Thursday, May 31, 2018

Virginia to study Amtrak extension

Written by  Stuart Chirls, senior editor, Railway Age
  • Media
Amtrak opened service to Norfolk in 2017. Photo: Cornellrockey via Wikipedia Amtrak opened service to Norfolk in 2017. Photo: Cornellrockey via Wikipedia

A state study is planned on the potential cost of extending passenger rail service into Southwest Virginia.



The study by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is expected to begin during fiscal 2018-19 on other potential destinations west of Roanoke, including the growing New River Valley.

A total of $350,000 is budgeted for a six-year plan for the study of intercity services in concert with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern, said DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell, following a Commonwealth Transportation Board public hearing in Abingdon.

The "New River Valley/Bristol intercity passenger rail and operating capital funding application" will conduct modeling analysis of passenger rail between Roanoke and Bristol.

The DRPT said it still needs to evaluate two years of ridership data from Amtrak's Roanoke extension, which began in October 2017, before further expansion can commence.

The state agency, Mitchell said, is also working closely with New River Valley 2020, a partnership of business, municipal, legislative and university leaders from Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Pulaski, Radford and Montgomery County. The alliance has marshaled business support for passenger rail, and reviewed potential station sites.

New River Valley commuters currently travel by bus to the Amtrak station in Roanoke.

Since Norfolk Southern owns the track on the projected route, the impact on its freight operations must also be assessed. Mitchell said that NS made improvements on parallel routes to add capacity as part of the Roanoke passenger extension.