Amtrak thrives in Roanoke one year after return of passenger rail service

More than 54,000 people traveled to, from Roanoke

ROANOKE, Va. – Amtrak continues thriving in the Star City, one year after passenger rail service returned.

An Amtrak spokesperson said more than 54,000 people traveled to and from Roanoke in the first year. What’s even more impressive is that ridership on the northeast route overall, running from Roanoke to Boston, is up nearly 10 percent. It’s good news not just for Amtrak, but also for the Roanoke Valley.

“Everything is in walking distance to the platform, so people who are getting off the train have easy accessibility and it's really making an impact," Catherine Fox, vice president of public affairs and destination development for Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge, said.

The Hotel Roanoke is one of many businesses feeling the impact.

"We have a lot of guests that come over into the hotel. They dine or they tell us they rode the train," Hotel Roanoke general manager Brian Wells said.

They've been working closely with Amtrak to offer special deals and bring more people to Roanoke via train.

"Not having passenger railway in Roanoke for 35-plus years took away an element of travel experience so we were excited that people could get that great travel experience on a train, stop right here at the front door of the hotel," Wells said.

Rail service is pulling in people from Washington, D.C., in particular because of more business conventions and more tourists.

"More people utilizing it to come here as a weekend getaway,” Fox said.

Now, some new businesses, like the boutique hotel going in the Liberty Trust Building, are moving downtown because of Amtrak.

"That’s an incredible opportunity for them and the guests that are going to be staying there," Fox said.

Wells said an additional train is in the works in Lynchburg, which would bring passengers to Roanoke in the middle of the day, instead of just late at night like it is now. He said while we've seen success so far, that would be a game-changer.