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Saturday, November 28, 2015

What's Going on With Amtrak in Roanoke?


Dear people of Roanoke,

I know holiday preparations and celebrations are a good diversion to the sometimes less than favorable news of our fair city which of late included a councilman arrested for weed, and a mayor who's moronic remarks brought out far too many supporters of his stance, forever documented on video and in print, adding to the caricature of a backwards hick town that Roanoke is often portrayed as being. On Twitter we were called a "shithole." A little harsh.

Of course, there's not all bad news. Look over here at the shiny new ice-skating rink. That's lovely, especially for the smaller kids. Roanoke leaders must have felt pretty, pretty proud of themselves for accomplishing something that they think makes us more attractive. Oh sure, for the local families, it's a nice little perk, but it does absolutely nothing to attract businesses here. You know what might? An Amtrak station in Roanoke.

Wait, what? We are getting an Amtrak station in Roanoke! It'll be here in 2017. So, you say. I say don't be too sure. I was surprised to read this column by Hayden Hollingsworth in the Roanoke Star entitled, "Roanoke Needs Passenger Rail Service." In it he writes that complications have arisen concerning handicapped accessibility and the need to build a raised platform rather than have a lift for those who cannot navigate steps. Mr. Hollingsworth wasn't clear on who decided that, but upon Googling I found out the following: "On Sept. 30, the Federal Railroad Administration told the project team that federal officials believe a raised platform that would permit level boarding, without the need for wheelchair lifts, is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act."

From Hollingsworth article, "If built to the required specifications it would reduce the trackage to a single rail through Roanoke, an impossibility for continued operation of wide-load freight trains of which there are 50 or more a day." And then this as well, "The 611J, our international icon, will not be able to pass the level platform. What an embarrassment to have invested the money and interest in its restoration and then build a platform that will negate its use!"

Now, I don't believe Norfolk South cares one iota about the 611 not passing the platform, but I do believe that they will never agree to allowing a single rail through Roanoke. It's just not feasible for them as a business. Worse than the downtown station being delayed will be if the downtown station is never built. So I have a couple of questions for the city leaders and politicians who have crowed about being responsible for getting Roanoke its own Amtrak station...

Did no one know that a raised platform was mandatory?
Did no one know that using a lift instead would not be feasible?
How was it determined where the platform would be located?
What steps are being done to come up with a viable solution?
Can we really expect a passenger station in downtown Roanoke, and when?

I believe transportation issues (difficulty, cost, time, getting in and out of Roanoke) are a major reason why businesses are neglecting Roanoke, and no matter how many ice rinks, amphitheaters, bike & walking trails are built, a business is not going to locate here because of them. So stop fooling yourselves!  If this Amtrak station falls through it's just another spike in Roanoke's coffin. People need to stop looking at the shiny things of distraction and focus on keeping this city from becoming a real "shithole."

Yours truly,
A relocated damn Yankee

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