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Officials consider platforms, track in Roanoke in latest Amtrak update

Officials consider platforms, track in Roanoke in latest Amtrak update

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The launch of infrastructure work, ordinarily a mundane topic, drew a round of applause in downtown Roanoke on Monday evening at the first official update in months on the planned resumption of passenger rail.

By early next year, crews will take on a block of improvements needed before the train service commences in 2017, a state official said.

One piece is a passenger boarding platform near Norfolk Avenue and First Street. Another piece is a building to support the work of custodians and mechanics who will service the train during overnight parking. A third piece is reinforcements to the city’s underground infrastructure.

Various track improvements are also in the works, according to Jennifer Mitchell, who directs the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and Kevin Page, rail chief and chief operating officer.

It’s all part of a previously announced plan to bring Amtrak to the city in about three years. If all goes as planned, it will be possible to board a 470-seat, eight-car train in downtown Roanoke sometime in 2017 and ride to Washington, District of Columbia, and from there to a menu of other major cities. The city last had passenger rail service 35 years ago.

Preparations are expected to cost $95.8 million, up from a figure of $92.7 million given in January, officials told about 75 people at the O. Winston Link Museum. The gathering was set up by state Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.

Right now, would-be rail riders can bus from the Berglund Center to Lynchburg’s train station and board there. The SmartWay Connector bus service, which includes a morning and evening round trip, averages 42 riders daily, said Carl Palmer, who directs Valley Metro.

Dubbing the train route north from Lynchburg “tremendously successful,” Mitchell said Amtrak and the state plan to run a second train out of Lynchburg in 2017. A round-trip ticket from Lynchburg on the D.C.-bound train recently costs $44 to $87.

Other Southwest Virginia communities are eyeing the expansion to Roanoke in 2017 and asking how the same can happen for their area.

The New River Valley Planning District Commission is estimating how many passengers might take the train from the New River Valley were the service expanded someday, Mitchell said.

There is believed to be too little demand to create a stop in Bedford, officials told the crowd.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers business, banking, transportation and federal court. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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