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Rail travel is booming in Virginia

Three people are waiting to board a large black and red passenger train. Two rail workers stand greeting the passengers.
Angie Miles
VPM News Focal Point
Virginia has a bright future in rail travel according to the president of the state’s largest short line railroad.

According to the state’s rail companies, there is still a love affair with trains 

The Buckingham Branch Railroad is the largest short line railroad in Virginia. President Steve Powell says time has not diminished the allure of rail travel. Passenger rail services are breaking ridership records. Powell says despite news of derailments, which are not usually disastrous, rail remains an increasingly safe and energy-efficient mode of transportation. 


STEVE POWELL: The Buckingham Branch is primarily a freight railroad and when a customer wants to move a product across the country, we'll move the car to CSX or Norfolk Southern, and then they'll move it across the country to wherever it belongs.

The Buckingham Branch Railroad started in 1988. We ran first trains. Bob Bryant was the founder of the railroad and he worked for CSX for his whole career. And when he retired, he purchased a small railroad in his home county of Buckingham County and it was just a small railroad, had 17 miles and they ran trains three days a week and worked on track two days a week. There was only two employees.

Back in 2005, we acquired the Richmond and Allegheny Division, which was a 200-mile section that goes from Richmond through Charlottesville in Stanton over to Clifton Forge. We got two more divisions. We've got the Virginia Southern Division, which we got in 2017, and then in 2019, we got our Norfolk division which is a small section over between Norfolk and Virginia Beach. So, we've run a lot.

CSX runs big freight trains across us. Amtrak runs passenger service across us. Last year we decided to get into doing our own passenger excursions, but yet the demand has been incredible. The tickets do sell out very quickly.

Well, you don't have traffic out there. It's not like you've got cars passing by you or people you know, walking along the sidewalk while you're having lunch, and so you just got get to enjoy some scenery that, in a perspective that you don't see, you know, any other way than through the back trails and rails, you know, through the unexplored areas of Virginia.

Virginia has a long, long history of railroads. You know, the line that we have that goes between Richmond and Clifton Forge, Richmond and Allegheny Division is one of the very beginnings of the C&O railroad from back in the mid-1800s, when you look at the steam engines and what they were able to do compared to what no one had ever seen before.

And then in the 1950s, they started transferring over to diesel-powered locomotives instead of the steam and so some of the locomotives that we run are still the very first vintage diesel locomotives. We have some locomotives that were built in the 1950s and we still run them today. And so, I think that's why people are attracted to passenger trains and excursion trains because it is just you know, a little more relaxed step back in time.

There's a big boom in passenger rail right now and Virginia is a huge part of that.


Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
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