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By Aaron Farmer
Two sites in Christiansburg were chosen by the New River Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the location of a proposed Amtrak passenger rail station – a travel option that could be safer and more convenient for students.
“I usually just drive from D.C. to Radford after breaks… It’s a long drive, usually around five hours,” said Marissa Cheney, a sophomore majoring in advertising. “It definitely might be easier to take a train.”
With an estimated 10,000 students from the Washington, D.C. area attending Radford University and Virginia Tech, a passenger rail line connecting Christiansburg to D.C.’s Metro Station would be a viable option for travel and could alleviate the strain on Interstate-81.
The ideal southbound route for students traveling from D.C., I-81 is also one of the top eight routes for commercial vehicles in the United States according to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
In some areas, commercial trucks nearly outnumber passenger vehicles traveling on I-81, and while studies are under way to solve the problem of increased traffic, a passenger rail option may help lighten the university-related strain.
Cheney’s boyfriend, senior Timothy Johnstone, caught a bus in Roanoke last summer to visit Cheney in D.C.
“It was a lot easier than driving the whole way,” said Johnstone, “but it was still confusing. I don’t know Roanoke very well, and I don’t like driving in traffic on the interstate.”
“Leaving from Christiansburg would be better, for sure,” said Johnstone, noting how finding a ride to Roanoke to catch a bus in the early morning was a hassle.
With students and their families traveling to the New River Valley for sporting events, graduations, and regular visits, ridership for the proposed station already exists.
In a presentation released by the MPO’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), 60 percent of students from the D.C. area said that their families would be more likely to visit more frequently if traveling by train was an option.
A similar Amtrak station in Lynchburg, Virginia, saw over 80,000 trips in 2014, and a study by the New River Valley Regional Commission estimated a station in Christiansburg could generate 40,000 trips annually. While an Amtrak rail station is set to open in Roanoke next year, traveling by train to DC from the Star City would still mean a 40-minute drive on the interstate for Radford and Virginia Tech students.
Community group NRV Rail 2020 has led the development of the project thus far, but student and university support of the rail station is also an integral part of the plan.
“Even though I’ll be gone before it’s done, it’ll be good for new students,” said Johnstone, “who knows… Maybe I’ll ride the train back to Radford sometime after I’ve graduated.”
Information on the project can be found at http://www.nrvpassengerrail.org/, or by contacting Dan Brugh, Executive Director of the NRVMPO, at firstname.lastname@example.org.