Passenger Rail in the Commonwealth

Meredith RichardsMeredith Richards spoke at our Wednesday June 8, 2016 meeting about rail service in Virginia and the Northeast Corridor. The program was moderated by SSV board member Rich DeMong.

Across the nation, people are demanding more passenger rail service. Virginia is a national leader in funding rail infrastructure and Amtrak services. Six state-supported Amtrak trains connect Virginia to the Northeast Corridor. These are among the most profitable routes in the nation.

Charlottesville is one of Virginia’s strongest passenger rail markets in terms of ridership. It has direct, daily trains north to Washington, New York and Boston and south to Charlotte, Atlanta and New Orleans, with east-west service to Chicago three days a week. Future expansions of Charlottesville Amtrak service will require major upgrades to the Charlottesville station.

Passenger rail service is improving, but freight rail is a different story. The unprecedented recent decline in demand for coal is having a dramatic effect upon America’s Class I Railroads, which are responding with a policy of retrenchment. This raises questions about the future of rail in Virginia and creates significant public policy challenges for the Commonwealth. Listen to the presentation and the discussion after in the podcast.

Meredith Richards is a former Charlottesville City Councilor (1996-2004) and vice mayor who has specialized in transportation public policy during her public career. She served three terms as president of Virginians for High Speed Rail and currently serves as its co-chair. Meredith is also president of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute. She formerly served as a member of Governor Mark Warner’s Commission on Rail Enhancement for the 21st Century and was president of the Virginia Transit Association from 1998-2000. While in elective office, Meredith served on regional and statewide boards, including the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, Virginia First Cities Coalition and the Virginia Municipal League.

Meredith founded and is chairman of CvilleRail, a nonprofit that promotes enhanced passenger rail for Central Virginia, and she established the Piedmont Rail Coalition, a consortium of local governments, economic development authorities, organizations, businesses and citizens throughout Virginia’s US 29 corridor who work together to bring more frequent and accessible passenger rail to the region.

Meredith holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Illinois and is a former faculty member of the University of Virginia and the University of Louisville.

Program Summary

Virginia has funded six passenger trains including the Amtrak Northeast Regional that goes between Lynchburg and DC with a daily stop in Charlottesville. The other state-funded passenger trains are the two Richmond-DC Amtrak trains, the two Newport-DC Amtrak trains, and the one Norfolk-DC Amtrak train. These trains are some of the most profitable of all of the Amtrak state-supported and short regional trains. The Newport-DC is the most profitable Amtrak short-route and the Lynchburg-DC regional is the second most profitable.

In addition to the Lynchburg regional train, Charlottesville also is served by Amtrak’s Crescent (New Orleans to New York City) and the Cardinal (Chicago to New York City). Over 134,000 passengers last year (and over 788,000 passengers since 2009) board, or depart, their train at Charlottesville’s depot on West Main Street every year. More passengers get on or off the Northeastern Regional in Charlottesville than in any other city between Lynchburg and Boston. There are plans to expand passenger rail from Charlottesville.

In contrast to the growth of passenger rail travel since 1997, freight rail has been declining over the last several years and has dropped precipitately in 2016. Much of the decrease is a result of the declining shipments of coal and petroleum. Even so, approximately 19 percent of freight goes on the rail network.

Trains take traffic off of our roadways. For more information please visit the Virginia Rail Policy Institute website (www.varpi.org).

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