Posts Tagged ‘Bristol Virginia’

Va. Legislators OK Funding for Amtrak Expansion Project

March 5, 2021

Virginia legislators have approved a budget that includes $83.5 million to extend Amtrak service to the New River Valley and the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area.

The figure is a compromise between the $50 million originally approved by the House of Delegates and $137 million approved by the Senate.

As part of the project, a study will be conducted to consider extending Amtrak service to Bristol on the Virginia-Tennessee border.

The state is negotiating with Norfolk Southern on a contract to host the train.

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

January 11, 2020

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.

Virginia Plan Doesn’t Specify Expansion to Bristol

January 2, 2020

Amtrak and the state of Virginia made a big splash recently with their announcement of an agreement that included host railroad CSX about a $3.7 billion plan that will lead to expanded rail passenger service.

But it is not clear if that also includes a proposal to extend Northeast Regional Service to Bristol, Virginia.

The plan as announced said nothing about expanding Amtrak service to Bristol.

The City of Bristol and the Bristol Chamber of Commerce have been working in recent years to seek to get Amtrak service extended from its current terminus in Roanoke, Virginia.

“We are very pleased to see that passenger rail in Virginia continues to be a part of an ongoing conversation and budgetary priorities,” said Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber.

“We were, however, disappointed that an extension to and through Bristol was not included in the recent report from the governor’s office.”

She said extending rail passenger service to Bristol and into Tennessee, “would make a huge positive impact on the economies of these communities and a great alternative for travel — for both business and leisure travelers across the Commonwealth.”

A study released last May by the Community Transportation Association of America predicted that extending Amtrak service to Bristol would draw 23,600 annual riders from Bristol, 16,800 at Wytheville and 40,200 at Christiansburg.

Roanoke, which serves 97,600 riders annually, would likely lose about 8,400 annually if the other stops are added.

Amtrak figures show patronage between Lynchburg/Roanoke and Washington increased by 7.1 percent during fiscal 2019, from 206,000 to nearly 221,000.

A major stumbling block to the extension to Bristol has been the lack of cooperation from host railroad Norfolk Southern.

The freight carrier withdrew in late 2018 from negotiations with the state and Amtrak to use its tracks between Roanoke and Bristol.

At the time, NS said it wanted to focus on other aspects of its business most notably its shift to the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

A study found that $30 million in track improvements would be needed to enable passenger service between Bristol and Roanoke.

Another hurdle, which the recent Virginia expansion plan does address, was a moratorium on passenger rail expansion due to capacity constraints on the Long Bridge over the Potomac River between Virginia and Washington.

The agreement with CSX and Amtrak that Virginia has reached calls for construction of a passenger-only bridge over the Potomac.

Although service to Bristol was not specifically mentioned in the announcement of the pact with CSX and Amtrak, a statement issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam referenced unspecified future expansion of passenger rail service.

That could potentially include service to Bristol.

Virginia to Study Amtrak Expansion West of Roanoke

June 1, 2018

Virginia is studying expansion of Amtrak service west of Roanoke.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is expected to begin the study during fiscal year 2018-2019, which also will focus on service to the New River Valley.

The agency has budgeted $350,000 for the study, which will be undertaken in cooperation with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern

DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell said the New River Valley/Bristol intercity passenger rail and operating capital funding application will conduct modeling analysis of passenger rail between Roanoke and Bristol, Virginia.

DRPT wants to incorporate two years of ridership data from Amtrak’s Roanoke extension, which began in October 2017, before further expansion is considered.

New River Valley residents and visitors currently travel can connect by bus to the Amtrak station in Roanoke.

Mitchell said NS has made improvements on parallel routes to add capacity as part of the Roanoke passenger extension.

Bristol Pushing for Amtrak Feasibility Study

January 17, 2018

City officials in Bristol, Virginia, are seeking proposals from consulting firms to study the potential for Amtrak service.

“We have now moved into an RFP (request for proposals) process, and the RFP process is for an economic feasibility study. And the economic feasibility study will give us data on everything from how it is going to affect traffic patterns to how many cups of coffee are going to be sold downtown. So, this is going to be the tool that we use to keep interest in Amtrak and passenger rail in Bristol,” said Bart Poe, assistant director of community and economic development in the city of 17,000 located on the Virginia-Tennessee border.

Proposals are due by Jan. 23 and city officials hope to have the result of the study by late August. The study will be presented to Amtrak and state officials.

“We know that at this point, we are not high on their list of priorities; there is a lot of stuff in the east that needs to be done, but we hope that this will start moving us up the list of their priorities,” Poe said. “And, the great thing is, if you look at the websites, Amtrak’s website, DRPT, we’re listed there. It shows us, it shows us on the track, so it is not something that we’re just throwing up. This is something that they are aware of and interested in.”

Bristol is not current served by Amtrak and city officials hope that it could be added to a new route to Atlanta.

Fueling their optimism about getting into the Amtrak network has been the success of state-funded services to Lynchburg and Roanoke.

Poe said Lynchburg has surpassed expectations every year since Northeast Regional service began in 2009 and Roanoke has had good ridership numbers since serve began there last October.

“That’s the good thing for us. We’re the next logical step toward Atlanta, so what they want to do is they want to connect the lower states to the upper states with a more direct route,” Poe said, “There was a pretty big lag between Roanoke and Lynchburg, and we hope that ours will be shorter. We anticipate maybe four years. We would like to see and Amtrak train roll in and pick up passengers in four years.”

Poe said the renovated Bristol train station has the space to accommodate Amtrak.


Bristol Eyes Luring Amtrak to Come to Town

April 20, 2017

Public officials in Bristol, Virginia, plan to launch a study of what it would take to entice Amtrak to serve their region.

City officials plan to work with the Community Transportation Association of America in Washington to secure a consulting firm that will undertake a $450,000 economic benefit study of extending Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service from Roanoke, Virginia, to Bristol.

“We’re just about ready to prepare the RFP [request for proposals] for that study, and hopefully it will begin this summer,” CTAA spokesman Rich Sampson said Tuesday. “What we’re hoping our study will do is be a precursor to a second study, by demonstrating the need and the benefits of such a service. DRPT [Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation] would then do a study on the operational feasibility of the service.”

Amtrak expects to begin serving Roanoke later this year by extending a Northeast Regional train that now terminates in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Sampson said the state of Virginia is going to want two years of ridership data of the Roanoke service before it will participate in the Bristol study.

Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley said having Amtrak service would benefit his city in many ways.

“I look at what passenger rail could do for our downtown,” he said. “With two hotels, one hopefully opening this year, and the restaurants and entertainment, the infrastructure is there for people to come and make Bristol more of a destination.”

Some funding for the study will come from a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, a $100,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $50,000 each from the city and CTAA, with CTAA also providing services as an in-kind contribution.

Once it gets underway, the Bristol study is expected to take six to nine months to complete.

“Virginia is perhaps the leading state right now in investing in new Amtrak service,” Sampson said. “They have three examples of where they have or are going to install new service — the Lynchburg train, the Norfolk train and the extension to Roanoke. Tennessee has not had any state support for inter-city passenger rail, so their level of involvement and interest is uncertain at this point.”

Although Bristol leaders once talked about getting support for service further southward to Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then creating a connecting service to Atlanta and Louisville, those routes won’t be part of the expected study of extending service from Roanoke.

Sampson said that expansion to Tennessee point won’t happen unless rail service first comes to Bristol.