarter of 2012. The study is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

On November 6, 2012 Virginia Beach voters approved a non-binding referendum supporting expansion of light rail into Virginia Beach by a 62% majority. A study to fix costs for the project will be completed in 2014.

Our Ride

The view looking south from MacArthur Square station.

The MacArthur Memorial.

The friendly Tide ticketing machines.

I do not ride wrapped light rail cars when I write stories so we let this westbound go and would ride the next eastbound trolley.

Here came an unwrapped Tide light rail car and we boarded. Sit back, relax and ride the Tide all the way to the east end of the tracks at the Newtown Road station.

This was your eastbound ride on The Tide to Newtown Road station. Now for some pictures here.

The Tide Light Rail cars.

The platform at this station.

Our route back to Norfolk. Now sit back, relax and take the westbound ride on the Tide Light Rail to EVMC/Fort Norfolk station

You have now ridden the whole Tide Light Rail system with me. Now we would get off for some pictures.

The Tide Light Rail cars at EVMC/Fort Norfolk Station.

Station artwork.

This plaque answers of who created the artwork. We reboarded and returned to MacArthur Square station, ending our trip on The Tide.

Our train left the station and Robin and I headed to the Norfolk Southern Museum, but that is another story. After visiting that great museum I returned to head back to the hotel via 7-11 where I stopped to get more Coca-Cola.

Coming back I caught this picture of The Tide.

My last shot of The Tide was on the way to 7-11 then I returned to the Tazewell Hotel where I worked on more stories before Robin and I went to Gator Sports Bar where I had chicken wings for dinner, after which I worked on more stories and watched "NCIS" then packed for tomorrow's trip so that I will have ridden the complete Amtrak System again.