New daily service to Richmond and Lynchburg is first step towards integrated state rail network
This week, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) announced that the state would pay for two new daily trains from Washington, D.C., one to Richmond, the state capital, and the other to Lynchburg, via Charlottesville. The latter route already has once-daily service on the Amtrak Crescent (with part of the route – to Charlottesville – covered by the daily Cardinal as well), and the former has seven daily trains on the Amtrak Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Carolinian, Silver Star, and Silver Meteor. The agreement was signed with Norfolk-Southern, a freight rail company that owns the track between Washington and Lynchburg, and which will invest some of its own money in renovating the tracks for increased passenger and freight services. Though the additional service doesn’t amount for a huge improvement, especially along the Richmond line, the state’s willingness to invest almost $20 million in the trains augurs well for future passenger services in Virginia.
What’s most important about the money being spent on the trains is that it demonstrates that the state considers rail a viable travel alternative to other modes of transport. The increase on the Washington-Richmond segment to eight roundtrips a day suggests that future electrification of the corridor is a viable option (it has been suggested by Amtrak’s president in recent weeks as a high priority), as would be increased services to the southeast section of the state, which has a high population but only sees two roundtrips a day.
If state investment ramps up, three major Virginia projects (shown on the map above) are likely to see funding in the next few years: the TransDominion Express connection from Richmond to Lynchburg, and then south to Roanoke and Bristol at the state border; new service to Norfolk and southeast Virginia; and the Southeast High-Speed Rail project (tin-hsr). All three of these projects rely on upgrades to existing tracks, rather than construction in new rights-of-way – as a result, improved train service would be relatively simple and cheap to obtain on all three corridors. As of now, though, those projects remain in the conceptual stage, waiting for funds to be found.