Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Passenger train’s chances improve, Newman says

By Ray Reed

Published: February 3, 2009

RICHMOND — Lynchburg’s chances of getting a new daily passenger train to Washington looked better Tuesday than they did last week, according to Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg.

Newman said he had talked to other senators, including Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, about a move Wampler made recently that could block the train’s start until the state funds a train all the way to Bristol.

“I think we have had very good movement getting back on track, and I’m hopeful that we will be able to maintain the TransDominion Express on the Senate side” of the state budget-making process, Newman said.

The TransDominion Express is a long-studied concept for passenger rail service from Bristol to Rich-mond and Washington, but state rail officials say only part of it can be funded now.

About $17 million is available for a two-year pilot project to operate a new daily train from Lynchburg to Washington and another train from Richmond to Washington, starting next fall.

“I’m making sure we work with Senator Wampler and other legislators to get there,” Newman said.

Wampler also deserves credit for contributions he’s made in the past to get the TransDominion Express included in the statewide rail plan, Newman said.

“Senator Wampler is the great-grandfather of our TransDominion Express project,” Newman said.

“He has brought us from nothing to where we are today,” making sure $10 million in state funds were provided several years ago for planning the route.

“He kept the project alive” when people from Richmond and Tidewater tried to kill it in favor of “their own train,” Newman said.

Wampler’s budget amendment would block state funds for “construction of any segment of the Trans-Dominion Express” until “funding for all sections of the corridor from Bristol to Washington, D.C./Richmond is included within the Statewide Rail Plan.”

Del. Shannon Valentine, D-Lynchburg, said Tuesday that efforts were under way on several fronts to get plans for the TransDominion Express in shape for meetings of the Commonwealth Transportation Board Thursday and Feb. 19. That policy-making board would make the final decision on starting the train.

“There are many conversations taking place within the governor’s office,” the General Assembly and state transportation agencies, Valentine said.

The Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and other citizen groups have participated, Valentine said, and while Wampler’s budget amendment is one issue, other details are being worked on with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Corp., which owns the tracks.

“The work to bring forward these two rail projects (Lynchburg to Washington and Richmond to Wash-ington) has been a true, cooperative effort on every level,” Valentine said.

Newman said he could understand Wampler’s concern about Bristol not being included in the initial funding for the passenger train.

“I’m going to be as committed as I can be to the Bristol portion if we get our part done,” Newman said.

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