Todd's Railfan Guide to
Norfolk VA

General System Information
First weekend impressions
The LRV's
Detail Photos
Construction Photos from HRT
Train Pictures From HRT
Station by Station



General System Information

The Tide Light Rail System opened on August 19th, 2011, with a week+ of free travelling to celebrate.  Regular revenue service was supposed to start on Monday the 22nd, but because the response was so great, they put it off until August 29th!

The Tide is operated by Hampton Roads Transit.  It is the first light rail system to be opened in the state of Virginia (yeah, I know everyone else calls it the Commonwealth of Virginia :-)

The line is 7.4 miles long, has 11 stations, four of which are park and ride stations.  Travel time is about 25 minutes.  There are 9 formal grade crossings, none are downtown though.

Ridership during the first year is expected to be 2900 a day, increasing to 7000 by 2030.

The line travels east-west, and ends on the east side to the city line with Virginia Beach, which originally did not want anything to do with the system when it came up for a vote in 1999 - they even made a resolution that the subject could not be presented for another 10 years.  Pressure from high gas prices and new construction has made Virginia Beach to reconsider.  Since then, Virginia Beach has agreed to purchase the former Norfolk Southern right-of-way that goes almost all the way to the waterfront.

As of the creation of this page, there are not any pictures on Bing Maps, Google Maps, etc showing the completed system, for it is too recent.  However, in some places, there are some pretty neat shots of the construction in progress, which will eventually go away.

The trains may or may not operate during inclement weather, call 757-222-6100 for info.

More info on their website at: http://www.ridethetide.com/

First weekend impressions

For the opening weekend, HRT "hired" a large team of volunteers, all of whom seemed to be enjoying themselves as "transit ambassadors".

Crowds and long lines were to be found at almost every stop Saturday, for people waiting to ride the Tide.  I luckily found a place to park in the Ballentine "park n ride" lot.  There was no waiting at this stop, don't know why.

HRT was handing out giveaways, and they seemed to have different stuff at many of the stations.  One station was handing out safety posters (at the EVMC station), and HRT zipper pouches were being given away at the Ingleside station.  Most of the stations that I could see were giving away small HRT bags with a system map and a special version of the tickets that could be used as a discount in many of the retailers along the system.

Operators:  I spoke with several of the operators, all of whom seemed to be very nice.  I asked them how they came to be a light rail operator.  In Baltimore, as with many "older" systems that have expanded beyond bus service only, operators have to "pick" into the light rail system, on a seniority basis.  The operators with the lowest badge number get to pick which service and position within the service they want.  The good assignments (ie: the most desired) go first.  In Baltimore, the heavy rail jobs get filled first, then the light rail.  The bus driver positions go last.  Apparently, HRT first tried to offer the light rail operator positions to those that had the best operating records (like, who had the least number of accidents) and other things like having the fewest sick days.  But when they didn't get enough qualified operators, they opened it up to everyone.  Other systems, like San Diego, opened up their light rail system as a separate entity, so they could hire people right off the street, so one of the trains I was on had a 20 year old operator.

The light rail cars had an impressive rate of acceleration considering the loads were near what they call a "crush load" (all seats full, and the aisles filled with standing people so there is little wiggle room).  The Baltimore light rail cars have a 3mph/sec acceleration rate, and during brake rate tests, they didn't feel as quick as the Norfolk cars!

Most of the system has fairly low speed limits imposed, with only one section I saw that had a posted limit of 55.  When going by the shops, I don't know why, but they have limited the speed to around 25.  Speed on the west end of the system to Harbor Park are generally slow because most of the trip is on the streets and/or combines with vehicular traffic, the one exception is the stretch between York/Freemason and EVMC/Ft Norfolk because it is once again on private R-O-W.

It's too bad, for the TVM machines were not active over the weekend -- I'm sure they would have sold a bunch to the railfan community as souvenirs!

The Light Rail Vehicles (LRV's)

They have 9 LRV's made by Siemens, and are model S70.  Like every other system, the cars are bi-directional, have three trucks, and are fully low-floor cars.  The cars have an operational speed of 55MPH, and a maximum speed of 66MPH. 

The LRV's can seat 68 people, with a total capacity of between 160 to 180 people.  There are 4 handicapped seats, and 4 bike racks.  The cars have a total of 8 doors, four on each side.

