New River Valley Amtrak project awaits Norfolk Southern cooperation

Published: Dec. 12, 2018 at 11:36 PM EST
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The Department of Rail and Public Transportation, or DRPT, has set aside $350,000 for a study to determine if an Amtrak extension to the New River Valley is possible.

But with existing tracks in the region already in place, the state needs the cooperation of rail company Norfolk Southern to even begin.

"I don't want to get into the 'what-ifs' but, I'm always an optimist so I remain hopeful that we'll have a good conversation with Norfolk Southern about starting a study,' said Michael McLaughlin, DRPT's chief of rail transportation.

Larry Hincker, a spokesperson for the NRV Rail 2020 initiative, said progress is moving slower than expected.

"Yeah, certainly it's concerning but the money was in this fiscal year so there's still six months left in this fiscal year," he said.

Hincker says the DRPT wanted to gauge first-year ridership on the Roanoke line before turning its attention to Christiansburg. In 11 full months, more than 51,000 riders went through the Star City.

"These processes do take some time," McLaughlin said. "It took some time to get passenger service from Lynchburg to Roanoke, but in the end, it was a success. We look forward to duplicating that success one day and getting passenger service to Christiansburg, if at all feasible."

The land for a potential new station is already set aside next to the Christiansburg Aquatic Center, waiting for the rest to fall into place.

"Our piece of it is coming together well. The piece that's got to work is Norfolk Southern, DRPT and Amtrak," Hincker said.

Norfolk Southern announced Wednesday it's moving its headquarters to Atlanta. The DRPT said that move should not impact the timeline of the NRV Amtrak study.

The DRPT is hopeful to begin that process with Norfolk Southern early in the new year.