Norfolk, VA (NFK)
A major seaport and military center, Norfolk regained intercity passenger rail service in 2012; a recently constructed depot blends classic design with modern edge.
280 Park Avenue
Harbor Park, lot D
Norfolk, VA 23510
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 44,316
- Facility Ownership: City of Norfolk
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Norfolk
- Platform Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
- Track Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Located adjacent to the Harbor Park baseball stadium east of downtown, the Norfolk station opened on December 12, 2012, bringing intercity passenger rail back to the city for the first time since 1977. The initial service consists of a daily roundtrip Northeast Regional train extended south from Washington, D.C., via Richmond and Petersburg. The service expansion was made possible through the cooperation of Amtrak Virginia, a partnership between Amtrak and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation; track owners Norfolk Southern and CSXT railroads; and the city of Norfolk.
The state invested more than $100 million to improve the freight tracks between Richmond and Norfolk and build the platform and pull-through siding track at Harbor Park. This commitment, as well as a good working relationship among the partners, meant that the new service launched almost a year earlier than planned. Since 2009, Amtrak Virginia has also overseen popular service expansions to Richmond and Lynchburg.
Initially, passengers only used a 725 foot long, ADA-compliant concrete platform constructed near the intersection of Park Avenue and the railroad tracks; a canopy built by the city provided shelter from inclement weather. On December 2, 2013, a new 3,500 square foot, $3.75 million depot financed by the city opened for Northeast Regional and Thruway bus passengers. Designed by architects and engineers with the Michael Baker Corporation, the steel frame structure incorporates rusticated stone on the first floor. Red brick is used to highlight the depot’s two-story center block, which is punctuated by a three story tower with a sloping roof. Large windows allow abundant natural light to flood the interior, creating a bright and airy space. While the stone and brick ground the station in classic design, the generous use of glass gives the building a modern edge. Interior features include a comfortable waiting room, accessible restrooms and ticket counter.
In the long term, the city envisions Harbor Park as a major transportation hub for Norfolk that will bring together the services of Amtrak, light rail, local buses and river ferries. Currently, the facility is within short walking distance of the Harbor Park Tide light rail station; the area is also bordered by the Elizabeth River Trail, providing connections for bicyclists and pedestrians. Once all these pieces are in place around the baseball stadium, city planners believe the surrounding blocks will be ripe for redevelopment as a mixed-use area with housing, commercial, office and cultural space that will reinforce its identity as an eastern extension of Norfolk’s lively and revitalized downtown.
Prior to European exploration in the late 16th century, Hampton Roads, the area where the Elizabeth River, James River and numerous smaller streams converge on the Lower Chesapeake Bay, was settled by American Indians belonging to the Carolina Algonquian tribe. Following the founding of the first permanent English settlement in North America at nearby Jamestown in 1607, colonists began moving southeast into Hampton Roads, attracted by its large, safe harbor for shipping and trade. Much of what later became the city of Norfolk was granted to Thomas Willoughby by King James I in the early 1620s.
Following the initial decades of settlement and growth in the Virginia Colony, the colonial assembly passed an act in 1680 directing each county to establish a town site for the development and regulation of trade—particularly in tobacco. Lower Norfolk County chose a sheltered 50 acre site near the confluence of the eastern and southern branches of the Elizabeth River. Parcels were conveyed to settlers who agreed to pay 100 pounds of tobacco and who also promised to erect either a house or warehouse on their property. The town took the name Norfolk after the county, which in turn had been named for a county in east-central England, birthplace to early Hampton Roads settler Adam Thoroughgood.
By the 1750s, Norfolk’s population reached almost 4,000, making it one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the English North American colonies. In recognition of its influence and power, Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie presented the city with a ceremonial silver mace in 1753. Topped with a delicate crown, the mace was a symbol of royal authority and is today on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art.
Norfolk nurtured a thriving shipbuilding industry and became a major commercial hub for the southern colonies. Participating in the famous “triangle trade” between England and its possessions in the Caribbean and North America, Norfolk’s merchants exported tobacco, corn, cotton and timber to England in exchange for rum, sugar and manufactured goods. The shore of the Elizabeth River was gradually built up with wharves and warehouses.
