BRISTOL, Va. — A final version of the city’s study of bringing passenger rail service to the Twin City has been completed.
Findings of the study were unveiled last December and show a forecast 4.5% positive return on investment if Amtrak and the state of Virginia extend intercity service from Roanoke to Bristol. The study was a joint project of the city, Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Appalachian Regional Commission.
Conducted by AECOM consulting group, the 102-page study offers ridership and revenue projections for the proposed service and shows operating revenues could potentially offset operating costs, depending on how the service is structured.
It forecasts 23,600 annual riders from a Bristol stop, 16,800 at Wytheville and 40,200 at Christiansburg. The current Roanoke stop has a baseline of 97,600 riders and is forecast to lose about 8,400 annually if the other stops are added. It also forecasts one train per day, leaving northbound at 9:15 a.m. and southbound at 6:15 p.m.
Additionally, the study forecasts between $30 million and $32.7 million in track improvements would be needed to accommodate passenger service.
Expanded service is expected to generate between 14 and 22 direct jobs and between 36 and 57 total jobs across Virginia, over a variety of industrial sectors and categories to support increased consumer demand.
However, the likelihood of any passenger rail expansion in Virginia has been dealt two significant blows. Last year, railroad track owner Norfolk Southern Railway announced it was withdrawing from a Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation study to focus on other elements of its business. The now-suspended DRPT study is required and would assess costs and benefits of extending passenger service to the New River Valley and ultimately to Bristol.
A previous Amtrak study regarding potential ridership and revenues was positive.
However, earlier this year, state transportation officials said no passenger rail expansion projects could occur anywhere in Virginia until it resolves capacity issues at the Long Bridge, the lone rail connection linking Virginia to Washington, D.C., and the northeastern corridor. A study of that project has been underway for four years, and officials estimate it could cost $2 billion.
“This most definitely is a long-term project, and the landscape of freight and passenger rail is ever-changing. It is important to remember that the need to stay positive and be ready to adapt to these situations is never greater,” said Bart Poe, the city’s community development director. “A continued and expanding advocacy for passenger rail is a must for the momentum of this project, and letting our elected officials and local representatives know that we expect their support of this endeavor will be the catalyst that one day brings Amtrak back to Bristol.”
The city continues to work on this project with Community Transportation Association of America, a national nonprofit working to assist in transportation projects, according to a written statement.
In addition, the city plans to introduce a public service video that includes information on the project and ways to get involved.