ROANOKE, VA. – Cheering crowds gathered in Roanoke on Oct. 30, 2017, to greet the arrival of the inaugural Northeast Regional as it pulled into downtown. Aboard the special train, which departed from Lynchburg, were representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia, Amtrak and the city of Roanoke. Speakers at events in Lynchburg and Roanoke included Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Aubrey Layne, secretary of transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Roanoke Mayor Sherman P. Lea, Sr., Lynchburg Mayor Joan F. Foster and Jennifer Mitchell, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Roanoke, the public was invited to tour the train.
“This is a momentous occasion for the Commonwealth of Virginia as we celebrate an expansion years in the making,” said Secretary Layne. “We celebrate the hard work and dedication it took to see this project through from start to finish, and we celebrate Virginia’s commitment to improve the mobility of people and goods throughout the state.”
Regularly-scheduled service, consisting of one daily roundtrip between Roanoke and Boston, began the next day. The new Roanoke station, which has a high-level, accessible platform with a broad canopy, is within easy walking distance of popular attractions including the Virginia Museum of Transportation, Taubman Museum of Art and the City Market area.
“The extension to Roanoke marks a milestone in the growth of Amtrak and passenger rail in Virginia. Rail service is a vital alternative in Virginia’s overall transportation solution. We look forward to continuing our partnership with DRPT and other cities to further expand rail service in the Commonwealth.” – Amtrak co-CEO Wick Moorman.
Amtrak last served southwest Virginia’s largest city with the Hilltopper (Catlettsburg, Ky.-Washington-Boston), which was discontinued in 1979 as part of a larger Congressional mandate to streamline the Amtrak national system.
Amtrak, DRPT and the city partnered to bring intercity passenger rail service back to Roanoke. It represents the fourth major expansion of Amtrak service in Virginia in the last decade. This continued progress has in part been achieved through more than $100 million in strategic investments made by Virginia in Norfolk Southern rail infrastructure. Virginia, as one of Amtrak’s 18 state partners, helps fund Northeast Regional service within its borders.
In 2009, a roundtrip Northeast Regional train was extended south from Washington to Lynchburg and five intermediate communities. Within its first year, the new Lynchburg service accommodated more than 126,000 trips – a 147 percent increase over the initial estimate of 51,000. Building on this early success, DRPT added a Northeast Regional frequency between Washington and Richmond in 2010. Two years later, rail service was also restored to Norfolk for the first time since 1977, complementing existing service to Newport News on the north side of the Hampton Roads area.
The return of passenger rail builds on Roanoke’s heritage as a major railroad hub. For a century, the city was headquarters of the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W). It played a significant role in developing the coal fields of southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia and also operated passenger trains. Roanoke is today noted for its reenergized downtown, home to a variety of museums, restaurants, businesses and housing.
Amtrak operates over 20 daily state-supported and long-distance trains in Virginia. In fiscal year 2016, more than 1.5 million trips began or ended at one of the state’s then-20 stations.