Funding Gap May Close Popular Amtrak Route
It's a route that has far exceeded Amtrak's ridership expectations, but a funding gap could soon stop the one-year-old Lynchburg to Washington D.C. service in its tracks.
The Amtrak route linking Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and Washington D.C. could run out of steam at the end of fiscal year 2011 if the General Assembly does not extend its funding. Thursday, an advocate for that funding shared her concerns at the quarterly planning and coordination meeting in Charlottesville.
It began as a three year pilot program, which is the first ever Amtrak service funded by the commonwealth of Virginia, running from Lynchburg through Charlottesville and on to DC. According to Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones, the ridership numbers show it was a sound investment.
Jones said, "It obviously is meeting a need that we had in the Charlottesville area, and we certainly hope to see that continue in the near future."
Amtrak anticipated that about 51,000 riders per year would take advantage of the service, but a report released this week shows more than 126,000 hopped aboard. Adding to that success, the service has blown away revenue estimates. They expected $2.5 million, but raked in more than $6 million.
However, its success does not guarantee its future as a transportation option. Meredith Richards of the Cville Rail said, "Today [Thursday], I wanted to alert people that there are going to be issues with sustaining funding for this train."
Richards says even though it's paying for itself that doesn't mean that other routes are, and funding for this pilot project runs out in 2011. "We will need a source of operating funds. The state is going to need a dedicated fund for passenger operation," she said.
It's up to advocates like Richards to get the General Assembly on board. In 2009, the General Assembly asked the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to identify where money could come from to set up a permanent rail operating fund. They are set to report back during the 2011 session, which is just before that initial funding is set to run out.