Bristolians hear good and bad news regarding passenger rail


Consultant Rich Sampson speaks in Bristol, Va.

The good news is: there is a financial justification for extending Amtrak passenger service from Roanoke to Bristol. The bad news is: the railway that owns the tracks will have to be heavily incentivized to come to the table. That was the word from Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) Communications Director Richard Sampson and his team at a public information session Nov. 12.

The CTAA report, the ninth study of passenger rail service to or through Bristol in the last 20 years, pointed to the unreliability of Interstate 81 as a safe and timely travel corridor, the potential for positive economic development outcomes for Bristol and the fact that passenger service could almost break even as a business model as positives.

Some of the positives that had been anticipated, however, did not meet expectations. CTAA said only 62 total vehicles would be removed from I-81 on a daily basis if passenger rail service went into operation in Bristol. The better prospect for reducing auto traffic on I-81 would occur if the service were to continue into Tennessee, the report said, and that is not likely to happen soon.

The greatest negative is that the company that owns the rails on which the Amtrak trains would roll, Norfolk Southern, recently pulled out of a study of passenger rail opportunities in the New River Valley and points south.

Sampson told the crowd of around 50 who gathered at the Bristol Hotel to continue to express their desires for passenger rail service to their elected officials, but that realistically, passenger rail to Bristol remains at least five years away.

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