After a nearly 40 year hiatus, passenger rail service returns to Roanoke Tuesday morning.
Rail fans cheered as a special Amtrak train rolled up to the new station in downtown Roanoke Monday. While this train carried only VIPs, more than 240 tickets were sold for the first passenger run Tuesday morning, according to Amtrak Vice President Joe McHugh. "Now I realize it’s the inaugural so there's some elan with that, but that gives you some idea of the passenger boardings we’re going to have," McHugh told reporters.
Many of those Tuesday morning tickets were sold to rail fans like Charles Howell of Salem. "We’ve been anticipating this return of Amtrak for years," Howell said, "so we wanted to get the first tickets out." David Kingsley will go to Lynchburg for the day, and echoed Howell's anticipation. "I’ve been waiting since I moved to Roanoke in July of 1995 for passenger service to come back."
Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte already had his ticket. "I’ll be on the first train going out tomorrow morning to take it to Washington and I’m very excited about it," Goodlatte said.
Ticket sales will be important, with potential budget cuts to Amtrak looming in Congress. "Amtrak has a lot of work to prove itself," Goodlatte told reporters. "But the great thing is that this line has proven itself. The line from Lynchburg to Washington is one of the more profitable lines."
Amtrak VP McHugh hopes the excitement in Roanoke and the rail system’s improving bottom line send a message. "I think it’s shown Congress that there is a future for rail service in this country."
Weekday Northeast Regional service to Washington, DC and beyond leaves at 6:19 and returns at 9:55 p.m. Weekend trains leave at 8:40 a.m.