The cars run off of 750VDC, which is common is pretty much a world-wide standard in today's light rail systems.

The cars are 93.6 feet long (I'm guessing over coupler faces), 8.7 feet wide, 12.7 feet high with lowered pantographs, and can reach up to 23 feet with the pantographs extended.  The cars weigh 96,800 lbs empty (again, I'm guessing the quoted weight is empty, the website doesn't say).

The cars are manually operated, controlling the speed, braking, and audible warning systems.  Announcements are done automatically.  The cars have a total of 10 cameras inside and out.

The website says each train is equipped with an automatic block signal system, but my guess is that they are referring to the wayside signals, with ATC- automatic train control on the cars.

The first car was delivered October 6th, 2009.  

The cars are similar to those used in Charlotte NC's Light Rail System

Most of the pictures below are from HRT's website.  I don't know why, but they load exceedingly slow from their site, even with a high speed connection.  They  load a lot more quickly from mine... enjoy them until they tell me to take them off.

I find the last part following statement on their website very amusing, unless they use a trolley-bus type catenary (which they are not):
Q - How is the light rail system powered?  A - The Tide is powered by an Overhead Catenary System, or OCS. This means electricity flows from overhead wires, through a device called a pantograph, to the train.  There is no electricity flowing through light rail tracks that would endanger pedestrians or motorists.


The Tide uses two types of signals, bar signals and green/yellow/red/lunar color light signals.  The mainline tracks are fully signaled for operation in either direction.

The bar signals they use are two aspect, single head, two segment traffic light signals.  I didn't snap off a picture of the housings, so I'm not sure if they are Eagle's or not, however, they are the same exact style and make as the Norfolk traffic lights as you can see from the photos.  They are used everywhere the trains run mixed in with vehicular traffic, west of the private R-O-W of the west end, to Harbor Park.  Train movement is usually independent of the traffic light cycles except for a couple of key intersections.  The two photos on the right happen to be one intersection where the train signals echo the indication of the traffic lights.  I didn't catch a photo of it, but when the traffic light signal goes yellow, there is NO bar signal lit.


All mainline signals are three aspect color light transit style signals except as noted below.  The signals follow standard railroad practice with red on the bottom.  Color light signals are used from Harbor Park east to the end of the line, and the short section of the very west end where it is separated from street traffic.  These signals are made by US&S.


    Standard intermediate signal between Broad Creek and Military Highway.

The R/Y/G color light exceptions are two aspect signals at the ends where the tails are single tracks, and they use lunar/red signals to indicate occupancy of the tail track.  The only other place I saw a two color L/R signal on the mainline was on the WB track before a crossover adjacent to the shops, presumably for the same reason as they are used at the ends (probably used when trains exit the yard onto mainline - although I don't know why a regular 3 aspect signal could not have been used).  They are used both on the mainline to control movements into the tail, and in the station to control train movements out of the tails.  Interesting note, the two switches used at either end are spring switches.  The spring can be clearly seen in the photo below, as well as the "SS" sign.  The spring switches can be manually thrown so they can run "on the left side".


The few tracks in the yard that are signaled use two aspect signals, and they are segmented heads in contrast to the unibody styles used on the mainline.  They were all red when I went by, so I do not know what color the non-red aspect is.... judging from the one on the mainline tho, it is probably lunar.  The pictures below are all in the yard/shop area.

  EB signal         WB signals

At every grade crossing where there are crossing gates, the operators also have a gate status indicator.  These lunar lights flash as the gates are going down, and go steady once the gate is in the full down position.


Where the trains mix with cars, and the city does not want you to cross the tracks because a train is coming, they use the following no turn signs.  Most are no left turn signs, with no right turn signs being used at SB Ballentine Rd and at the EVMC station so EB Brambleton traffic can't cross the tracks while turning onto Colley.


In a few places, HRT uses a standard hand-man signal to instruct pedestrians as to whether it is safe or not to cross the tracks.  The picture below shows one such a signal at EVMC, looking from Brambleton across the tracks.  The "hand" signal is for people crossing Brambleton, and the "man" signal is telling people it is OK to cross the tracks.


