Monday, August 12, 2013

Amtrak, NS, Commonwealth of Virginia embark on service extension to Roanoke

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the City of Roanoke have joined together to start work to extend Amtrak regional intercity passenger rail service from Lynchburg to Roanoke, the “Star City.”

It has been 34 years since intercity passenger rail has served Roanoke. The return of passenger rail to Roanoke is a result of passage this year of Virginia's first major transportation funding plan in nearly three decades. Extending the state’s Lynchburg line is anticipated to take between three and four years. Conceptual design work and rail capacity analysis is under way, work will be done by Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, and the City of Roanoke. The partnership is formally called “Amtrak Virginia.”

Virginia’s transportation bill provides a dedicated funding source for intercity passenger rail. Funds can be applied to capital investment and service expansion.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was joined in Roanoke at the Friday, Aug. 9 announcement by Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Thelma Drake, Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman, and Amtrak Vice President Government Affairs Joe McHugh.

“Norfolk Southern is happy to play a role in a new chapter of the Star City's rail history as we support the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation's efforts to extend passenger service to Roanoke,” said Moorman. “While freight is at the core of Norfolk Southern’s business, we understand the importance of passenger service to the Roanoke Valley.”

“This new service to Roanoke connects passengers to other areas of the Commonwealth as well as cities along the Northeast Corridor,” said McHugh, on behalf of Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “We offer travelers a safe, efficient, and reliable alternative that mitigates the effect of high gas prices and pervasive highway and airline congestion.”

“The entire Roanoke region is excited about having passenger rail service back in the Star City for the first time since 1979,” said Drake. “Roanoke, the home of the Norfolk & Western for many decades, is once again a ‘railroad town.’”

“For many years, the citizens of Roanoke and the Valley have asked when intercity passenger rail will return,” said Governor McDonnell. “I am pleased to announce that the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, through its partnership with Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, and the City of Roanoke, will begin work on bringing service back to this historic railroad city. This achievement is a direct result of the bipartisan effort this past winter to pass Virginia’s first major transportation funding plan in over a generation. We had gone far too long without investing the necessary resources in our roads and railways. This infrastructure is crucial to future job creation and economic growth in our state. In Roanoke, it means the return of intercity passenger rail service to the Star City.”

“Bringing passenger rail service to Roanoke has been our city’s most important economic development priority,” said Mayor Bowers. “Roanoke is the latest step for the Commonwealth to lead the way as one of the few states in the country to successfully negotiate the addition of new intercity passenger rail service in major rail corridors, balancing freight and economic development needs with additional intercity passenger rail options.”