Councils on board return of rail service

Tony Casey • Dec 17, 2013 at 9:41 PM

BRISTOL, Va. — Bristol, Va., mayor Guy Odum said he hopes the result of Tuesday night’s rare joint meeting between the Bristol, Va., and Bristol, Tenn., city councils would be looked back upon as historic.

The meeting’s focus from the outset was to put the two entities behind the idea of bringing passenger trains to, and through, Bristol in the near future.

And with that, the resolution on both sides of State Street was unanimously accepted to give full support in extending passenger train service to Bristol.

What prompted this idea this time around was Roanoke’s announcement that it would have Amtrak’s passenger rail services brought down from the northeast by 2016. At the meeting, fittingly held at the Bristol Trail Station, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers spoke to the crowd via Skype, and took questions from the public and councils on his city’s future with passenger trains.

He discussed the possibilities of bringing the trains down from Roanoke to Bristol, and recommended the ways in which they were able to make a similar situation happen there. Bowers said the way to start things off is to support the closest location that has passenger trains, Roanoke, and to set up a bus system to bring passengers to the station there, to help collect ridership numbers. With those collected numbers, it would be easier to lobby politicians and show the need for such services. It might give Amtrak incentive to invest in the project.

It was asked how much the bus services would cost the city, and Bowers said his cost about $150,000 a year, with another $150,000 subsidy from Virginia, and that the buses can accommodate anywhere from 16-38 passengers, depending on the popularity of the route. Routes tend to get more popular as they go more northeast.

“This would be the best way for people from our region to get to the Northeast Corridor,” Bowers said.

Andrew Trivette, of the Bristol Virginia Tennessee Rail Coalition, followed Bowers’ talk with a presentation on how to further explore these possibilities. He said the best way to go about this project is to lobby politicians with a multi-state coalition, which would include both Tennessee and Virginia, along with Georgia and Alabama.

And, with Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey constantly traveling to Nashville from the area, it wouldn’t be hard to get political support behind such an idea, Trivette said.

Trivette showed existing rails throughout both states, and remarked that Tennessee’s latest plan for passenger rail, from 2003, was the most sound plan because it included more options. The plan called for a line from the Tri-Cities to Charlotte, N.C., and Knoxville.

It’s inevitable that Bristol’s rail aspirations will not be put into motion by 2016 when Roanoke kicks its line off, but Trivette said the city should have all the answers ready for any questions that might come up when it does happen. Big things to start looking at would include what kind of full-service station Bristol might want, or, if they don’t want a station at all, would they go with an automated kiosk?

Plus rails would have to reworked, as well as the building of a new train platform.

Costs appear to be too far off to speculate on now, but the planning, support and lobbying can start immediately, Trivette said.

Local colleges would be some of the biggest beneficiaries of a passenger rail, said Dr. John Gaines, who attended the meeting and has worked closely with this issue in the past. He said with parking being such a big problem on campuses, it would be a fix for schools.

Recommended for You