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New rail plan includes Amtrak to New River Valley, but excludes Bristol

Amtrak Roanoke Train
David Seidel
Radio IQ
An Amtrak train arrives in Roanoke on the first day of expanded service to the city in 2017. A second daily train was added in 2022 and the state is now working toward extending passenger rail service to the New River Valley

A new plan for developing passenger and freight rail infrastructure across Virginia was released last week by Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (or DRPT). The plan includes details for 174 total rail projects totaling $5.8 billion, but leaves out funding for an expansion of Amtrak passenger trains from the New River Valley into Bristol. In an emailed statement to Radio IQ, a spokesperson for DRPT said “There is no funding at this time to support expanding passenger rail to Bristol.”

The report says the state plans to double Amtrak service in the Commonwealth over the next 20 years. Some of the major projects include an expansion of Amtrak from Roanoke into the New River Valley, which is set to begin construction in 2024 and be completed by 2026. The most likely connection will be in Christiansburg. There’s also a plan to increase service by 75 percent along a commuter rail line that follows I-95, called the Virginia Railway Express.

The plan does signal some hope for southwest Virginia. It says the DRPT is looking to partner with Tennessee’s Department of Transportation to possibly expand passenger rail from the New River Valley through Bristol to Tennessee.

Tennessee transportation agencies are currently studying the feasibility of expanding Amtrak service in that state, part of a bill that legislators in Tennessee passed earlier this year. Their report is due to be released in July 2023.

The public can send comments about the Virginia rail plan until Oct. 27.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.