A legislative reception Thursday evening at Celtic Hall discussed the very real possibility of rail service to Montgomery County with possible stops at Christiansburg and Radford.
Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, was the keynote speaker for the evening. She talked about the successes the state has enjoyed in recent years in cobbling together a true multi-modal transportation system that includes everything from interstate highways, to 66 airports, to a seaport and a spaceport.
She declared that the key to rail service here is riders. “If we can develop the ridership here, we can sustain a train,” Valentine said. She noted that Amtrak now serves 77 percent of Virginia, “but that’s not enough,” she said. “ That’s why I’m here [in Christiansburg and the New River Valley.]”
The secretary spoke to an audience that included Christiansburg Mayor Michael Barber, New River Valley Rail Co-Chair Wally Nelson; Dwayne Pinkney, Virginia Tech’s senior vice president for operations and administration, Ninth District Congressman Morgan Griffith, seventh district Virginia delegate Nick Rush, and twelfth district Virginia delegate Chris Hurst.
Valentine told the crowd, “I want nothing more than for you to get passenger rail service anchored in this region.” She praised the collaborative effort that had laid the groundwork for passenger service. “You have done everything right,” she said.
“I encourage all of you to do everything you’re doing now,” Valentine said. “The key [to success] is the willingness to try, and we in Richmond are trying as hard as you are to get this done.”
U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith threw his solid support behind the project. “It is needed,” he declared. “My long-term vision is to get a train to Chattanooga that will then link the New River Valley to Atlanta.”
Mayor Barber delivered some news that illustrated just how committed the Town of Christiansburg is to this project. “It’s going to happen,” he said. “The Town has already starting purchasing land [for a station site]. We have a commitment of one acre at one site and are working on a second commitment for seven acres.”
NRV Rail 2020 is a regional partnership among business, municipal, legislative and university leaders working together to secure passenger service to the valley. The success of the passenger service to Roanoke has proven that an extension to the New River Valley is logical and efficient and can be profitable for Amtrak.
Virginia’s New River Alley is the fastest growing region in Western Virginia with more than 80,000 residents. Montgomery County is now the state’s second most populated county west of Richmond.
Virginia Tech and Radford University are important economic drivers in the NRV. The area is home to 40,000 college and university students, many of whom hail from Metro Washington, D.C., Maryland and other points north. Interestingly, marketing studies have revealed at least 100,000 visits per year to Radford and Virginia Tech for university-related events.
Ahead for the passenger rail project is continued cooperation with the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and Norfolk Southern to complete an operations study that will identify costs; the completion of a station ownership model recommendation; and the identification of a potential station location.
NRV 2020 is the name given to the drive to put impetus behind the rail connection. It is supported by, among others, the Blacksburg Partnership, Montgomery County, Pulaski County, the Town of Blacksburg, the Town of Christiansburg, the Town of Pulaski, the City of Radford, Radford University, Virginia Tech and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.