Push for shorter passenger train trips east from Roanoke could make positive impact

Plans include better option for rail between Roanoke, Hampton Roads

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There’s a new push to allow faster train travel “connecting the Blue Ridge to the beach,” a slogan now used by a group supporting passenger rail service expansion in the commonwealth.

A new report from the group Virginians for High Speed Rail argues for improvements to the existing tracks from Charlottesville to Richmond, which would open up a shorter route from Roanoke to Hampton Roads.

A map shows the group’s goals, which include having a rail station in Christiansburg to connect the New River Valley with the rest of the commonwealth.

“It’s all about giving Virginians more options and that is why the state has been advancing and been aggressive on expanding passenger rail,” said Daniel Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail.

The plans would allow people in Roanoke, particularly young people whose use of rail is increasing, to more easily ride the train east. Right now, passengers have to go north first, through D.C., which causes the trip to Virginia Beach to take about 14 hours.

The expanded service would serve 3.7 million Virginians who would live within 20 miles of a rail station, the group said.

Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge expects rail expansion to increase local tourism revenue in the Roanoke and New River valleys.

“This is going to add to that ability to bring more people here to spend more money,” said spokeswoman Catherine Fox. “The Tidewater area loves going to the mountains to vacation just like we like going to the beach to vacation.”