New Plans for Virginia’s Passenger Rail Expansion

An overhead view of Richmond, VA Main Street station. The trainshed is in the foreground, the headhouse is in the background.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) has begun preliminary discussions with Northeast freight operator Norfolk Southern Railways (NS) about alternative ways to expand Virginia’s passenger rail service. Earlier this year, plans were drafted to extend the N-Line into the New River Valley region to Christiansburg, as well as the acquisition of the Manassas Line in Northern Virginia. While the original plan for the N-Line drafted at the start of 2024 called for an extension of the Merrimac Tunnel to a station near the New River Valley Mall, the estimated cost of $951 million and a longer construction time was something VPRA wanted to avoid. “This [ tunnel upgrade expenses] is not what any of us had in mind when we made the announcement back in 2021”, says DJ Stadtler of VPRA, adding that NS was willing to explore other options to get Christiansburg back on the mainline rail service. The VPRA also hopes that this extension would eventually bring service to Bristol.

Under the alternative plan discussed on June 4th, a new platform at NS’s Cambria Yard in Christiansburg would reintroduce passenger rail to a city that hasn’t seen service for almost 40 years. As part of the same plan, the commonwealth is exploring the idea of selling a 28-mile section of the Virginian Line back to NS, in exchange for purchasing the Manassas Line. The goal for this purchase is to expand VRE (Virginia Railway Express) rail service in the evenings and weekends, creating a more flexible option for journeys into Washington D.C.

Ever since its establishment in 2020, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority has been focusing on expanding passenger rail service in the commonwealth. In May 2021, VPRA reached an agreement with NS to extend trains from Roanoke to the New River Valley Region. And in 2022, a deal was reached on a second Amtrak train service of the Roanoke Route from Salem to Christiansburg. The discussions between local governments and rail authorities appear to signal a bright future for passenger rail for smaller communities.

Read More:

Virginia Moves Closer to Extending Passenger Rail to the New River Valley

Virginia’s Passenger Rail Expansion Plans (Video)

Virginia: New Projects in the Old Dominion

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