The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) and Norfolk Southern Corporation have announced the financial closing of the Western Rail Initiative Agreement that will expand passenger rail service from Washington, D.C., to Roanoke and the New River Valley.
The first step in the expansion is the addition of a second Commonwealth-supported round-trip train between Roanoke and Washington, D.C., which will launch on July 11, 2022.
This round trip further connects Virginia’s Blue Ridge with Northern Virginia and points along the Northeast Corridor including New York and Boston. The agreement includes the future extension of the Roanoke service to the New River Valley with the construction of a new station as well as track and signal improvements.
“The closing of the Western Rail Agreement is great news for Virginians as this is a big step forward in our mission to expand passenger rail to the New River Valley,” said DJ Stadtler, executive director of VPRA. “Communities along the Interstate 81 and Route 29 corridors will now have more passenger rail options when traveling to and from our nation’s capital and beyond, and the improvements will also increase our economic opportunities by enhancing freight rail service through the commonwealth. We thank our partners at Norfolk Southern for helping us make this a reality.
“Today’s closing marks the future of rail in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Norfolk Southern Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Mike McClellan. “Together, we have reached an agreement that expands access for passengers and preserves an important link in the supply chain for businesses that rely on freight rail to ship base materials and finished products.”
With this agreement the Commonwealth of Virginia will acquire approximately 28 miles of Norfolk Southern-owned “V-line” right-of-way including existing tracks from Christiansburg to the Salem Crossovers plus the passenger easement between Salem Crossovers and the Roanoke station platform. The Commonwealth’s plans also include rail infrastructure improvements between Manassas and the New River Valley for more frequent and reliable service.
The extension of passenger rail to Virginia’s Blue Ridge began in 2009 with service to Lynchburg, which saw ridership triple what it had been predicted to be in just its first year. In 2017 the service was extended to Roanoke, and ridership continued to grow with more than 220,000 passengers traveling in Fiscal Year 2019 (pre-pandemic).
In April and May of 2022 ridership on the Roanoke Route surpassed the record ridership of the same months in 2019.
The new Washington, D.C. to Roanoke round trip will make stops at Alexandria, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, and Lynchburg. The agreement also calls for a future station at Bedford. The new service is expected to add approximately 80,000 passengers in the first year once it is extended into the New River Valley.