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Rail Service to the NRV

The state recently announced a $3.7 Billion plan to expand rail service in some of the most congested areas of the state. Does this include rail service to the NRV to mitigate traffic on 81? Sadly, no. But there is still hope!

In October 2017, Amtrak rail service was offered from Roanoke on through Boston. This has been hailed as a massive success for the beleaguered Amtrak with ridership significantly higher than anticipated. The coalition to bring a station to Christiansburg has been eyeing Roanoke's success because ridership there will be used to gauge the viability of creating a new stop in the NRV. In the meantime, Roanoke has seen a marked increase in tourism as people from along the northeast corridor come to enjoy time in the mountains and those in Roanoke can head to NYC for a weekend in 7.5 hours.

When residents of the NRV go to book a ticket on Amtrak, the website (un)helpfully proclaims it has a station at Squires in Blacksburg. Sadly, it is not a secret Harry Potter "9 1/2 station" in the middle of VT's campus; you'll be disappointed to find it's a poorly timed bus instead that takes you to the Roanoke platform. Instead of this setup, a coalition of businesses, government groups, and civic organizations are pushing for Amtrak to continue the line to a platform in Christiansburg behind the businesses on Mill Lane, which the town has already purchased.

Adding an extra stop to extend the line seems like a simple issue once we've proven a need for it. It's clear that with people traveling in for VT games and the recreation tourism in the area that people would use the stop in droves. But Amtrak runs on borrowed rails. Norfolk Southern own the rails in the area and there's no reason they *have* to lease the use to a passenger train that might get in the way of freight lines (or visa versa). Setting schedules and deciding right of ways on 2 line sections is fraught with conflicting priorities for the business. It seems that since the rail in question isn't frequented by freight, the choice would be made simpler, but they've decided that they need more time to study the situation - and the rail condition. All of this is just a first step though: it's not certain Amtrak has decided to extend the line yet. The VA Department of Rail and Public Transportation has set aside $350,000 to study the possibility of the extension. The Blacksburg Partnership, working with the rest of the NRV Rail group, has hired a specialist to help the process along but as of yet NS hasn't offered a time table.

Elsewhere in the state, the new $3.7B rail package will ease some of these negotiation pressures as Richmond warms to the idea of funding trains instead of wider highways. The state is building a new rail bridge across the Potomac for rail from Northern VA to DC, which Norfolk Southern won't own. They're also laying miles of third and fourth track along the I95 corridor, so passenger trains can stay on schedule and not be slowed by slower moving freight trains ahead of them (or rails in poor repair). But most important for our area is that this will fund, by 2030, a rail line from Roanoke to Newport News. That's right - weekends at the beach via train are coming! Currently the only way to go from Roanoke to the eastern side of the state is to go to DC (and often wait overnight) to catch a train headed south to Richmond and beyond. This line will give us access to the east coast in a few hours that don't involve fighting traffic on I81 and I64. (See the purple line below - the existing track to Newport News is not shown)

The NRV Rail Group isn't giving up on extending the line and it's my hope we'll see the Christiansburg platform under construction soon with all of the renewed positivity towards passenger rail service to the whole of the state.


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