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Historic site considered for new proposed location for Christiansburg Amtrak station

Freight train rolls by a grey train station with a grey roof. The station was built in 1904 to replace an older station.
Roxy Todd
/
RadioIQ
Train station built in 1904 in the Cambria neighborhood of Christiansburg.

Not far from U.S. Route 11, Cambria Street has an antique stop, a bookstore, and an electrical supply store. Freight trains pass here regularly. And soon, passengers may be able to ride into Cambria station too.

“There is just huge, huge support and anticipation for this in the New River Valley,” said Larry Hincker, with the New River Valley Passenger Rail Initiative, a group that’s been working for years to bring passenger rail back to this area. They had planned to build a station near the Christiansburg Mall, but that proved too costly. A tunnel needed to be upgraded. Plus, it would have taken the train away from Norfolk Southern’s main line.

“You can’t get to Bristol, you can’t get to Tennessee without being on Norfolk Southern’s main line,” Hincker said.

“And that was one of the problems, even though the New River Valley mall location was ideal, absolutely ideal for the New River Valley, it would have been problematic because you would have literally have had to come back to this location in order to get to Southwest Virginia,” Hincker said.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has expressed an interest in partnering with Tennessee’s Department of Transportation to possibly expand passenger rail from the New River Valley through Bristol to Tennessee, but those plans would be decades away, and it would require federal and state investments.

Cambria was an independent town until it was absorbed into Christiansburg in 1964. In the early 1900s, the Cambria depot was a stop on a route that ran from Birmingham, Alabama to New York City. Later, it was a stop for an Amtrak train called the Hilltopper, which went from Boston to eastern Kentucky. Amtrak discontinued the Hilltopper in 1979, which meant towns in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee were cut off from passenger rail service.

Two stations are still standing at the location, one that was built in 1869 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A second station was built in 1904. In an email to RadioIQ, a spokesperson with the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority said “as of right now, there are no plans to tear down either of those buildings.”

Norfolk Southern and the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority are negotiating what it would cost to bring Amtrak to the Cambria station, and they’re exploring design options for a platform and a possible station. They hope to have a plan ready for consideration by early August.

If the deal goes through, riders could begin boarding from Christiansburg before 2028.

 

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