Passenger rail still on track for 2020

Local officials remain optimistic that passenger rail service could still be coming to the New River Valley. President Donald Trump has announced plans to cut federal transportation funds for Amtrak service nationwide, but a new route that will stop in Christiansburg is still on the table.

Ray Smoot, co-chair of a committee working to bring the service to the NRV.

“The proposed cuts focus on long distance passenger service (like New York to New Orleans). The extension of the soon to be Roanoke service to the New River Valley is not a part of Amtrak’s long distance serve, but rather Northeast regional service which is not targeted for elimination,” he said.

Smoot remains upbeat as service into Roanoke should begin by October of this year. Initially the committee and local leaders hoped service could arrive here by 2020.

“The date of beginning service to the New River Valley has always been aspirational. We are continuing to work toward this date (of 2020),” he said.

The town of Christiansburg has purchased land off Mill Lane for an entrance, parking area and possible station location. Norfolk Southern already operates two lanes of traffic through that area.

Christiansburg spokesperson Melissa Powell said additional land across from the town’s aquatic center has not been purchased as of yet.

“There may be a need for some additional property to be able to bring buses in from Holmes Street, but that would be a relatively small amount for street widening and making the turn from Depot Street, N.E., onto Holmes Street,” she said.

Funding for the rest of the project will come from the state, local government and Amtrak, and the amount needed from the respective parties is not yet known.

“Generally, the state funds the operating expense (along with the ticket revenue) and the physical plant improvements needed by the railroad to provide the service. Local governments have provided most of the funds for the stations or platforms,” Smoot said.

The design of the station will not occur until a date is determined to begin service.

— Marty Gordon

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