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Virginia's expanded train routes see record-high increase in ridership

With the expansion of train routes in Richmond, Norfolk and other parts of Virginia, the commonwealth’s passenger rail system had a 30% increase in Amtrak ridership in July compared with June, new data shows.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority recorded over 110,000 passengers during July, an all-time high. It also represents a 20% increase compared with the same 2019 period.

Virginia has six state-sponsored Amtrak routes.

“We’re thrilled with the way rail transportation is coming back post-COVID,” said Donald “DJ” Stadtler Jr., executive director of the agency. “Thankfully, over the last year or so, we’ve seen that ridership come back, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Stadtler said July’s boost is partly due to the addition of round-trip routes to Roanoke and Norfolk, along with the return of a round trip to Newport News that had shut down during the pandemic’s peak.

The Norfolk route, which includes stops at Richmond’s Staples Mill Station, had the second-largest increase in the state, growing 23% between June and July to 40,763 passengers.

The Norfolk route is part of a $3.7 billion agreement the commonwealth signed last year with CSX and Amtrak to double passenger service along the Interstate 95 corridor.

Overall, 908,075 passengers used Virginia’s Amtrak services in 2021. Richmond’s Main Street and Staples Mill stations accounted for 193,999.

The only station in Virginia that recorded more passenger boarding was in Lorton, and it is not a state-supported train.

Stadtler said these numbers make it clear Virginians are more likely to travel by train if routes are made available, but the state still has a long way to go in assuring its rail network is accessible and reliable.

“We have 10 trains that go through Richmond every day,” Stadtler said. “If you go to any big city like Chicago, Boston or New York, they’ve got trains coming in and out all times … We’ve got to do more.”

Stadtler said in order to make Richmond a true multimodal city, investing in its rail network is a key. In order to make those investments, Stadtler said, both the city and VPRA need to make partnerships in and beyond the region.

VPRA this year partnered with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and was awarded a $58 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the rail corridor between Raleigh and Richmond.

The grant will fund preliminary planning and engineering design for the approximately 162 miles of the S Line between Raleigh and Richmond.

Stadtler also said VPRA plans to add more routes in 2026 and 2030 after the scheduled construction of a $1.9 billion rail bridge over the Potomac River that will expand the capacity for passenger trains.

VPRA has also maintained its partnerships with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Virginia Department of Transportation as it continues a mission of increasing rail access in the city of Richmond and the commonwealth.

“We need to make sure that we’re putting service where people want it,” Stadtler said. “All of these partnerships need to work well together. Thankfully, I think we all want the same thing.”


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