Friday, October 08, 2010

Virginia passenger train marks first birthday

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Several Charlottesville, Va., residents gathered at the train station Oct. 7 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the daily Lynchburg-to-Washington Amtrak train, which stops in Charlottesville.

The service is part of a three-year demonstration project whose operating costs the state agreed to subsidize with $10.6 million. The train started running on Oct. 1, 2009, and is part of the larger Northeast Regional service that continues on to Boston.

For the first 10 months of service—through July 31 of this year—the train saw 103,351 passengers in Virginia, far exceeding the 51,000-passenger ridership goal for the train’s first year. It has also generated an operating profit. Officials had a revenue goal of $2.58 million from the train during its first year, but by the end of July it had generated $5.23 million, Richards said.

Thelma Drake, director ofthe Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, spoke at the event, along with local elected officials and others. Drake said she was surprised at how well that particular train was doing when she became the departmen’s director in January, but was not sure if the high ridership and revenue figures would sustain themselves.

“We were dead wrong about this train and we’re delighted,” she said.

The train’s birthday party also came on the heels of a new Amtrak report that would make the Cardinal—which comes through Charlottesville three days per week on its route between Chicago and New York City—a daily train. The change would mean the Cardinal would stop in Charlottesville 14 times a week, compared with six currently.

“There seems to be some demand that we’re not able to take because of the train only operating six times a week versus 14,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Amtrak estimates the increase in trains would cost $2.1 million more in operating costs. The plan was outlined in the Cardinal’s Performance Improvement Plan, an examination required by a federal government mandate. Any change would have to be approved by Amtrak’s Board of Directors, Magliari said. If it were decided to increase the number of Cardinal trains, implementation of an action plan would not occur before the end of 2011.

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