Train Kaine? Guv to get 21-ton salute
Four-dollar gas may stick around a while, but thanks to the persistence of Meredith Richards and others, Charlottesville travelers may get soon a cleaner, greener option. Now, 21 communities along the Route 29 rail corridor have endorsed a resolution calling for governor Tim Kaine to allocate some money to make Virginia the 15th state to partner with Amtrak on intercity routes– including one through Charlotesville twice daily.
The Piedmont Rail Coalition announced Monday, July 7, at a multi-city series of simultaneous press conferences, that it has rounded up 21 municipal resolutions. The move follows a report released in January by Amtrak that it's interested in launching a new daily rail service between New York and Lynchburg (via Charlottesville) "as soon as possible."
The report stunned even Richards, who had been hoping merely to win daily service to Washington, D.C. But Amtrak figures going all the way to New York optimizes it revenues and equipment. Still, someone will have to pay the $1.9 million a year that fares won't cover, and that's why the state–- which now has a $23 million dedicated rail fund–- is getting a longing glance.
On May 7, Albemarle Supervisors did their part, unanimously passing a resolution– with interesting factoids packed in among the "Whereas..." statements.
Did you know, for instance, that 50 years ago, when the combined Charlemarle population was under 60,000 and UVA enrolled just 5,000, 22 passenger trains stopped here each day? Today, by contrast, despite metro and UVA populations about triple those figures, the community gets a single daily round-trip train between New Orleans and New York plus six more weekly visits from a Chicago-to-New York train that's on time an anemic 18 percent of the time.
At the July 7 Charlottesville press conference, late-arriving Manassas resident and secretary of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons Dick Peacock helped demonstrate the second-fiddle status of passenger railroading.
"I couldn't find a single Amtrak sign on any public street in Charlottesville," he said.
But one thing the state is finding is that this so-called Piedmont corridor cares.
"It looks like the Piedmont area has had more comments than the Tidewater area," said spokesperson Courtney Ware of the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
State spokesperson Ware says the state rail plan will be issued next week. Early glimpses will be available at five public meetings across the state, the closest July 16 at VDOT's Broad Street headquarters in Richmond at 5:30pm. Another one is 6pm on July 23 at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave.
Public comment could be helpful, as the Piedmont, hoping to be the site of the first Virginia partner with Amtrak, is currently competing with Newport News for scarce railroad cars.
"The last I heard was that most [Tidewater leaders] weren't even aware that there was a proposal," says Richards. "Maybe they don't need it as much as we do."
In a room filled with dignitaries heaping praise on Richards including the Charlottesville mayor and an Albemarle supervisor, Charlottesville City Councilor Holly Edwards heaped the most.
"I admire your persistence on this issue," Edwards told Richards, "and I still say when I grow up I want to be like you."
–story updated 1:30pm, July 8