Plans to make Bedford the next scheduled stop for Amtrak trains traveling between Lynchburg and Roanoke may be derailed after a state transportation official recommended the state deny funding the $10 million project.
Members of the Bedford/Franklin Regional Rail Initiative committee — a grassroots organization in Bedford and Franklin counties advocating for a rail stop in Bedford — met April 17 to discuss an April 9 presentation from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Rail and Transit Subcommittee about the proposed stop.
“We are just trying to process this new development,” Bedford’s Economic Development Coordinator Mary Zirkle said before the closed meeting April 17 in Moneta. “We thought things were going in one direction, and now it looks like it could be going in another.”
In 2016, the General Assembly ordered DRPT to conduct a feasibility study on a Bedford stop. DRPT determined it needs two years of ridership data before expanding the route, including adding a stop in Bedford.
During the April 9 meeting, DRPT Chief of Rail Transportation Michael McLaughlin recommended against a platform in Bedford, saying it is only expected to generate a net gain of 2,800 additional riders annually on the Roanoke-to-Washington Amtrak segment that passes through Bedford and its way to Lynchburg.
McLaughlin said the state has invested funding to support the train stations in Roanoke and Lynchburg, and a stop in Bedford potentially could divert riders that would otherwise us one of the two stations.
“Our data shows a lot of those riders would come from the Roanoke and Lynchburg areas,” McLaughlin said. “It would not be a wise return on the investment to have another station in Bedford.”
During the meeting McLaughlin said the state is expected to invest about $1.6 billion in rail projects throughout Virginia. Officials in Bedford and Franklin counties have asked the state for $10 million to construct a train platform along Plunkett Street in Bedford.
BFRRI has maintained Bedford’s location between Lynchburg and Roanoke makes sense for a platform. Brian McCrodden, a member of BFRRI, said during a public meeting about the rail station in November that feasibility studies done by the organization show more than 12,000 new train riders are estimated to be generated each year if there were a train stop in Bedford.
“This doesn’t create a new train to run through the region,” McCrodden said at a meeting last year in Bedford. “This just creates a stop for the train that already is running between Roanoke and Lynchburg.”
The Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to make a final decision in June on Bedford’s funding request for the construction of the train platform.