ROANOKE – New ridership numbers cement the viability of Roanoke's Amtrak station.
The Department of Rail and Public Transportation released the latest figures, showing Roanoke's route as the only route in Virginia seeing a positive year-over-year increase.
The numbers just released show a comparison from the number of people who road Amtrak trains in 2017 to those who rode in 2018.
Not only was Roanoke the only station showing positive increases, the route grew by an impressive 9.5 percent. In comparison, Norfolk decreased by 1.5 percent. Newport News decreased by 2.2 percent. Richmond decreased by 8.4 percent. Virginia-sponsored routes in total saw an average decrease of .7 percent.
After years of pushing for a Roanoke Amtrak stop, the numbers are backing up the want and the need in the Star City.
“It's so great to know that all of their efforts have literally brought us to this point and that the numbers are generating positive results,” said Landon Howard, president of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge.
The latest state transportation numbers show that the majority of riders, in a 60- 40 split, are female. Riders also are primarily traveling for leisure, which Howard said is a good indication of the marketing efforts Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge and of economic successes in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
“What we are seeing is people from destinations from all over the Northeast, whether it be Baltimore, New York, Washington D.C., coming in and enjoying this extension coming in to Roanoke. But, we also see an incredible number of people from our region being able to hop on a train and then in 7 1/2 hours be in Penn Station in New York City,” Howard said.
Hoping to land another regional stop, communities in southwest Virginia like Bedford and the New River Valley are eyeing Amtrak's success in Roanoke. Community leaders have been told by state leaders that Roanoke’s numbers will be monitored to gauge viability in nearby markets.
While it's going to take more than just good ridership numbers in the Star City to make that happen, it's a good start.
“I would hope that the powers that be that are in charge of deciding where the next link should be for the Amtrak service would say, "You know what, we are doing really well going to Roanoke.. Perhaps we should look at extending the service further into southwest for Virginia,” Howard said.
January's numbers of this year were also just released, showing that over 15,000 people used Roanoke’s Amtrak stop.
That number increased by more than 8 percent over January of last year.