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Times-News / Bristol Now – Bristol one step closer to passenger rail service

Bristol Now – March 22, 2023

BRISTOL, Va. — The future of passenger rail service in Bristol is making its way down the tracks.

The Federal Rail Administration recently approved Virginia’s statewide rail plan. That plan includes an effort to secure federal funding to expand passenger rail service to the city.

State Sen. Todd Pillion represents Virginia’s 40th District, which covers Grayson, Lee, Scott and Washington counties; parts of Smyth, Wise and Wythe counties; and Bristol, Virginia. In an emailed announcement regarding the rail plan’s approval, Pillion cited Virginia’s General Assembly expansion of passenger rail service, most recently funding a new corridor between Roanoke and the New River Valley. Other routes are expanding south to the North Carolina border and west, connecting Richmond to Charlottesville and Clifton Forge near the West Virginia line in the Alleghany Highlands.

“These recent expansions share at least one commonality — an emergence of passenger rail service in rural communities,” Pillion said in the release.

The rail conversation has been ongoing in Bristol.

“As you may recall, in 2021 I secured a provision in the state budget requiring the Secretary of Transportation to study options for extending passenger rail service from the New River Valley to Bristol,” Pillion said in the email. “That study considered potential routes, cost estimates, and ridership projections, all of which have served as the basis for ongoing conversations at the local, state, and federal levels.

“Throughout these year-long discussions, it became clear that the most successful approach to ‘putting Southwest Virginia on the rail map’ would be pursuing a route to and through Bristol, working jointly with our state colleagues in Tennessee as well as congressional delegations from both states. To date, this collaborative effort has been very productive.”

The Southwest Virginia senator also cited Virginia Passenger Rail Authority’s record ridership numbers examining data for routes in Roanoke, Richmond, Newport News and Norfolk. Compared to January 2020, he said, ridership along these routes increased nearly 28% in January 2023.

In November 2022, Gov. Glenn Youngkin voiced his support to bring passenger rail back to Bristol. Another needed piece to accomplish the goal, Youngkin said, is to garner support from neighboring Tennessee.

“We are committed to being a big part of bringing rail back to Bristol,” Youngkin said. “It does take three parties — it takes Virginia interests, Tennessee interests, and it takes the federal government. … I have an open dialogue with (Tennessee) Gov. (Bill) Lee. I am working hard with federal rail authorities in order to bring this to life.

“Think about that future where we can have rail access — both passenger rail and cargo commercial rail access that stretches from Nashville all the way up from Bristol, all the way up to the East Coast, and connects everyone to where they need to go.”

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