Amtrak counts record ridership for corridor that includes Roanoke, Lynchburg

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Long before the sun came up Wednesday, the Amtrak terminal at Lynchburg's Kemper Street Station was filled with people waiting to take the train.

Liberty University student Tessa Russell bought a ticket to see family in northern Virginia.

"To be able to just have a friend drop me off and go home for a long weekend, it's just an easy and convenient option," Russell said of her decision to take the train.

While Russell was traveling for leisure, Craig Spence used Amtrak to carry out work in Washington D.C.

"I have a lunch meeting and afternoon meeting, and figured I'd give (the train) a try," Spence told WDBJ7. "I can get up there and get back in the same day, and save the driving."

The train that stops in Lynchburg and Roanoke is part of Amtrak's Northeast Regional service. In December the route set a new record, welcoming 100,511 passengers; a 27-percent increase over the same month in 2018.

The numbers back up what Amtrak calls a positive year for passenger service in our region. 59,056 customers used the Roanoke station alone in 2019, an increase of 14 percent over the previous year. The Lynchburg station welcomed 54,632.

"Certainly, having the positive numbers that Lynchburg is yielding, and Roanoke is yielding quite frankly, can only amplify our message that east to west service is a good think for Amtrak," said Christine Kennedy, a leader who has advocated for expanded passenger rail services as chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance.

Wednesday was Spence's first time using Amtrak, but he hopes to take advantage of the existing and expanded service in the future.

"If it goes well today, I'll definitely do it again," Spence said.

Virginia leaders recently formed an agreement with CSX to buy 186 miles of train track in the Commonwealth. That track will be used to carry additional passenger trains. State leaders hope to add service connecting the Roanoke area with Norfolk.

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