On Board For Passenger Rail

For years, it seems, people have been calling for Amtrak passenger rail service to the New River Valley, and plans to finally make that a reality were coming together – but now they’ve hit a snag. Sure, I could have said they’ve been derailed, but that would be too easy. Yes, we could say the train’s been delayed, it’s failed to leave the station … all good stuff.

Years ago, I took the train from Lynchburg up to New York in order to attend a conference. I love train travel, but this trip soured it for me. It was a two hour drive out to Lynchburg, where I boarded and rode several hours to get to NYC. Complicating things, there were delays. And ever since, I’ve been critical of the idea of bringing Amtrak service here to the NRV. I just haven’t seen the importance of adding rail service to the area when I doubted people would use it – it didn’t get me to my destination any faster than it would have if I’d driven, particularly since the new line from Roanoke went to Lynchburg

Doubted. Past tense. These past few weeks, my wife, daughter and I drove to Baltimore to see family, then took the train into NYC, before seeing and friends and coming back around to Blacksburg again. Our trips were easy, the stations ran like clockwork, we weren’t stuffed in like when you fly … it was nice. (But seriously, Amtrak – diaper changing stations in the bathrooms should be required. Your decision-makers should try changing a diaper on a squirmy kid while a train is rocking back and forth). And looking at it through a different lens, I saw development. At nearly every station we passed through, it was obvious there’d been deliberate plans to develop the areas around the stations with focused attention to how to boost ridership. Residential density increased, there were companies clustered around the stations who almost certainly had employees using the train … and it got me thinking, what kind of impact would passenger service to the New River Valley have? My brother-in-law took the train from Roanoke to Baltimore, where he lives, after Christmas, and said it was packed from the Roanoke station. From Facebook, I see several folks I know from the NRV were on that train, headed to NYC. There’s obviously interest.

I’m sure the folks at NRV 2020 have loads and loads of this data, and everyone should check out their site. It’s full of information about the status of the project, future goals, and more. And if what has happened in other municipalities applies here in the NRV, bringing rail to the area creates opportunities – opportunities for jobs, for development, for tax income, and more. I wouldn’t have said this years ago, but I’m changing my tune – let’s get passenger rail to the New River Valley again. I’m on board.



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