Amtrak's Roanoke Station success could mean more future regional stops

State transportation officials have described the ridership as "impressive"

By Rachel Lucas - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE - Hoping to land another regional stop, communities in southwest Virginia are eyeing Amtrak's success in Roanoke.

In the nine months since Amtrak service started in the Star City, tens of thousands of people have traveled through Roanoke station.

State transportation officials have described the ridership as "impressive".

According to state transportation records, more than 32,000 passengers traveled through the Roanoke station.

Since May, 16,607 passengers boarded at the platform, and 15,822 disembarked for a total of 32,429. December saw peak passengers totaling 6,229.

State transportation officials will study this platform closely for two years, and if it continues to do well, they may consider adding more stops in the region.

When Amtrak pulls into Roanoke, it's not only passengers along for the ride. Landon Howard, president of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge, explains it’s a boost for the local economy.

"They bring in more people that spend money in our hotels, go to our restaurants,” Howard said. “We see that our ridership is up."

Ridership on the Washington, D.C. to Roanoke line increased by more than 8 percent year over year largely due to the addition of the Roanoke station. That increase happened during a time when passenger rail ridership numbers were slightly down in the state and across the country.

In addition to the added mode of transportation for people who live in the area, it's also great exposure for Virginia's Blue Ridge.

People in Amtrak stations up and down the east coast now literally see Roanoke, Virginia as a daily destination. Howard said he recently noticed Roanoke, Virginia on the arrival and departure boards at Penn Station in New York.

“They were saying it's time to catch the northeast regional train to Roanoke, Virginia. It was on all the boards, being announced continuously, so that's great advertising for us,” Howard said.

It's an opportunity the New River Valley wants to catch. A desired stop in Christiansburg would be especially convenient for students at Radford University and Virginia Tech.

Virginia has set aside $350,000 to study the tracks between Roanoke and Christiansburg once the new Roanoke service has been running for two years. Local leaders would want to place the station near the Christiansburg Aquatic Center.

Bedford is also vying for Amtrak's attention. Mary Zirkle, Bedford economic development coordinator, said it would be very beneficial for people living around Smith Mountain Lake as well as crowds for the Peaks of Otter and more.

“We would be very glad to have an extra stop by Amtrak for various reasons,” Zirkle said. “We would expect it to increase tourism and just giving people jobs and giving people awareness of how neat Bedford is.”

Zirkle said they'll be watching and anxiously trying to turn this spot along the rails into the next official stop for Amtrak.

“Roanoke has been our benchmark. The state has told us to wait two years and see how well that does. Roanoke is doing well so we think that would also be a benefit to the town,” Zirkle said.

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