Friday, March 20, 2009

Virginia commits state funds to add Amtrak service

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In a first for “The Old Dominion State,” Virginia will provide $25.2 million in state funding to run two round-trip Amtrak trains serving Washington, D.C., over a three-year period. One train would link the nation’s capital with Lynchburg, Va., adding a second frequency over Norfolk Southern right-of-way used by Amtrak's Crescent. A second round trip would add more Amtrak service between Richmond and Washington, over right-of-way owned by CSX Transportation.

Current plans call for Lynchburg service to begin Oct. 1, with the added Richmond trains beginning operations on Dec. 15.

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Amtraseal_virginia.jpgk’s Board of Directors is expected to approve the move at its next meeting in April. At a meeting March 12 in Washington with members of the Railway Supply Institute, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman noted that Richmond was, in some ways, becoming “the true southern terminus” of the Northeast Corridor.

Virginia will pay Amtrak $17.2 million to operate the tworound-trip trains, while $8 million will be used to rehabilitate cars and locomotives for the new service. Each train will consist of up to eight passenger coaches, a business-class coach, and a café car.

State officials anticipate ridership of 42,000 for the added Richmond frequency, and 51,000 per year on the Lynchburg service. Both trains will depart from their respective Virginia cities bound for Washington during the morning, returning from Washington in the evening, as part of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service reaching as far north as Boston on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

Though Amtrak provides eight trains each way per day between Richmond and Washington, early-morning northbound service from Richmond to Washington is covered only by the Silver Meteor, a long-distance train originating in Florida, departing at 5:09 a.m. when on schedule. The next train northbound departs at 12:37 p.m. The proposed new morning train from Richmond, originating and departing from Staples Mill Station at 7:00 a.m., likely could provide a more punctual alternative for potential "short-distance" Amtrak customers, especially business and day-trip riders traveling to and from Washington. 

Virginia is the 14th state to assist Amtrak intercity passenger in some fashion. Amtrak expects the new services to generatesignificance “induced demand”: Virginia will get revenue credit for any ticket purchased for the new services, even if the purchase occurs outside of Virginia from any portion of the NEC.