Group pushing for Amtrak to come to Christiansburg by 2020

Several lawmakers are in support of the plan

By Rob Manch - Reporter

RADFORD, Va. - A group in the New River Valley says Amtrak could be coming to the area in the next three years, and Wednesday night, they met at Radford University to explain how it could happen.

It was easy to tell from the dozens who came out Wednesday: People in the New River Valley want train service.

"I think everybody's excited about it because it's another option aside from driving up and down I-81," said Kevin Byrd, with the New River Valley Regional Commission.

That option is what one group, "New River Valley Passenger Rail 2020," and its co-chair Raymond Smoot, have been working on bringing to the area for the past three years.

"This rail we want here is the Northeast corridor. So you could get on the train here and go as far as Boston staying on the same train," said Smoot.

And Smoot says the group already has a train station location selected. An existing set of train tracks runs right by the Christiansburg Aquatic Center, which is where advocates say would be the best spot for a brand new Amtrak station. After seeing the successful construction of a new stop in Roanoke begin this year, legislators are interested in more.

"The numbers of riders in Roanoke will be instructive, but also the number of folks who are willing to take the bus to the Roanoke station from the New River Valley will also give people an idea of how many people would actually ride," said Rep. Morgan Griffith.

The state has also put up $350,000 to study how passenger trains would be coordinated with freight. State Sen. John Edwards says that will be money spent toward a worthy goal.

"I'm confident that there are 100,000 people living in Montgomery County probably by now, and then Radford and the surrounding areas. So I'm confident that there will be plenty of demand to have Amtrak from the New River Valley," said Edwards.

The state study can't begin until 2018, so Edwards says a 2020 start may be a little ambitious, but many like Smoot are still optimistic.

"I believe that with the arrival of passenger service in Roanoke next month, and the broad support that we have for passenger rail service in the New River Valley, that it is realistic. We're going to try to make that happen," said Smoot.

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