By Kurt Walters
Monday, January 9, 2012
After reaching the final year of its three-year trial period, the train line that connects Lynchburg through Charlottesville and Washington to the Northeast has gotten a new two-year lease on life.
Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent state budget proposal includes a provision allowing the Commonwealth Transportation Board to use money intended for railway improvements to cover the operating costs of Virginia’s state-supported regional trains.
“I was worried [the McDonnell administration] would try to eliminate the train,” said Del. David J. Toscano, a Democrat who represents Charlottesville and parts of Albemarle County. “Ultimately I think they concluded that you do pilot programs for a reason, and if the pilot program is successful, you try to find a way to fund it.”
The route through Charlottesville has been recognized as an extraordinarily successful experiment, with ridership far exceeding Amtrak’s expectations and the train even turning a profit — rare for passenger rail.
“Ours is one of the few state-sponsored regional trains that is on the positive side of [breaking even],” said Meredith Richards, chairwoman of the Piedmont Rail Coalition. “It appears that for the Lynchburg train right now that not a lot [of state funding] will be needed.”