During the early stages of the Revolutionary War, Norfolk was a battle ground between loyalist and patriot forces. As a result, the majority of the city’s building stock was completely destroyed during fighting, bombardments and fires. One of the few structures to survive was St. Paul’s church, completed in 1739. A cannonball, fired during the retreat of Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last royal governor, remains lodged in the church’s upper wall.
The city recovered during the postwar peace, but there were occasional setbacks. As an international port, the streets were filled with goods and people from many countries. In 1855, Norfolk suffered a devastating outbreak of Yellow Fever introduced by a ship’s crew. Over a few months, more than 2,000 people died—approximately one-seventh of the population. Norfolk had long turned its gaze towards the Atlantic, but in the mid-19th century, business leaders strengthened ties to the rich agricultural interiors of Virginia and North Carolina. In part this was accomplished by constructing a railroad to bring goods to and from the port. Neighboring Portsmouth gained a rail line in 1835, but Norfolk had to wait until 1851 for the charter of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad (N&P).
While the proposed route was only 80 miles long, it presented some challenges, namely crossing the Great Dismal Swamp west of the city. To solve this problem, William Thomas Mahone, an engineer and graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, was hired to design the railroad. To get across the swamp, he conceived an innovative corduroy roadbed in which a log foundation was laid at right angles beneath the surface to distribute loads and provide stability for the tracks. After reaching Suffolk, Va., the line took a straight path to Petersburg. This well-engineered roadbed, built between 1853 and 1858, is still admired today by railroaders. Mahone’s skill and attention to detail and budget propelled him to the presidency of the railroad in 1860, just as the clouds of war gathered.
Bringing the line across the east branch of the Elizabeth River and into Norfolk proper, the company bought a parcel of land in 1856 at the eastern end of Main Street. Known as Bramble’s Point, it bordered Newton’s Creek, one of many waterways running through the city. Mahone proceeded to fill in the mouth of the creek and build a terminal and railyard where Harbor Park is today. By laying tracks westward down Water Street, N&P trains could directly access the riverfront warehouses and wharves. The remainder of Newton’s Creek was filled in by the 20th century to provide land for residential development, and the waterway is now but a memory.
Although located in the Confederacy, Norfolk was held by Union forces for most of the Civil War. When the war broke out in spring 1861, Union commanders were most concerned about the fate of Gosport Shipyard, a U.S. Navy installation located along the south branch of the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth. Originally established in 1767, the shipyard was purchased by the federal government in 1801 and today remains the oldest in the Navy.
Fearing that it would fall into Confederate hands, the facility was set ablaze before Union forces retreated northward to Hampton’s Fort Monroe. The fires actually caused minimal damage, allowing the Confederate forces to rebuild the partially burned USS Merrimack with an armored metal superstructure, thereby transforming it into the CSS Virginia. During the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862, the Virginia went up against the Union’s own ironclad ship, the USS Monitor. This was the first instance of a fight between two armored ships. Neither one was seriously damaged, therefore proving the benefit of metal ship construction. A new era of military shipbuilding was soon ushered in around the world. A few months later, the Union regained control of Norfolk and renamed the facility the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
William Thomas Mahone was a celebrated officer in the Confederate Army, but returned to the N&P after the war to repair the line. Pursuing plans to establish a railroad across southern Virginia, Mahone merged two other lines with the N&P to create the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (AM&O) in 1870. It stretched from Norfolk to Bristol, Va., on the border between Virginia and Tennessee. Due to financial difficulties resulting from the Panic of 1873, Mahone lost the AM&O in 1881 to the Philadelphia-based Clark brothers, who bought it for $8.5 million and changed its name to the Norfolk and Western Railroad (N&W).
The creation of the N&W reinvigorated the old N&P as the artery for a new empire based on black gold—coal. Through the acquisition of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, the N&W became heavily involved in the development of the Pocahontas coal field in southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. By the mid-1880s, the N&W shipped tons of coal to Norfolk, which became one of the world’s largest and most important coal transshipment ports. The low-volatile, low-sulfur, “smokeless” bituminous coal from the Pocahontas field was sought after for use in steamships, giving it the moniker of “steam coal.”
