Virginia Passenger Rail Authority holding public information meeting Jan. 29
Costs for a proposed Amtrak line through the New River Valley have now skyrocketed to over $360 million.
Officials with the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority say most of the cost is associated with work on a train tunnel in the Merrimac area of Montgomery County. The work could push Amtrak’s arrival to 2028.
But this week, Karina Romero, communications manager for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, said the state still hopes to bring Amtrak service to the NRV. The key, according to Romero, is building the infrastructure.
Because of the preliminary work, the overall cost could even double the $360 million. It’s expected 40,000 people would use the service every year.
In 2021, then-Governor Ralph Northam announced that the Commonwealth had reached an agreement with Norfolk Southern to extend passenger rail service along the former Virginian Line from Roanoke to the New River Valley (NRV) for the first time since 1979. The Governor’s announcement marked the beginning of negotiations with Norfolk Southern for Virginia to purchase 28 miles of right-of-way and tracks along the Virginian Line from the Salem Crossovers west of Roanoke to Merrimac (Christiansburg).
A year later, an agreement was reached with Norfolk Southern Railroad to purchase 28 miles of track from Salem to Christiansburg. Improvements to that line would include minor bridge repairs, rockslide fences, at-grade crossings and the expansion of the tunnel.
All of this would facilitate speeds of 40 mph through the Roanoke yard to the Salem Crossovers and then to Christiansburg.
The New River Valley Passenger Rail Project will bring passenger rail service to the region for the first time since 1979.
Last month, $2 million in federal funding was approved to study improvements and the extension of Amtrak deeper into southwest Virginia, possibly to Bristol. An estimated $500,000 of the overall funding is slated for the Bristol plan.
A 2022 report said the Commonwealth planned to double Amtrak service over the next 20 years. Initially the NRV project had been slated for construction in 2024 and be completed by 2026 with plans for a passenger station near the NRV Mall.
As part of the that project, a passenger train would have to travel through the tunnel and join a current rail line near the Corning plant along N. Franklin Street.
The New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority met in mid-December and elected officers. Christiansburg Mayor Mike Barber was elected chair, Vice-Chair Angie Hill from Montgomery County, Secretary Lynsay Belshe from Virginia Tech, and Treasurer Dirk Compton from Pulaski County.
The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority is holding a public information meeting Jan. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Blacksburg Recreation Center.