Amtrak success prompts conversation about expansion in Roanoke

Passenger rail service returned to Roanoke 2 years ago

ROANOKE, Va. – Tourism leaders said Amtrak is far exceeding expectations two years after passenger rail service returned to the Star City.

Amtrak representatives tell 10 News Roanoke's ridership is the highest of any individual line in the commonwealth. Since launching in 2017, that's more than 110,000 passengers coming in and out of Roanoke.

"People that are curious. They're curious about a new way to travel and for us, that's great," said Brian Wells, general manager of the Hotel Roanoke.

For the Hotel Roanoke, Amtrak means big business.

"We get a lot of guests that come off the train. Some of them are very impromptu. They were in Boston the day before and said, 'Hey, let's just get on the northeast corridor and see where it takes us,'” Wells said.

There's been an increase in nontraditional uses.

"I actually know of someone who took the train for the day to get their hair cut in Tyson's Corner," said Catherine Fox, vice president of public affairs and destination development for Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge.

Fox said Amtrak’s success benefits not only existing businesses, but future development. In just the last year, three new hotels have been announced in downtown, including one just this week.

"Having Amtrak has developed what we consider as a critical mass to downtown,” Fox said.

The early success is raising the question of whether Amtrak could expand in Roanoke.

"We'd love to see them expand to more than one daily train to northern Virginia and we'd love to see the timing of the train alter from early a.m. departure, late p.m. arrival to some additional train coverage in the middle of the day," Wells said.

Jennifer Mitchell, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, gave 10 News the following statement:

“While there are no current expansions for the Roanoke line planned at this time, Virginia continues to work with our valued partners at Norfolk Southern to explore potential new mobility options for its citizens.”  

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Jessica anchors 10 News on Saturdays and Sundays at 6 and 11 p.m. You can also catch her reporting during the week.