A coalition of economic, environmental and transportation groups are calling for new passenger rail service in Virginia.
Most of Virginia’s current passenger rail service runs north-south and connects in Washington DC.
The proposal released Tuesday says east-west rail service, linking Hampton Roads, Richmond, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Roanoke, would better connect growing areas of Virginia’s population.
Danny Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, believes the new service would also reduce traffic on the highways and better serve tourists already in Virginia. "If somebody is visiting Virginia and they come down to the beach on a train today," Plaugher explains, "they have no opportunity to go out and see the trees and the leaves change or try out the breweries in western Virginia."
Plaugher also notes that a growing percentage of younger Americans are choosing not to drive or own a car. East-west passenger rail service would better connect the state's university populations, he says.
The groups are asking the state to conduct a feasibility study to determine the next steps. Such a study would have likely have to be funded by the General Assembly.
The report’s authors admit success won’t come easy due to a variety of track ownership and a limited supply of Amtrak equipment.
But Plaugher believes it can be operational in five years and he notes the success of regional routes in Virginia, like Amtrak service between Roanoke and Washington and Norfolk and Washington. "This type of incremental approach we’ve proved valuable here in Virginia already."
The proposal also has the support of the Chambers of Commerce in Roanoke and Hampton Roads as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center.
They’re hoping the General Assembly will fund a study of the proposed route when it meets this winter.