Commonwealth leaders push for passenger rail service to enrich the New River Valley
Radford University hosted more than 70 municipal leaders and community organizations representing the citizens of the New River Valley for the New River Rail 2020 Legislative Reception on Sept. 20 in Kyle Hall.
The strategic efforts to bring passenger rail service to the New River Valley, home to more than 180,000 residents and 40,000 college students, were discussed and reviewed during the reception. Also during the reception, it was mentioned that Roanoke is receiving passenger rail service via Amtrak, available from Oct. 31, 2017 and leaders said that the new line boosts the prospect of having a station in the New River Valley.
To date, a sound market demand analysis has been conducted by the Regional Commission, a train station site analysis conducted by the Metropolitan Planning Organization that resulted in three finalists and $350,000 allocated for an operational analysis by the Department of Rail and Public Transit.
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 Sen. John Edwards (21st District) and Dels. Nick Rush (7th District) and Joseph Yost (12th District), and Radford University Board of Visitors and Radford University Foundation member Georgia Ann Snyder-Falkinham, who is also president of the Real Estate Management, LLC board.
“The Radford University family will benefit from the success of this project,” President Hemphill said. “Radford’s many Northern Virginia students – and fellow students from Virginia Tech – will have a new, safe and comfortable way to travel to and from their campuses. Almost a third of the students from Radford University and our alumni hail from Northern Virginia. Radford and Virginia Tech parents can rest a little bit easier as we begin toward bringing this project to life. The convenient style of travel will encourage visitors of all kinds. The Highlander Family, as well as Hokie Nation, will have another compelling reason to visit our campuses for the rich selection of athletics, academics and cultural events. Through the NRV2020 initiative, we model the values of service and teamwork as a part of this mutually beneficial, bipartisan and grassroots regional effort."
Edwards said that there is a market for a passenger train in the New River Valley.
“There are many students in the western part of Virginia and a huge portion of them live in the northern part of Virginia and also in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York,” he said. “If we can get a train here in the New River Valley it will be worthwhile.”
Radford University senior Brittney Stowe, of Sterling, thinks the convenience and safety of the train would lead students like her to use it.
“For me, I live in Northern Virginia and driving back home and to school is four hours. If I could ride the train, it would be easier, safer and hassle-free,” Stowe said. “I could just get on the train and go home or go to school.”
Radford senior Brock Barnes, of Verona, said that having a passenger train connected to the nation’s capital would increase enrollment and diversity at the university.
“I think that the connection to Washington, D.C. could also pull international students,” said Barnes. “The best way to do that is a direct route.”
Having passenger rail in the New River Valley would also increase the ease-of-access to educational and professional development opportunities for students in the region’s higher education system.
“Having the New River Valley to be serviced by the passenger rail would be advantageous for our faculty and our students by helping send our students up to Northern Virginia so they can have experiences in the Washington, D.C. metro area by shadowing our alumni, gaining internships and more educational opportunities,” said College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences Dean Katherine Hawkins. “It will help with recruiting students from that area, as they will easily be able to visit our campus and interact with our students. It closes that distance for us.”
New River Community College students Tylisha Butler, William McClellan and Joshua Burnette attended the NRV2020 meeting and appreciated the perspective offered by the first-hand experience.
McClellan said that the effort “wasn’t something that happens overnight.”
“It takes time, effort and money,” he said.
“They are taking each step needed to make this a reality,” Butler added.
Burnette appreciates that the local population has been factored into the idea. “I like when they talk about how it will impact the people locally and not just visitors,” he said.
New River Community College President Pat Huber welcomes the opportunity to serve New River students, as well as new students from the northern portion of the Commonwealth.
At the end of the legislative reception, Griffith, Edwards, Rush and Yost joined a panel for discussion about the venture.
“I like that the train will connect the New River Valley to the northeast,” Rush said. “It’s so psychological for us to attract investment, jobs and diversifying our economy. This train is that important. This allows us to be connected to the northeast. We’ll be able to help our companies grow.”
Yost agreed with Rush on the importance of connecting the region to Washington, D.C, but also stressed that it will connect the region to the west coast.
“President Hemphill is right,” Yost said. “This is one of the fastest growing regions in Virginia. We have such a significant opportunity to get this done.”
Griffith commented on what will be able to push the project forward in development.
“I think you have all done great work,” he said. “You’re doing it right. The northern traffic is what is going to drive the [ridership] numbers.”
The ridership numbers will aid local businesses, such as those in the City of Radford.
“It will economically impact our communities and we’ll see some business growth around that, especially in the service industry,” said David Ridpath, city manager for the City of Radford. “We have good road access to the proposed location. It’s a perfect and easy way to get to from the City of Radford, Radford University, Virginia Tech and New River Community College and it will increase access to the New River Valley.”
The state representatives all complimented the work conducted by the New River Rail 2020 group.
“It’s been an honor and a pleasure working with all of you in this room to push this forward,” Yost said. “I look forward to boarding the train in the New River Valley.”
“The folks that are leading this endeavor have been you,” Rush added.