Representatives from the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) told New River Valley residents and business leaders Monday night that a future station would be located at one of two sites behind Uptown Mall, formerly known as NRV Mall. The sites were chosen from five finalists because of the “easy lay of the land” and their proximity to the current Virginia rail line.
During a virtual meeting, VPRA representatives said the process has been a long one and will continue to be as the earliest a station could open is the fall of 2026.
Each of the final two sites would require a realignment of the Huckleberry Trail to allow tracks to be expanded..
In 2019, the state of Virginia signed a rail initiative with CSX, Amtrak, and CRE railroads to separate freight and passenger service. This past year, the state purchased 28 miles of the Salem to Christiansburg Virginia Line from Norfolk Southern to expand passenger service to the New River Valley.
Rail officials say an estimated 80,000 new riders per year would be able to use the service once it was expanded from the New River Valley to Northern Virginia.
Initially, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority examined five sites: in Ellett, Merrimac, near the Christiansburg Aquatic Center, and the final two at Uptown Mall.
Certain parameters of need were used to eliminate all but the mall sites.
Location one is closer to the shopping mall near the current Regal Theater building and includes a pedestrian bridge that would allow people to move freely from both sides of the tracks.
Site #2 is closer to the Corning Plant, and access to the station would be via an expanded New River Road, south near a strip mall. It also would include a pedestrian bridge and would require the adjustment to the Huckleberry Trail. A new connector track would be added to join the Blacksburg Branch of the rail line, which would include sharing with Norfolk Southern freight traffic.
The next step for the rail authority is to meet with affected property owners and complete a secondary study on the impact of the station itself on the two locations.
Preliminary estimates show track improvements and construction of the station could tip the $50 million mark. State money has already been set aside for the expansion and land acquisition.
This past January, Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth had finalized the definitive agreement with Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) to expand passenger rail service to the New River Valley for the first time since 1979.
The Western Rail Initiative expands passenger rail service to the New River Valley and complements Governor Northam’s historic $3.7 billion Transforming Rail in Virginia program, the commonwealth’s road map for building a 21st-century rail network.
“Transforming Rail in Virginia is an investment not only in our rail system, but also in the residents and businesses along the corridor and in the New River Valley,” said the governor. “Together with our partners at Norfolk Southern, we are making essential improvements that modernize our transportation infrastructure and connect communities across the commonwealth. We look forward to continuing this important work to help move people and goods efficiently, reduce congestion and pollution, fuel tourism, and drive economic growth.”
The Western Rail Initiative will add a second state-supported round-trip train between Roanoke and Boston later this year, which will be extended to the New River Valley upon completion of a new station, track, and signal improvements. The agreement also allows for a third train to operate in the future between Roanoke and the New River Valley. The expanded intercity rail service, which will create significant economic benefits and provide additional multimodal options for travelers along the Interstate 81 and Route 29 corridor, is expected to add approximately 80,000 new passengers in the first year after service is extended to the New River Valley. Further, the agreement preserves the existing freight rail service provided on the lines, helping to move the goods and materials for the Commonwealth’s economy.
In an agreement with Norfolk Southern, the commonwealth is acquiring approximately 28 miles of the Norfolk Southern-owned “V line” right-of-way and existing tracks from Christiansburg to the Salem Crossovers and a passenger rail easement between the Salem Crossovers and the Amtrak Roanoke station platform. Norfolk Southern will continue to provide freight service on the line.
In addition, the commonwealth will invest in infrastructure improvements between Manassas and the Roanoke Yard to improve the reliability of passenger rail service over Norfolk Southern Railway-owned right-of-way.
On May 5, 2021, Governor Northam announced in Christiansburg that the Commonwealth reached an initial agreement with Norfolk Southern to expand passenger rail service from Northern Virginia to Southwest Virginia.
“This agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia is a great example of government and business partnership,” said James A. Squires, Chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern. “Together, we have created a path forward to increase passenger rail service and ensure that freight rail customers continue to move the goods that power our economy. Importantly, this will yield economic dividends from Northern to Southwest Virginia, both through the necessary infrastructure improvements and additional use of the rail lines.”
“The commonwealth’s historic investment in this region’s passenger rail network is a significant milestone in our commitment to elevating the economic competitiveness of Southwest Virginia,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, who led the legislative effort to launch the first state-supported passenger train anchored in Lynchburg.
Amtrak regional daily service in Southwest Virginia began in October 2009 with one round trip between Lynchburg and Washington, D.C. During the first year of operations, ridership outperformed forecasts by more than triple. In November 2017, the commonwealth expanded service to Roanoke, and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the route was one of the most profitable intercity passenger rail routes in the country.
Like the current state-supported Roanoke train, the second train, for which service is expected to commence in 2022, will serve Alexandria, Burke Centre, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Roanoke and will travel to and from Washington, D.C., and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Finally, the agreement acknowledges the potential for a future station in Bedford.
The commonwealth’s Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative is expected to grow Virginia’s economy by more than $2 billion annually.