WJHL – March 16, 2023 | By Clarice Scheele
BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — Bringing railroad transportation back to Bristol, Virginia is something the community has been working on for years, and city leaders say it’s rooted in their history.
“It was the place in Bristol that soldiers went off to war and returned home from war,” Bristol Chamber of Commerce member Beth Rhinehart said of the city’s train station. “It was the hub in our downtown of major life events.”
There’s a movement with lawmakers to make rail service a prevalent part of the city’s future. Virginia state senator Todd Pillion has been working with the Federal Rail Administration to approve Virginia’s Statewide Rail plan. This includes a request for federal funding to expand a passenger service to and through Bristol.
President of the Bristol Train Station Foundation Dan Bieger said the station is ready to house whatever is needed.
“All we really need is whatever modifications Amtrak would ask for, like a platform,” said Bieger. “In some places, all they have is a platform and they don’t have a train station, so we feel like we are ready and raring to go.”
The train station saw renovations in previous years, which Bieger said have made it suitable to resume rail service.
Bieger said railway transportation would offer another form of travel for visitors and residents while avoiding busy roads.
“Well if you’ve traveled on Interstate 81 any time in the recent past, it’s clogged with trucks and cars, and train travel will be a way to alleviate all of that,” said Beiger.
Bristol leaders believe they have the infrastructure to support such a project, and they think attractions like the Bristol Casino and music festivals will work as a draw.
Rhinehart believes travelers wouldn’t just use the train to come to Bristol.
“This is really a regional conversation, too,” said Rhinehart. “You think about all the connecting counties, from Kingsport and Johnson City and Washington County, Virginia, that’s really the draw. It’s not just to Bristol, it’s to all those surrounding areas that people would be traveling to.”
On Wednesday, Rhinehart said grant applications for funding for the project are due soon and that money won’t be made available until 2024.
The chamber of commerce plans on holding a meeting at the train station sometime in June to give an update to leaders and the community on where the process stands.