Passenger rail expansion measures likely to pass, good news for NRV rail proponents

There are bills in both the House and Senate for local needs, and money in the budget for passenger service across the state

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – While state leaders are working on some other projects for our region, folks in the New River Valley have been asking for passenger rail expansion and they are one step closer to getting it.

As the trains continue rolling across the Commonwealth, the focus on passenger rail continues to grow. And Larry Hincker with the New River Valley Passenger Rail group is pleased with what he sees.

“Clearly this is a step forward because having an authority for example will allow us to do certain things that we can’t otherwise do,” Hincker said.

Bills by Delegate Chris Hurst and Senator John Edwards to create a New River Valley Passenger Rail Authority have been received favorably. The authority would bring the local governments together under a state-recognized umbrella to do their work.

“It will allow more of the region to come together and have a pot of funds to be able to continue to do the infrastructure development required to get Christiansburg an Amtrak service,” Hurst said.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers elected to keep $50 million in their budget earmarked for passenger rail expansion statewide.

Delegate Hurst told a crowd in a recent town hall that Governor Northam and Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine are pushing for expansion.

“They have made this a priority, they want public rail and passenger rail to be more widespread in the Commonwealth and we are putting tens of millions of dollars into the investment and encouragement of that end,” Hurst said.

The push also includes an additional train for Roanoke. Currently, one train departs in the morning and another arrives in the evening. Roanoke’s Amtrak service continues to be one of the few that covers its cost from tickets, to which proponents said shows demand is there.

A location for the future station has yet to be determined, and the deal is still far from done, but Hincker feels confident on the news.

“Lynchburg, Roanoke, these were all significant initiatives in the part of the state for their investments and we’re hopeful that we’re going to be successful as well,” Hincker said.