NRV Leaders look to passenger rail service to enhance New River Valley quality of life
To present a united appeal, more than 70 leaders of municipalities and community organizations representing the citizens of the New River Valley convened for the New River Rail 2020 Legislative Reception Aug. 16 in Radford University’s Kyle Hall.
The leaders reviewed the organization’s initiatives to bring passenger train service to the New River Valley, home of 180,000 residents and 40,000 college students.
A $350,000 Rail Traffic Control and Modeling study has been approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) for Fiscal Year 2019 and the group urged the CTB to fast track the critical next step. Passenger rail service is slated to begin in Roanoke in 2017.
Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill welcomed the representatives of the bi-partisan, multi-jurisdictional group that included U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (VA-9). Virginia State Senator John Edwards (21st District), Delegates Nick Rush (7th District) and Joseph Yost (12th District) and Court Rosen of the CTB were featured in a panel discussion about the impact of bringing Amtrak passenger service to Christiansburg to diversify the New River Valley transportation network.
“It is this very spirit of cooperation that makes our communities desirable places to live and do business,” Hemphill said. “Like our colleagues, we see passenger rail as a safe and affordable transportation option that will connect the economies of the Mid-Atlantic corridor with the research and scholarship we at Radford and Virginia Tech are undertaking to lead the knowledge economy.”
NRV Rail 2020 is a collaboration of senior officials from the counties of Montgomery and Pulaski; towns of Christiansburg, Blacksburg and Pulaski; City of Radford; Radford University and Virginia Tech; Virginia Tech Foundation; New River Valley Economic Development Alliance; The Blacksburg Partnership; Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce; the New River Valley Regional Commission and the New River Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, with support from the offices of Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner; Representatives Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith; State Senators Bill Carrico, Ben Chafin and John Edwards; and Delegates Terry Austin, Chris Head, Will Morefield, Todd Pillion, Sam Rasoul, Nick Rush and Joseph Yost.
“Long-term and from a national perspective, this makes sense,” Griffith said. “It benefits all sections of Southwest Virginia, all of Virginia and the region with additional economic development. It will be a positive step forward.”
Jeremy Latimer of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation joined the panel for a discussion about passenger rail service’s potential and the process to bring it to a proposed Christiansburg station. David Bailey, host of This Week in Richmond, a weekly TV series about Virginia politics and issues, hosted the legislative panel.
“If you look at history, good transportation systems have made prosperity possible,” said Edwards, who recounted the ridership success of Amtrak passenger rail service to Lynchburg.
Edwards cited an annual ridership of over 100,000 as compared to the preliminary survey that predicted 50,000 riders. The NRV Rail 2020 ridership survey, recently completed by the New River Valley Regional Commission, projects an annual ridership of 40,000.
Christiansburg Mayor Mike Barber described the site selected for the Amtrak service – at the midpoint of the New River Valley – and lauded the collaborative process by which it was selected from 29 potential station sites.
Delegate Yost talked about the universal appeal the NRV Rail 2020 project has engendered.
“The Roanoke and New River valleys are one super region. We have so many connections that tie us together,” Yost said. “We can do this together at the local, state and federal levels. Passenger rail service is something that everybody is interested in.”
Delegate Rush summarized the impact of passenger rail service to the New River Valley.
“Any way we can efficiently seem closer to our national treasures and landmarks in the nation’s capital, to the nation’s financial center in New York and emerging economic centers like Boston’s biotech region will be a good opportunity for our citizens and business community,” Rush said.
Calling passenger rail service “one of the most important things we will be doing," Edwards added: "It will be a major step toward improving the quality of life and enhancing the lives of those who live here and the students and faculty at Radford and Virginia Tech."