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New Lynchburg-Washington Amtrak Passenger Rail Service

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, winter 2011

By Bill Forster, VARP board member

Video promotes Amtrak travel to Roanoke
The video Take a Roanoke, Virginia, USA, Train Vacation Today! HD! is by VARP member Dan Peacock

Railroad history was made on October 1, 2009, as Amtrak inaugurated a new train service seven days a week from Lynchburg, VA, to Washington, DC, with single-seat service to New York and Boston under the umbrella of its Northeast Regional service.

This new direct round-trip service marked the 15th partnership between Amtrak and a state government. The Lynchburg-Washington train is a major paradigm shift for the Commonwealth of Virginia, since it is the first time the state has funded intercity passenger rail service. This train, operating as it does on the U.S. 29 corridor in central Virginia, marks the first new passenger train service in Virginia in half a century.

Originating in Lynchburg Monday-Friday at 7:38 a.m., the new train makes scheduled stops at Charlottesville, Culpeper, Manassas, Burke Centre, and Alexandria, arriving at Washington at 11:20 a.m. Continuing northbound, it arrives at New York’s Penn Station at 3:30 p.m. and arrives at Boston’s South Station at 7:53 p.m.. Southbound service departs Boston at 8:15 a.m. and departs New York City at 12:50 p.m. The train arrives in Washington at 4:50 p.m. and terminates at Lynchburg at 8:36 p.m. Weekend service is provided at different times at least as far as New York City.

The web site, marketing “Amtrak Virginia,” provides fare information for the new train. Reduced-rate tickets (25% off) are in effect.

One day before the startup of the new service, Amtrak ran a whistle-stop VIP train from Washington to Lynchburg. On board were Amtrak President and CEO, Joseph Boardman; Norfolk Southern Chairman and President, Wick Moorman (NS was the host carrier for the new train); and state and local officials. At stations along the route, the train stopped briefly for the excited crowds, bands, and local dignitaries to greet the train. At Culpeper, it was observed that one must go all the way back to the time of the Civil War to witness such a welcome as was given to a train arrival at that town. At Charlottesville, Virginia’s Governor Timothy Kaine met the train and noted that the new train is good for both the environment and for business.

The Lynchburg-Washington service is one of two new Amtrak trains in Virginia adding direct service to the Northeast Corridor. The second one, a morning train originating in Richmond, began revenue service in mid-July 2010. The Commonwealth of Virginia budgeted $17.2 million in support for the two new passenger trains. This is a three-year pilot project that will continue only if the service meets ridership and revenue goals.

VARP members, spearheaded by the Peacock brothers, have undertaken stalwart advocacy efforts to promote the Lynchburg train by distributing information fliers and promoting the new service. To better serve en route communities, Amtrak added a station stop at Fairfax County’s Burke Centre Virginia Railway Express station. The northbound train stops there at 10:36 a.m. on weekdays and at 12:56 p.m. on weekends. On weekdays, the southbound train stops at 5:30 p.m., on Saturdays it stops at 4:34 p.m., and on Sundays it stops at 5:24 p.m.

To date, the new Lynchburg service is exceeding expectations. Ridership is on a positive trend to exceed the annual ridership goal of 51,000 passengers, and revenues are also ahead of the planned annual target of $2.6 million. It was only due to the many efforts of advocacy groups, elected officials, and individuals with a vision that the new Virginia trains are finally a reality.