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Extension of passenger rail to New River Valley advances

Virginia Passenger Rail Authority outlines plans to boost train travel across the Commonwealth
Virginia Passenger Rail Authority outlines plans to boost train travel across the Commonwealth(WVIR)
Published: Jan. 16, 2021 at 7:22 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Governor Ralph Northam has proposed a $50 million budget amendment that would help extend passenger rail service to the New River Valley.

On Friday, Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine said negotiations with Norfolk Southern are very close to producing an agreement.

Valentine briefed members of the House Appropriations Committee during a virtual meeting.

“I will tell you that this has been a dream, really since the first train was launched in Lynchburg in 2009,” Valentine said. “And I can say to you we have never been as close as we are to getting this accomplished.”

Northam and Valentine said the current Roanoke train is the only Amtrak service in Virginia that covers 100% of its operating costs through ticket sales. The extension of service to the New River Valley would add a second train.

“The train out of Roanoke is a 6:00 a.m. departure,” said Delegate Terry Austin (R-Botetourt Co.), “and if we had two trains and could get out at a later hour, I think we would only see further benefit and usage of that rail line.”

It could be a hard sell to lawmakers from other parts of the state, however, who have their own budget amendments.

Del. Mark Sickles (D-Arlington) joked about another potential problem.

“In northern Virginia, we’re going to have Wahoos and Hokies on the same train for a hundred and some miles,” Sickles said. “I’m not sure that’s going to work well.

“We needed a second train just to make sure the Wahoos have room once the Hokies are on the train,” Valentine replied.

In addition to the Governor’s budget amendment, legislation that would create a rail authority in the New River Valley is advancing.

Introduced by Delegate Chris Hurst (D-Blacksburg) and Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke), the legislation would help finance construction of the passenger rail station the new service will require.

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