Virginia Governor Seeks $50M for New Amtrak Service

A proposal by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam for a $50 million one-time general fund allocation for intercity passenger-rail service has heartened residents of the New River Valley region of the state.

Northam wants to use the funding to establish a rail passenger corridor along U.S. Route 29 and Interstate 81.

The proposal would add a second daily round trip to Roanoke and provide new service to the New River Valley.

If adopted, the plan would extend the current and new Roanoke service to the New River Valley.

Virginia transportation officials say they are negotiating with host railroad Norfolk Southern for the additional service.

The state said the existing Amtrak service to Roanoke has been “very successful,” with ridership increasing from its inception in 2009 to more than 220,000 riders in 2019.

The currentl single daily roundtrip between Washington and Roanoke is covering all of its operating costs through ticket revenue.

A feasibility study found the New River Valley has a population of more than 180,000, including more than 40,000 university students.

Ridership for intercity rail passenger service to the region was projected to draw 80,000 riders.

Rail passenger advocates are seeking to form the New River Valley Passenger Rail Authority to oversee the service.

“Clearly this is a step forward because having an authority for example will allow us to do certain things that we can’t otherwise do,” said advocate Larry Hincker about the governor’s funding request.

The authority would bring the local governments together under a state-recognized umbrella.

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