Virginia Governor Supports Extending Amtrak to Bristol But Says It Won’t be Happening in the Near Future

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is supportive of expanding Amtrak service to Bristol, Virginia, but said it won’t be happening anytime soon.

Northam has proposed a $3.7 billion passenger rail expansion plan that includes increased Amtrak service but does not superficially mention extending existing service to Bristol.

The city of nearly 18,000 on the border with Tennessee, which also has a city named Bristol, has been seeking for a decade to get intercity rail passenger service.

Bristol has not had scheduled rail passenger service since 1971.

“I’m very interested in that topic [passenger rail],” Northam told the editorial board of the Bristol Herald Courier.

“We have a significant logjam between Virginia and Maryland,” he said in reference to the span over the Potomac River between Virginia and Washington.

“The Long Bridge, right now, there are only two tracks so all the rail that travels along the East Coast has to come across the Long Bridge, and it is a true logjam.”

The Virginia passenger expansion plan includes funding to build new bridge for the use of passenger trains.

Virginia transportation officials have said there can be no Amtrak expansion in the state until the crossing of Potomac is increased.

Another stumbling block has been the refusal of host railroad Norfolk Southern to continue talking about the use of its tracks for service to Bristol.

A 2019 study said track improvements costing an estimated $30 million are needed on NS tracks between Bristol and Roanoke, Virginia.

NS indicated at the time that it withdrew from the talks that it was preoccupied with a restructuring of its freight network, an initiative known as Top21.

Service to Bristol would likely be an extension of an existing Amtrak Northeast Regional train that now originates and terminates in Roanoke.

Northam said he sees Amtrak expansion to Bristol as beneficial.

“It will really open up the Southwest for business opportunities but also for tourism,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area of Virginia, you have great tourist attractions.

Northam said Virginia needs to talk with surrounding states, including Tennessee, about working together to expand passenger rail service.

He described extending Amtrak service to Bristol as a “logical step.”
Virginia is also eyeing bringing Amtrak service to to Hampton and to Christiansburg and Blacksburg.

The governor said expansion to Bristol or other cities won’t happen overnight.

A May 2019 Community Transportation Association of America predicted that extending Amtrak service to Bristol could draw 23,600 annual riders from a Bristol stop, 16,800 at Wytheville and 40,200 at Christiansburg.

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