Legislators voice confidence in NRV Amtrak service

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NEW RIVER VALLEY, Va. (WDBJ7) As Roanoke prepares for an Amtrak station to open in October, other hometowns are planning to stretch the line further west.

Legislators met Wednesday night to discuss the plan to open a station in Christiansburg to serve the New River Valley.

Based on everything discussed it's possible a station will be open by 2020, but it could take a little longer.

Some answers still need to be reached for Amtrak before it can be funded.

However, a big step forward discussed tonight was $350,000 given by the General Assembly

The funding from the state, made available on July first next year, will be used to conduct an operations study by Norfolk Southern.

New River Valley Rail 2020 Co-Chair Raymond Smoot said of what the study will answer, "What track and signal improvements may be need in order to operate the passenger trains, the impact that the passenger trains would have on the existing freight service, and what will be necessary in order to accommodate passenger service once again on the railroad here."

Christiansburg will also have to develop plans for what the station will look like.

But then it's up to the NRV to prove a new station would be used.

One of the men talking Wednesday was Virginia State Senator John Edwards, who represents the 21st District.

He explained, "Amtrak has to make that decision. They want to have some time looking at the experience out of Roanoke, what the ridership is out of Roanoke, but I'm confident that there will be plenty of demand to have Amtrak from the New River Valley."

Congressman Morgan Griffith, who was also in attendance, said, from a federal level, there needs to be assurance money to extend the track wouldn't be wasted.

"Show that there's enough ridership there to at least get close to breaking even," the Representative of Virginia's 9th District said. "They don't have to break even, they don't have to make money, but they can't be losing so much money that it shows that there's no interest at all."

Delegates Nick Rush and Joseph Yost were also speaking Wednesday.

Local government bodies aren't concerned about getting people to ride, as a recent study surveyed people and looked at how many would use a train to go north.

Kevin Byrd, the Executive Director for the New River Valley Regional Commission, explained, "We realize that there's about a million trips northbound on I-81 that are generated out of the New River Valley each year. If 4% of the people that go northbound on I-81 choose rail as an option, then we've accomplished 40,000 riders."

While Congressman Griffith said he's confident there will be a train in Christiansburg in the future, he said any further southwest, like into Wytheville or Bristol, is doubtful.

To pull that off, you'd need to get Chattanooga, Tennessee involved so people can go both north and south.

He said he's already laying the groundwork with representatives from Tennessee to do just that.

To learn more about NRV Rail 2020 click here.

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