Thursday, March 8, 2012

Liberty University offers to build Amtrak a new station

Liberty University offers to build a new station and handle all construction costs, which would then be leased to Amtrak.

When Amtrak trains arrive at Lynchburg's Kemper Street Station, passengers are dropped off in the heart of the city.
It's a convenient location for travelers like Robert Thomas.
"It's been excellent," said Thomas, who was traveling through Lynchburg Wednesday on his way to Philadelphia.  "We would not be in Lynchburg if it wasn't for the Amtrak service."
Not everyone likes where the station is located.  Some say it's hard to find.  Others want it closer to a major highway.

Officials at Liberty University are offering a solution.  They want to build a brand new train station, right next to their campus.
"We believe many more students would use the train if it would be close by here," said LU Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Junior, who has submitted a proposal to Amtrak.
The school is offering to build a new train station, and pay for all construction costs.  Amtrak would then lease the property from LU.
Students who already ride Amtrak are excited about the idea.
"I think it would be great, because it would actually be close by," said LU Student, Josh Brelsford.
But would it be convenient for everyone else?
Falwell believes it would.  His proposed site is next to the junction of Routes 29 and 460.  A train station in this location would be 15 minutes closer to Roanoke and points west than the current Kemper Street station.
By building a new train facility near the Lynchburg Regional Airport, Falwell thinks the area could become a regional transportation hub.
"It's the only place that's easily accessible by car to the whole four-county metro area," Falwell said.
This is the sort of opportunity upon which Amtrak management ought to be throwing themselves on the floor shouting "Praise the Lord!" A free station next to a 12,000 resident student university (and a 4,500 student community college on the other side of the tracks)? Not only that, but this presents the opportunity to influence what is traditionally a demographic hostile to passenger rail, right-wing Evangelical Christians.

Operating as a stop in addition to the current Lynchburg station should not pose any major issues with current or future Amtrak service. The station would be directly along the line to the next stop for the Crescent in Danville, VA which means simply a brief halt (checked baggage and Amtrak Express LCL ought to be continued to be handled at the main station, but "checkable" to this station; a brief run with a pickup truck to the university mail room would not only suffice but give the impression of a superior customer service). With current Lynchburg service, of course, there is only a few miles of continued running before terminating at this station, resulting in no operational difficulties. An anonymous "train expert" is quoted in the article as saying that it may pose a problem for planned service to Roanoke; an examination of the area with Google Maps indicates to me that it should be a simple wye movement or even easier if push-pull is utilized, resulting in minimal additional delay to the line and well worth it in my opinion.

Of course, it should be hoped that the university will design it in such a way as to cater to pedestrians, as university students typically are, rather than turning it into a parking lot hell as the "regional transportation hub" comments imply.


  1. but it doesn't have to be an either/or...the Liberty Univ station could still be built and used for the Virginia-subsidized service that start/end at Lynchburg, and they can stop at existing downtown Amtrak station too. Meanwhile long-distance Crescent could still use the main downtown station as always. It is hoped that Virginia's first Lynchburg-specific train showed such success that another 2 will be added; then the LU station would have at least 3 trains a day.

    Any future Virginia-subsidized services to Roanoake, which have their switch between the two stations, would just use the downtown one, to avoid backup moves of several miles. But someday way down the road, any Roanoke-Charlotte train would use LU station.

    Similar idea is already in place where both long-distance and state-service trains on same route. Currently, the Crescent serves Charlotte NC, then Salisbury, while three-times-per-day NC state trains serve Charlotte, and add Kannapolis NC stop before it gets to Salisbury. Even though long-distance train runs through Kannapolis, that station doesn't get served. Same with Rantoul IL, 2 illinois trains stop, but long-distance New Orleans train doesn't.

    I could see a similar thing for a proposed LU station. The long-distance Crescent would still operate on tracks through there without stopping, while only VA train(s) serve both LU & Kemper St

    I too agree that being at/near a university is very important, as students are a population that tend, on average, to own less automobiles than the general population. It would be extremely important that this proposed station be very pedestrian friendly, if the offer of building on campus is for the reason of students. i too am worried a bit about all the car/airport commentary - yes, important perhaps to be at 2 major highways interchange, and i would also love to see synergy between airports and rail stations wherever possible so as to open up more trip possibilities and transfers between modes.

    but if it is going to be a major commuter parking lot station, which in and of itself could be a great thing to get people out of their cars, we have to remember that a large student population there will be car-less, and station design & landscape should remember BOTH sides of the passenger demographics.

  2. Liberty University? Pardon me if I don't believe these people are actually honest.

    First of all, Amtrak should certainly not stop using the existing Lynchburg station.

    If the University builds and fully funds its own station, *and* it's actually ADA-accessible, *and* they provide the necessary "parking track", then fine, why not have Amtrak stop at it?

    However, I suspect they're actually lying about being willing to pay for all of it.


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