Late last month Congress passed FY2023 Government Funding Legislation with nearly $200 million to Virginia in Congressionally-Directed Spending to fund local community projects. Among the transportation projects to receive funding are two sponsored by the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA). These projects -- the New River Valley Passenger Service Extension and the Newport News Transportation Center -- received $3.2 million, combined, in dedicated federal funding.
These state-supported rail projects will positively impact Amtrak Virginia’s rail service which continues to set records. Ridership in November 2022 topped 112,800 passengers, a 37.7% increase over (pre-pandemic) 2019, and the highest November ridership since Virginia launched its state-supported service in 2009.
“The support rail received in this legislation shows bipartisan support for including rail as a part of our transportation network,” said DJ Stadtler, Executive Director of VPRA. “Here in the Commonwealth, we are working to not only provide high-quality passenger rail service and facilities to communities we currently serve, such as Newport News but to expand service to communities that currently do not have rail service like the New River Valley. With ridership continuing to grow there is a definite need for more rail options.”
The New River Valley Passenger Extension received $2 million to support the extension of passenger rail from Roanoke through the New River Valley to Christiansburg for the first time since 1979. The project began with the Western Rail Initiative Agreement between VPRA and Norfolk Southern through which the Commonwealth purchased 28 miles of right-of-way and tracks along the V Line from Salem Crossovers west of Roanoke to Merrimac (Christiansburg). VPRA plans to improve the existing rail infrastructure including track and signal upgrades, which will allow for passenger rail service to the New River Valley as soon as 2026. It is estimated that the new service will draw 77,300 to 87,100 passengers per year to the future New River Valley station stop.
In addition, the Newport News Transportation Center received $1.2 million from the legislation. This initiative is a new, $47 million multi-modal facility that will serve Amtrak – including two state-supported roundtrips daily, with a third roundtrip coming in 2026 per agreements between VPRA, CSX, and Amtrak – as well as taxis, expanded bus service, and shuttles to and from the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport. It will offer modern amenities, and more parking, and will be energy efficient as well as compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Construction on the center began in July 2020, and it is expected to welcome its first travelers in late 2023. The center represents a partnership between the City of Newport News, VPRA, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).