To serve world markets, the N&W developed a new port area at Lambert’s Point northwest of downtown Norfolk. By 1889, a chamber of commerce publication proudly highlighted that it processed more than 1 million tons of coal. Today, the Lambert’s Point Coal Terminal is run by Norfolk Southern Railway, successor to the N&W. Operating twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the facility’s annual capacity is now approximately 48 million tons. Coal can also be blended and mixed for use in special applications.
The last passenger terminal at Newton’s Creek opened in 1912 as a replacement for a wooden N&W depot consumed by fire in 1909. A Brambleton landmark, the old Victorian station was decorated with elaborate stickwork and featured a four story tower with a pyramidal roof. Finding opportunity in misfortune, Norfolk officials convinced three major railroads then serving the city—the N&W, Virginian and Norfolk Southern—to work together to build a replacement union station.
Designed by the well-regarded architectural firm of Reed and Stem, probably best known for its work on New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Norfolk Union Station was a nine story red brick structure with classical elements such as paired columns, pedimented window surrounds, decorative medallions and strong belt course and cornice. The top floor, marked by bays with round arches separated by pilasters, was encircled by a delicate metal balcony. Public areas inside were enriched by durable terrazzo flooring, marble Corinthian columns and pilasters and coffered ceilings with rosettes. Upper stories contained railroad offices.
Following the decline of passenger railroading in the mid-20th century and the takeover of the Virginian Railway by the N&W, Union Station became too big to occupy and maintain. It closed in 1962 and was demolished the next year. In the 1970s and 1980s, some of the old railroad warehouses in the vicinity were reborn as a farmers’ market and music venue, but they were later demolished. Harbor Park, opened in 1993, occupies the general area once covered by Union Station and the N&W rail yard.
In addition to coal, Norfolk’s other major exports at the start of the 20th century included a wide variety of dressed lumber, primarily from North Carolina forests; oysters; market vegetables and fruits such as cabbage, melons and berries grown on farms in close proximity to the city; peanuts; and cotton. Due to solid rail and canal links, Norfolk was, and continues to be, a major seaport for southeastern states beyond Virginia, such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and West Virginia. The N&W later expanded into Ohio, giving Norfolk access to important manufacturing and industrial markets. The port of Norfolk—known as the Norfolk International Terminals—today forms part of the Port of Virginia along with facilities in Newport News and Portsmouth. Among the top five East Coast container ports, the Port of Virginia had revenues of $4.1 billion in 2011 and employed more than 343,000 workers.
Hampton Roads’ waterways also fostered a large military presence with origins in the Gosport Shipyard. In 1907, Norfolk hosted an exposition in celebration of the founding of Jamestown. Built on Sewells Point, the fairgrounds included exhibits devoted to the arts, technological advancements and Virginia history. One of the event’s highlights was a gathering of naval vessels belonging to foreign nations. Realizing the fine qualities of the site, the U.S. Navy purchased the former fairgrounds in 1917, and it is today part of Naval Station Norfolk. The installation is home to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command and the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. These positions, held by four-star admirals, are responsible for overseeing the defense of the entire Atlantic Ocean. To the south at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, crews skilled in woodworking, electronics, piping, welding and other crafts repair and overhaul naval vessels at eight dry docks.
Amtrak offers ticketing services at this facility, but does not offer baggage services. Norfolk is served by two daily trains. Northeast Regional service within Virginia is funded in part through grants made available by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- 130 Short Term Parking Spaces
Number of spaces available for Amtrak passengers to park for the day only not overnight. Parking fees may apply.
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
Accessible platform is a barrier-free path from the drop-off area outside the station to the station platform.
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Baggage Storage
Baggage storage is an area where passengers may store their bags equivalent to 'left luggage' in Europe. A storage fee may apply.
- Bike Boxes
- Checked Baggage
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- High Platform
A high platform is a platform at the level of the vestibule of the train with the exception of Superliners.
Self-service lockers are available in select stations for passenger baggage storage
- Long-term Parking Spaces
Number of spaces available for Amtrak passengers to park overnight. Parking fees may apply.
- Parking Attendant
- Pay Phones
- Shipping Boxes
- Ski Bags
- Wheelchair Lift
Wheelchair lift is a platform-mounted lift for loading passengers from low platforms onto trains that do not have onboard ramps.