Amtrak Stop in Bedford to Become a Reality - TransDominion Express

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Amtrak Stop in Bedford to Become a Reality

BEDFORD — A grassroots organization in Bedford and Franklin counties is pulling out all the stops to make sure Bedford is the next scheduled stop for Amtrak trains travelling between Lynchburg and Roanoke.

“This just makes sense,” Brian McCrodden, a member of the Bedford/Franklin Regional Rail Initiative committee (BFRRI), said during a Friday meeting at the Bedford Welcome Center. “This is something that we need in Bedford.”

The local initiative, called “Next Stop Bedford” is was formed to advocate for the creation of a stop in Bedford for the local Amtrak route that started running in 2017. Amtrak currently passes through Bedford on the way to Lynchburg.
“This doesn’t create a new train to run through the region,” McCrodden said Friday to a group of about 60 people. “This just creates a stop for the train that already is running between Roanoke and Lynchburg.”

Vicki Gardner — executive director for Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce and a member of the committee — said the push for a rail stop in Bedford was started several years ago.

“We have so many assets in our region that a lot of people don’t have access to,” Gardner said Friday. “A rail stop would revitalize downtown Bedford, Franklin and Smith Mountain Lake.

“This will make the best assets in our region more accessible,” she said.

In 2013, an agreement to extend the passenger train route to Roanoke was announced by Amtrak, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the city of Roanoke. The route currently make stops in cities including Roanoke, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Manassas, Burke Centre, Alexandria, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

The BFRRI initiative was formed after the route was announcedand Bedford was not one of the included stops. McCrodden said a stop in Bedford would be logical for transportation officials.

“Right now, people in our area have to go to Roanoke or Lynchburg to board a train,” McCrodden said. “But we are not Roanoke or Lynchburg … Bedford is its own region defined by Va. 122.”

McCrodden asked about 60 people that attended Friday’s meeting if they would use a train as transportation at least once a year if there were a stop in Bedford. Everyone at the meeting raised their hands in response.

“That is significant,” McCrodden said. “This is what we have been hearing when we talk to people throughout the area.”

McCrodden said BFRRI conducted a study in 2016 into the feasibility of a rail stop in Bedford. The group also hired a consultant in 2017 to conduct a study. McCrodden said both studies showed positive effects of a train stop in Bedford.

McCrodden said that according to the studies, more than 12,000 new train riders are estimated to be generated each year if there were a train stop in Bedford.

“The travelshed estimate, the number of people that would be closer to Bedford than either Lynchburg or Roanoke, is more than 73,000,” McCrodden said. “We conducted a survey (of 436 people) and more than 90 percent said they would likely use a station in Bedford and 43 percent said they have never used the station in Lynchburg.”

Although a study conducted by Amtrak in 2017 puts the number of new passengers a year at 2,800, McCrodden said the economic impact to the area is positive.

“We are still trying to reconcile the numbers between the studies,” he said. “But even if it was only 2,800 new riders a year, the project still has more than an 80 percent of return in the first 12 years.”

McCrodden said the group’s study showed more than 150,000 people from areas more than 50 miles away from Smith Mountain Lake visited the area surrounding the lake in 2017.

“About 23 percent of these people came from the Washington, D.C., area,” he said. “A lot of these people in metro areas do not own cars and would need transportation like a train to visit our region.”

Gardner said the region offers multiple attractions to bolster tourism including:

Smith Mountain Lake;Smith Mountain Lake State Park;The Blue Ridge Parkway;Peaks of the Otter; and The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

“This area has so much to offer and we are continuing to market these attractions,” Gardner said. “A stop here would simply be an addition to the ease of getting to these places.”

McCrodden said the cost of building a stop in Bedford — which would be located on Plunkett Street near Court Street, the site of the old Bedford train depot — would be about $9 million and would be funded through various state transportation grants.

“The site is about as good as we can find in this area and is perfect for a stop,” he said. “This is a good investment.”

Robert Iuppa, 78, of Rocky Mount, came to Friday’s meeting to support the initiative to establish a stop in Bedford.

“People my age want the convenience to be able to catch a train to travel,” Iuppa said. “And not only people my age… younger families want this as well. This gives families the chance to enjoy traveling and be able to talk about their vacation instead of the parents doing all of the work and doing the driving.”

Iuppa added that the economic impact in Bedford would be “significant.”

“There are a lot of people that live near Bedford that never come here and see all that this beautiful area has to offer,” he said. “This would give a lot of people the opportunity to come and visit a really remarkable region.”

In 2016, the Virginia General Assembly ordered the state’s Department of Rails and Transportation (DRPT) to conduct a feasibility study on a Bedford stop in 2016. DRPT determined it needs two years of ridership data before expanding the route, including adding a stop in Bedford. McCrodden said DRPT will not rule on the issue until it has the two years of rider information on a potential stop in Bedford.

“That kind of took the wind out of our sails,” he said. “DRPT is the entity that has the final say on this issue and we are about halfway through that time frame for those numbers.”

However, McCrodden said BFRRI is meeting with Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine on Nov. 19 to discuss the data BFRRI has collected.

“She can waivethat second year if she wants to,” McCrodden said. “We are hoping the numbers will make sense to people from the state and we can get this moving forward.”

McCrodden said the initiative has strong support from people in Bedford and Franklin counties. A petition started last year in support of a rail stop in Bedford has more than 11,000 signatures as of Friday, he said.

“We have a lot of local support from residents as well as local officials,” McCrodden said. “We just need to keep getting the word out.”

Gardner said BFRRI has collectedall of the data supporting a rail stop and it now is up to people in the area to advocate for the project with their local and state representatives.

“We have completed the first stage of this project and have gathered all of the numbers,” she said. “If people want this, they need to now help us by spreading the word about this initiative and helping us gather support.”

Shannon Keith covers Bedford County for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5530.

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