Virginia Advances Plans to Return Rail to New River Valley

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The Western Rail Initiative in Virginia calls for an additional round-trip train to Roanoke in 2022, and an extension of service from Roanoke to Christiansburg in the New River Valley following infrastructure improvements.

The Western Rail Initiative in Virginia calls for an additional round-trip train to Roanoke in 2022, and an extension of service from Roanoke to Christiansburg in the New River Valley following infrastructure improvements.

The Commonwealth of Virginia and Norfolk Southern (NS) have finalized a definitive agreement that will increase existing Amtrak service to Roanoke and expand service to the New River Valley, they reported on Jan. 13.

Their agreement was announced last May as the $257.2 million Western Rail Initiative.

According to the Office of the Governor, it calls for:

• Adding a second round-trip train to Roanoke later this year. Like the current state-supported Roanoke train, the second train will serve Alexandria, Burke Centre, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Roanoke, and travel to and from Washington, D.C., and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The agreement acknowledges the potential for a future station in Bedford.
• Extending service from Roanoke to Christiansburg in southwest Virginia’s New River Valley, upon completion of infrastructure improvements. 
It will mark the first time since 1979 that the area will have passenger rail service, which is expected to add approximately 80,000 new riders in the first year.

To expand service, Gov. Ralph Northam announced May 5, 2021 that the agreement includes:

• $38.2 million for the acquisition of approximately 28 miles of NS-owned right-of-way and existing tracks from Christiansburg to the Salem Crossovers west of Roanoke, and a passenger rail easement between the Salem Crossovers and the Amtrak Roanoke station platform. NS will continue to provide freight service on the line. (Note: easement details provided in the Jan. 13 announcement.)
• $219 million for Roanoke Yard improvements; a 7-mile siding from Nokesville to Calverton; the creation of a 22-mile continuous double-track corridor from Manassas to Remington; and improvements from Salem to Christiansburg, including signaling and track upgrades, a maintenance facility, a passenger platform, and other infrastructure work along the Route 29/Interstate 81 corridor.

The acquisition and infrastructure improvements will be partially funded by contributions from the I-81 Corridor Multimodal Improvements Fund, Commonwealth Rail funds, and the General Assembly’s 2021 Transportation Initiatives, the Office of the Governor reported on Jan. 13. The commonwealth’s financial close with NS is expected in mid-2022.

NS Chairman and CEO James A. Squires

“This agreement with the commonwealth of Virginia is a great example of government and business partnership,” NS Chairman and CEO James A. Squires said. “Together, we have created a path forward to increase passenger rail service and ensure that freight rail customers continue to move the goods that power our economy. Importantly, this will yield economic dividends from northern to southwest Virginia, both through the necessary infrastructure improvements and additional use of the rail lines.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

“Together with our partners at Norfolk Southern, we are making essential improvements that modernize our transportation infrastructure and connect communities across the commonwealth,” Gov. Northam said. “We look forward to continuing this important work to help move people and goods efficiently, reduce congestion and pollution, fuel tourism, and drive economic growth.”

“VPRA [Virginia Passenger Rail Authority] was designed specifically to own and acquire rail infrastructure across the commonwealth that aligns with Virginia’s transportation goals and policies to advance Virginia businesses, attract a 21st century workforce, and promote healthy communities where Virginians of all ages and abilities can thrive,” VPRA Board Chair Jennifer Mitchell said. “We value our partnership with Norfolk Southern and look forward to implementing this agreement with them to improve and expand passenger rail service.”

Amtrak regional daily service in southwest Virginia began in October 2009 with one round trip between Lynchburg and Washington, D.C. In November 2017, the commonwealth expanded service to Roanoke.

Categories: Class I, Freight, Intercity, M/W, News, Passenger Tags: , ,