Editorial: Train schedule switch - TransDominion Express


Editorial: Train schedule switch

The Roanoke Times

Amtrak is to roll out its new passenger rail service originating in Lynchburg with a stop in Washington on Oct. 1, but the hopes of some supporters already have been sidetracked.

A later-than-expected departure time will make it unlikely that the added service will be a boon for business travelers along the U.S. 29 corridor, an untapped market that rail advocates saw as key to the long-term viability of the three-year pilot run.

Virginia put $43 million into infrastructure upgrades along the rail corridor and committed $10.6 million to the pilot operation. Somewhere between planning and execution, though, Amtrak switched its focus from commuters to tourists.

In March, Amtrak announced the departure time from Lynchburg will be 7:43 a.m., with arrival in Washington at 11:20 a.m. — late for people planning a full business day in the capital and wanting to avoid the expense of an overnight stay. Originally, the train was scheduled to leave Lynchburg at 5:05 a.m. and arrive in D.C. at 8:40 a.m.

Why the switcheroo?

Amtrak reportedly found that its customers along the corridor were tourists more interested in reliable service to New York and other points north than early service to D.C.

That’ll be nicer for Roanokers, who won’t have to rise in the dead of night to get to Lynchburg before dawn.

The revised schedule dismisses the potential for a new customer base, though. And it ignores the larger strategy of Virginia communities along the route, such as Charlottesville, to get business travelers out of their cars and using mass transit, and to nurture spin-off economic growth from D.C.-related contractors.

The pilot’s goal is annual ridership of 59,000. Rail advocates certainly want Amtrak to hit it — as they should. Any service originating in Lynchburg, rather than farther south, gives Virginians better access.

Still, the Roanoke Valley’s parochial interests aside, success will be defined on a narrower field, and that feels like a missed opportunity.

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