Amtrak's success in Lynchburg paving the way for Roanoke - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Amtrak's success in Lynchburg paving the way for Roanoke

LYNCHBURG -

When it comes to trains, Mary Abbott has seen it all in her four plus decades running Mary Jane's Cafe in Lynchburg.

It helps that her restaurant is right across the street from the Amtrak station on Kemper Street.

But one thing that's changed within the last couple of years is the number of people riding the train.

"Its increased big time since Amtrak put that 8:30 a.m. train in," she said. "It's a lot of people and a lot of people coming back."

The numbers back up what Abbott is seeing.

86,000 passengers rode Amtrak from the Lynchburg station in 2012. That's up more than 13 percent from the previous year.

Those numbers prompted Governor Bob McDonnell to call the Lynchburg station " the most profitable and successful Amtrak route in the country" during a teleconference last month with Roanoke city leaders.

The Department of Rail and Public Transportation confirmed Lynchburg is one of the best stations in terms of ridership growth and the best in terms of cost recovery on the state level.

"I know people here love riding the train to get to New York, Boston, or even Washington," said Lynchburg City Manager Kimball Payne.

He said there are no numbers to translate how much Amtrak is helping the city.

But added if you look around the benefit is obvious.

"That just brings a level of activity and a level of dynamism that helps our community to prosper," Payne said.

The hope is that prosperity will be carried over to Roanoke.

The Smart Way connector bus, which runs between the Star City and the Lynchburg Amtrak, is regularly full.

Some believe it's evidence that Amtrak could potentially thrive in Roanoke, a move Payne hopes will happen soon.

"We're very supportive of the train going to Roanoke and then even further Southwest," he said. "I just think it will help tile this region together and it brings it in many ways closer to many of the activities in the Northeast."

Now the project is in the hands of the Virginia General Assembly.

The governor's transportation bill includes money to extend Amtrak to Roanoke, possibly allowing passenger trains to hum again in the Star City as early as 2016.

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