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Virginia study projects costs, ridership of passenger extension to Bristol

By | May 13, 2022

Proposal seeks to extend service from Roanoke, New River Valley

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Logo of Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation

Logo of Virginia Department of Rail and Public TransportationBRISTOL, Tenn. — Extension of Virginia’s state-supported Amtrak service to the stateline communities of Bristol. Va., and Bristol, Tenn., could cost up to $1.5 billion while attracting up to 15,500 riders annually, according to a new study by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The Bristol Herald Courier reports the study projects one daily round trip between Bristol, Va., and Washington, which would be an extension of current service to Roanoke. Plans are already under way to Christiansburg in the New River Valley by 2025; from there, it is about 115 miles to Bristol. Up to five new stations could be added between Christiansburg and Bristol.

Emily Stock, Virginia DRPT chief of rail transportation, presented the study’s results Thursday at a meeting of the Bristol Tennessee-Virginia Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization executive board. She said the cost estimate of $500 million to $1.5 billion was for infrastructure improvements needed for the Norfolk Southern line to support passenger service.

The study is part of the process needed to determine if the state and federal governments would fund the service, and if Amtrak and NS would agree to the operation.

Virginia and NS agreed last year on a $257 million deal to extend service from Roanoke to Christiansburg, as well as add additional service to Roanoke. That included $28.2 million for the state to acquire 28.5 miles of right-of-way and track [see “Virginia, Norfolk Southern reach agreement …,” Trains News Wire, May 5, 2021].

7 thoughts on “Virginia study projects costs, ridership of passenger extension to Bristol

  1. 15,500 riders a year woud not justify a train let alone the infrastructure improvements. Compare that to 125,000 or more VPD on a typical urban freeway.

    While prices have gone up, you can still get a lot of urban freeway improvements for the capital costs mentioned above.

  2. Together with additional service to Roanoke makes more sense. With current schedule, service south of Roanoke would be in the middle of the night.

  3. 42 riders per day average total or 21 riders average in each direction! Just add a connecting bus or two from Roanoke to Bristol.

  4. OK but Roanoke-Bristol doesn’t have urban freeways. It has I-81 which is as congested with trucks as SR-N&W-SR 17-18 and 41-42 once were with mail and express.

    1. There were 3 round trip trains actually 4 between Roanoke Bristol.
      17 -18 Birmingham Special =- WASH – BHM
      41-42 Pelican = WASH – NOL
      45 – 46 Tennessean = Wash – MEM
      All 3 of these carried mail, express and RPOs
      N&W had a mail train Bristol – Roanoke ( maybe 9 and 10? ) with 1rider coach.
      The 3 interstate trains all took about 3:45 Roanoke Bristol. I-81 can be driven easily 2:15. Hard to justify a round trip train.
      FYI grew up there so have local info. Mail was so heavy on these trains that very difficult to have OTP. Christmas often hours late that often followed next train’s times.

  5. It doesn’t pass the smell test. So much money for so few passengers. Where would the money really go?

  6. I will note that when service to Roanoke was reintroduced, actual ridership often significantly exceeded expectations. I have a VERY hard time believing average ridership would be just 21 passengers each way per day along the whole route. Although the travel time would not be as competitive, the headache of driving on I-81 is enough to drive many to an alternative where virtually none exist today. This study is lacking something in its ridership calculations for sure.

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