The Tide Hours of Operation:
     6am - 11pm (Mondays thru Thursdays)
     6am - 12 midnight (Fridays and Saturdays)
     11am - 9pm (Sundays and Holidays)

Service Frequency:
     Every 10 minutes during rush hour
     Every 15 minutes during non-rush hours
     Every 30 minutes early morning and late at night
     > No hours are given on the website when the changes take place, or if the frequency is the same on the weekends

     $1.50 - One way, $1.00/under 18, $0.75/seniors/disabled
     $3.50 - All day till 2am, unlimited rides, $1.75/seniors +
     $17.00 - 7 day pass
     $50.00 - 30 day pass, $35.00/seniors +
     > Tickets are good on both light rail and busses
     > Bundled and 7/30 day tickets can be purchased at HRT transfer centers and selected retailers

   A TVM - Ticket Vending Machine

     $338 million
     $201 million came from the Federal Transit Administration
     $71 million came from the State
     $66 million came from the city of Norfolk
     $6.2 million expected costs per year
     $800 million, projected cost to expand to Virginia Beach (Why so much???)

-- Tramsworld.com states the expansion to VB would be feasible if it attracts enough customers, but no L/R system in America yet pays their way :-)
-- The Richmond Times-Dispatch has comments on one of their blogs to the effect that at 3000 riders a day, they would have to charge $18 per ride just to pay for the interest on the money, and another $7 per ride to pay for the annual costs.  It is also stated, that to pay back the Chinese" (for example) who are buying the federal 20 year bonds to pay for the construction at 4.26% interest, the interest alone on that money will cost $14M, or $55,000 a day.



Detail Photos

Trackside equipment at the Newtown Road tail track switch, and

Speed limit sign once onto double track after leaving the Newtown Road station .

The operators console... for some reason, it has a left hand control stick.

Standard Dellnor transit coupler with alignment pin and side mounted electrical connections.

Catenary detail.

Catenary feed and disconnect switch.

A sign telling people they need a valid ticket to ride - at the NSU station.

Mile marker sign on the viaduct near the NSU station.

Track detail going from concrete viaduct to bridgework like construction.

Typical boundary between the street and the private ROW, the yellow stripes are "rumble strips".

In this shot, you can see the "zig-zag" of the catenary wire, this is done on purpose so the graphite collector shoe doesn't get a groove put into it.

Approaching I-264, west of Harbor Park.

A crossover west of the Harbor Park station.

Construction Photos from HRT

CBD Construction Pictures




PR Train Pictures From HRT

Station by Station

Fort Norfolk / Medical Center


Car 404 at EVMC.

York Street / Freemason




MacArthur Square

Civic Plaza

Harbor Park


A good size crowd, but then, they have 176 parking spots here.....

West of here, you start getting a lot of the brick inlaid medians strips, and BAR signals start.


Looks like the NSU station was popular with the railfans... of which, BTW, I didn't really see many of!

the Viaduct

Across the viaduct and "down" on the western side, going WB from left to right.

Pictures of the viaduct, again, a westbound progression of pictures, going "up" and to the NSU station.

Going across the viaduct also takes us across another set of Norfolk Southern tracks.

Aerial shots of the viaduct construction from www.bing.com/maps, using Techsmith's Snagit.

Additional HRT pictures of the contruction.

the Shops

A westbound "drive-by" of the shops, left to right.


Ballentine / Broad Creek

NB #403 coming into the Ballentine Station.

Over the Norfolk Southern

On the western side of the overpass is an interchange track with the NS, as seen in the right photo.


Ingleside Road

EB #404 at Ingleside, articulated section has a "stop and think" safety message.

EB #401 at Ingleside, blank articulated section.

Articulated section with a "look both ways" safety message.

Across Broad Creek


Military Highway

Approaching the Military Highway station, the grade crossing lights are very visible!

Upon leaving Military Highway, the distant LED signals are easily discernable even on this bright sunny day.

Newtown Road


Shot looking out the cab window of the tail track at Newtown Road... at least when they build an extension, they don't have to "re-do" the catenary poles like Baltimore did!

Bus #3002 at Newtown Road.

Not wanting to stray too far from the LRV, and having to get in and go thru the huge line at Newtown Rd, I wasn't able to get a picture of the station :-(


Here is a letter I sent it to the Pilot on 11/14/2016:



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NEW 8-5-2011
Last Modified 14-Nov-2016