It's been decades in the making and you'll still have to wait a few more years, but on Friday Governor Bob McDonnell made the big announcement: Amtrak will open a station in Roanoke.
The goal is to say, "All Aboard" by 2016 for passenger rail in Roanoke.
But first, the rails will have to be improved for faster speeds. Also, there has to be construction in downtown Roanoke for a new station, a new platform, and the infrastructure that goes with it.
But in three years time, the hope is passenger rail will be here for the first time since the late 1970s.
Some local lawmakers who pushed for the funding and Governor McDonnell said this is part of the continued work to improve Virginia's infrastructure as a whole; roads and rail.
State Senator John Edwards has been known to press the governor's office for years to bring Amtrak service to Roanoke. Now it's going to happen.
Senator Edwards didn't mince words; he says he wants Blacksburg, Christiansburg and the rest of the New River Valley to be next in line to get an Amtrak stop. That will require even more money from the state. It'll be up to our local lawmakers to continue that push if the citizens demand it.
Roanoke Mayor David Bowers gave McDonnell a key to the city for his efforts in bringing passenger rail to Roanoke.
Here is the news release from Governor McDonnell's office:
Standing on the Railside Amphitheater, Governor Bob McDonnell today announced that the Commonwealth of Virginia, Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and the City of Roanoke have joined together to start work to extend Amtrak Virginia regional intercity passenger rail service from Lynchburg to Roanoke. It has been 34 years since intercity passenger rail has served the City of Roanoke. The return of passenger rail to Roanoke is a result of the passage this past session of the General Assembly of Virginia's first major transportation funding plan in nearly three decades. The governor was joined at today's announcement by local elected officials including Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, state leaders including Thelma Drake, Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and rail officials including Charles W. Moorman, CEO of Norfolk Southern and Joe McHugh from Amtrak.
"For many years, the citizens of Roanoke and the Valley have asked when intercity passenger rail will return," said Governor McDonnell. "I am pleased to announce today that the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, through its partnership with Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and the City of Roanoke, will begin work on bringing service back to this historic railroad city. This achievement is a direct result of the bipartisan effort this past winter to pass Virginia's first major transportation funding plan in over a generation. We had gone far too long without investing the necessary resources in our roads and railways. This infrastructure is crucial to future job creation and economic growth in our state. With the passage of that bill, we're cutting a lot of ribbons. We're building new roads and railways all around the Commonwealth. All of this will lead to new jobs for our citizens, and a more prosperous Virginia. And right here in Roanoke, it means the return of intercity passenger rail service to the Star City. "
"The signing into law of the Governor's transportation bill provided a dedicated funding source for intercity passenger rail, which can be used for capital and the expansion of service," said Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton. "The administration placed a high priority on extending Amtrak Virginia to Roanoke as a viable transportation option for travel to cities along the Northeast Corridor."
Work to bring Amtrak Virginia service to the city, as an extension of the highly-successful Lynchburg line, is anticipated to take between three and four years.
Thelma Drake, director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), said, "Conceptual design work and rail capacity analysis is already underway. Work will be done by Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and the City of Roanoke."
"Norfolk Southern is happy to play a role in a new chapter of the Star City's rail history as we support the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation's efforts to extend passenger service to Roanoke," said Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman. "While freight is at the core of Norfolk Southern's business, we understand the importance of passenger service to the Roanoke Valley."
"This new service to Roanoke connects passengers to other areas of the Commonwealth as well as cities along the Northeast Corridor," said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. "We offer travelers a safe, efficient and reliable alternative that mitigates the effect of high gas prices and pervasive highway and airline congestion."
"The entire Roanoke region is excited about having passenger rail service back in the Star City for the first time since 1979. Roanoke, the home of the Norfolk & Western for many decades, is once again a 'railroad town.' Bringing passenger rail service to Roanoke has been Roanoke's most important economic development priority," said Roanoke Mayor David. A. Bowers. "I thank Governor McDonnell and his Administration, particularly DRPT Director Thelma Drake and her team, for their leadership and successful efforts to bring passenger rail service back to Roanoke. I also want to thank AMTRAK and Norfolk Southern for partnering with us. This is a tremendous accomplishment for the Commonwealth, the Roanoke Valley region and our City and, again, I sincerely thank the Governor for his leadership."
Known as the "Amtrak Virginia" partnership, Roanoke is the latest step for the Commonwealth to lead the way as one of the few states in the country to successfully negotiate the addition of new intercity passenger rail service in major rail corridors, balancing freight and economic development needs with additional intercity passenger rail options.