Roanoke, Virginia – Amtrak, the national passenger rail service, has been operating in Virginia since 1971, providing intercity and regional transportation to millions of travelers. In recent years, Amtrak in Virginia has seen a remarkable growth in ridership and revenue, thanks to the state’s investment and partnership with the rail company.
According to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA), a state agency created in 2020 to oversee and expand passenger rail service in the Commonwealth, ridership on state-supported Amtrak routes hit an all-time high in July 2022, with more than 110,000 passengers traveling. This is an increase of 28.9 percent over June of 2022 and an increase of 19.8 percent over pre-pandemic ridership in July of 2019.
The state-supported Amtrak routes include the Northeast Regional services that connect Virginia cities such as Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond, Lynchburg, and Roanoke with Washington, D.C. and the Northeast Corridor, as well as the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail service that operates in Northern Virginia. The state also funds the Amtrak Auto Train, which transports passengers and their vehicles between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida.
The success of Amtrak in Virginia is largely attributed to the state’s proactive and visionary approach to improving and expanding passenger rail service. Since 2009, the state has invested more than $1.5 billion in rail infrastructure, equipment, and operations, resulting in increased frequency, reliability, and speed of trains, as well as enhanced safety, accessibility, and customer service.
Virginia leaders’ efforts and investments during the years are finally paying off because the state is now again reporting record number of Virginians using Amtrak services. The state has been making significant improvements to its transportation infrastructure by expanding the four state-supported routes that connect major cities such as Roanoke, Richmond, Norfolk, and Newport News to Washington DC and other points in the North. This has involved adding new trains to increase capacity, as well as renovating stations along the routes. These efforts aim to improve the overall transportation experience and make it more accessible and convenient for commuters and travelers alike.
The Virginia Passenger Rail authority has recently released a report comparing ridership data from January 2023 to data from January of the previous two years, including 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of Amtrak’s services. The report shows significant growth in ridership on all four state-supported routes, with a more than doubling of ridership compared to last year. This reflects a strong and growing demand for reliable and efficient transportation options in Virginia, and is a positive indication of the state’s efforts to improve its transportation infrastructure.
Despite a significant increase in ridership compared to last year, the pre-pandemic levels are still being recovered. To aid in the recovery of the services, former Governor Ralph Northam invested $3.7 billion. Additionally, the Virginia Passenger Rail authority’s latest report showed that in 2022, Virginia recorded its highest annual ridership with 1,021,452 trips. Although the Roanoke route serves only the Shenandoah Valley, the Newport News and Norfolk routes connect to Richmond’s Staples Mill Station, while the Newport News route also stops at the historic Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom.