Passenger rail expansion, COVID recovery on track in Virginia

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 7:47 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia’s expansion of passenger rail is gathering steam, while negotiations continue for the extension of service to the New River Valley. And state officials report the recovery from COVID is well underway.

Across the state, major improvements are promising a major expansion of passenger rail. The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved a six-year plan, with funding of almost $1.5 billion.

And there is encouraging news as the Commonwealth emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday morning, officials with the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority said ridership is recovering.

D.J. Stadtler is the authority’s executive director.

“Last year, obviously in 2020 we had very few riders,” Stadtler said during the meeting. “People weren’t even leaving their houses, but you can see we’re coming back. Last month, we were just at 50% of ridership in April, and this month we’re well over 50% in all of our routes.”

And to encourage more Virginians to take the train, the state is working with Amtrak to cut fares up to 35% for travel through the end of the summer.

“Anybody that has traveled over the last month, airports or train, it’s getting crowded,” Stadtler said. “People are anxious to travel. People want to get out of their houses and go places. And we want to make sure they’re considering the train as one of those options.”

So, where does that leave the expansion of passenger rail to the New River Valley?

Negotiations continue with Norfolk Southern on the rail improvements that will be required to extend the service.

Monday, state officials said they are very confident they will have an agreement in place by the end of the year.

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