Benefits of Rail Could be Long-Lasting - TransDominion Express


Benefits of Rail Could be Long-Lasting

Published by The News & Advance

A decade ago, who in his right mind would have thought expanded rail service in Central Virginia possible.

Today, the dream of additional passenger service to Washington, D.C., is tantalizingly close to becoming a reality.

The state Department of Rail and Public Transportation has recommended to the Commonwealth Transportation Board that $17 million be allocated over the next three years for a second passenger train to run from Lynchburg, essentially up the U.S. 29 corrider, to Union Station in the nation’s capital. Under the department’s proposal, there would also be an additional train from Richmond to Washington. (The DRPT has already identified a revenue stream to pay for the project, dollars already allocated to the agency.)

According to a state official, this project is the first time Virginia would be supporting inter-city passenger rail.

Currently, only the Amtrak Crescent stops in Lynchburg daily on its way to Washington, but it originates in New Orleans, making getting tickets a veritable roll of the dice.

As envisioined by the DRPT staff, the new train would pull out of the Kemper Street station at 5 a.m. each day, with stops along the U.S. 29 corrider. Talks are under way with Amtrak to provide the train and staff and with Norfolk Southern about use of the tracks, a portion of which would have to be upgraded to allow for higher speeds.

Back in 1999, just about the only organization with the foresight to see the advantages of expanded rail service in Southwest and Central Virginia was the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and its president, Rex Hammond. Back then, the grand plan was the establishment of a cross-state rail system stretching from Bristol in far Southwest through Roanoke on its way to Lynchburg, where it would branch off with a line to Washington and a line to Richmond.

The TransDominion Express, as the European-style passenger train service was to be known, was always the ultimate goal of rail-service backers. Backers like Hammond, Del. Shannon Valentine, chambers of commerce and local governments along the proposed routes always knew the odds were long and the timeline even longer, but they kept plugging away, keeping the dream alive.

The importance of a dedicated train line to the Washington region can’t be overstated.

It would be a major economic link to the capital region, allowing businesspeople in Central Virginia to get to and from Northern Virginia without the hassle and headache of slogging through the region’s crowded highways. From Washington, it would a simple matter of a transfer to trains serving the Northeast Corridor to Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

And lest anyone think there’s hardly the business traffic now to justify the second line, just head out to the Kemper Street station early one morning or late one evening and count the local folks on the platforms.

The passenger traffic wouldn’t just be one way, either, from Lynchburg to Washington; it would also be from Washington to Lynchburg.

The goal posts are in sight for rail backers, with only the transportation board’s final approval needed.

Members of the public may comment on the proposal in a variety of ways, including sending statements to Your browser may not support display of this image..

Should the transportation board gives its final approval to the project and negotiations with Norfolk Southern go well, trains could be rolling out of Lynchburg by the fall.

And that will be a red-letter day for Central Virginia.

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