Train advocate marks success of daily passenger service in Charlottesville, Virginia

August 31, 2015

It has been almost six years since daily Amtrak service began between Lynchburg and Washington, and the woman who helped to establish the Northeast Regional train has called it a valuable transportation alternative.

“People are tired of driving on U.S. 29 because U.S. 29 has become very congested, especially north of Warrenton,” said Meredith Richards, chairwoman of the Piedmont Rail Coalition.

“People just found out this train takes less time to get there at two hours and 26 minutes,” she said.

Prior to service beginning on Oct. 1, 2009, only Amtrak long-distance trains stopped in Charlottesville, one of them only three days a week. Richards said these trains were often late and seats were hard to get. Since then, the Northeast Regional has carried about 850,000 passengers in the first five years. Richards estimates the millionth passenger boarded sometime in July.

The high ridership comes despite initial disappointment when the schedule for the train was published with an arrival in Charlottesville at 8:52 a.m. and arrival at Union Station in Washington at 11:20 a.m. Richards, a former Charlottesville city councilor, had hoped for an earlier start time to allow people to commute to work in D.C.

“We were sure that that was going to neglect a huge part of the market, and it does,” Richards said. “But there are plenty of other riders than ones we expected.”

Software engineer Jeff Uphoff was a regular rider, choosing the service about once a month to travel to New York City on business.

“The departure time was perfect for my trips from Charlottesville,” said Uphoff, who has since moved to Richmond. “It allowed me to drop my kids off at school before catching the train.”

Passenger trains in Virginia travel on private rails and often have to wait to make way for the freight trains that take priority. Those delays were sometimes long and frustrating.

“My Baltimore and D.C. colleagues use it to come to the University of Virginia, but we can usually bank on lateness,” said Kathryn Laughon, adding that she likes taking the train when she can.

A report from Amtrak states that the train was on time 73 percent of the time in April, 68 percent of the time in May and 70 percent in June.

Read the full story from writer Sean Tubbs in Charlottesville Tomorrow by clicking here.


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