Fans of rail travel in Virginia are heaving a sigh of relief, now that the state has come up with the cash for trains running from Lynchburg, Richmond and Norfolk to Washington, New York and Boston. Lawmakers approved nearly $55 million to support regional service.
It may sound like a lot for intercity train service in Virginia, but advocates of rail travel say that’s what it costs to build a few miles of road. They point out that travel by train is environmentally friendly and helps relieve traffic congestion.
In addition to supporting current services, the latest funding will allow service between Norfolk and Richmond – then on to Washington — beginning at the end of this year. Critics say the state has yet to identify an on-going source of revenue to pay for rail service. Possible sources include a new tax on rental cars, higher license plate fees, automobile sales tax and fees charged to truckers, based on the weight of their vehicles.
Amtrak ridership in Virginia exceeded 1.3 million trips for the first time last year, and Virginia had the best performing state supported route in Amtrak’s system. On a few days, more than 20,000 people rode the rails, and the state added a connector bus between Lynchburg’s train station and downtown Roanoke with demand far exceeding expectation.