Passenger Rail Could Remake Central Virginia - TransDominion Express


Passenger Rail Could Remake Central Virginia

Published by The News & Advance

Last Thursday was a momentous day for enhanced passenger rail advocates in Virginia: The Commonwealth Transportation Board OK’d spending $25.2 million over the next three years to run two new trains to Washington, D.C.

Under the three-year pilot program, two trains a day will between Lynchburg and Washington and Richmond and Washington, operated under the aegis of Amtrak.

For advocates of enhanced intercity passenger rail service in Central and Southwest Virginia, it was a vote to celebrate.

More than a decade ago, the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and its board, led by President Rex Hammond, began pushing for statewide passenger rail service. The TransDominion Express would run from Bristol and Roanoke in the west to Lynchburg, where it would then break off into two routes, one east to Richmond and one north through Charlottesville to Washington. (You can learn more online at

Over the years, the effort was joined by a number of local and regional leaders from the political and business realms, Republican and Democrat, all of whom saw the advantages the train could bring.

Currently, one train a day runs from Lynchburg to Washington, the Crescent which originates in New Orleans. That fact alone makes it a crapshoot as to whether or not you’re able to get a ticket. The new train would actually originate in Lynchburg, making the Hill City the starting point for train travel to the nation’s capital and beyond.

Approximately $8 million of the allocation will go to the rehabbing of cars and locomotives for the new Amtrak service; the rest will pay for daily operations.

And let’s be upfront about this new service: It’s an experiment whose success is not guaranteed. The next three years will prove critical for seeing if there’s a sufficient demand for this service.

Of course, there will be the usual voices in our midst who will decry passenger rail as a boondoggle, a waste, an exercise in futility. We can almost hear them now, clearing their voices to take to the airwaves and the public soapboxes and cracking their knuckles as they prepare to fire off angry letters to the editor.

We believe, quite simply, that they’re wrong. Through proper marketing and superlative service, the new passenger rail line could tap into a great well of pent-up demand just below the surface with Lynchburg becoming the hub for an eventual statewide rail network.

And that eventual statewide network could then become part of the larger passenger rail service in the northeast corridor from Washington to New York City, further drawing all of Virginia (not just Northern Virginia) into the nation’s major business circles.

The Lynchburg-to-D.C. and Richmond-to-D.C. legs, though, are just a start, and you have to begin somewhere if you wish to reach a greater longterm goal.

Rev up the engines, and let’s build up a good head of steam, Central Virginia.

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