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Virginia assumes a greater role in funding regional service as it eyes an extension to Roanoke and Bristol.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Gov. Bob McDonnell comes to the Roanoke Valley on Friday to kick off a campaign-style tour of the state to tout his administration’s achievements. It’s fitting that one of his first events will promote the planned extension of passenger rail service to Roanoke.
McDonnell’s administration has taken important steps to preserve existing intercity passenger rail in Virginia and lay the groundwork for extending service to Roanoke and, perhaps, to Bristol in future years.
Earlier this week, Virginia became the first state to forge a new cost-sharing agreement with Amtrak under a 2008 law that affects 19 states and 28 corridor routes of fewer than 750 miles.
Virginia will assume a greater share of the cost of maintaining service between Washington, D.C., and Lynchburg, Newport News and Norfolk, including Richmond.
Regional rail service would have been halted on Oct. 1 without an agreement, but McDonnell said stopping the service “was not an option.” His administration has been proactive on the issue.
The transportation funding bill passed by the General Assembly devotes a portion of state sales tax proceeds to intercity passenger rail, and eventually will pay for the long-awaited extension of Amtrak service to Roanoke.
The state also is likely to cover $3 million of the estimated $6.1 million cost of building a passenger rail platform over Trout Run, easing a financial burden that Roanoke otherwise would have shouldered by itself.
McDonnell’s administration recognizes how important passenger rail service is to Virginians. The Lynchburg service is operating in the black, with ridership exceeding projections. State transportation officials don’t expect the build-out to stop at Roanoke, either.
The state’s draft long-range plan also envisions passenger service to Bristol with connections to Richmond and Washington, D.C.
Some legislators have expressed hope that train service could be available in the New River Valley, where students at Virginia Tech and Radford University could take advantage of it.
McDonnell will be an ex-governor when the first passenger train pulls into a new Roanoke station. But that will be a moment his administration can claim as part of its legacy.
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