Passenger rail on track to come to Bristol; city leaders prepare for economic study


Imagine going to the Bristol train station and actually catching a train. It's closer to becoming a reality.

Earlier this week, Amtrak announced it will start its passenger rail service in Roanoke in October. And Bristol, Virginia city leaders said a stop in the Tri-Cities is the next logical step.

Last year, we told you Bristol was just starting to explore the idea. Now city leaders have numbers from Amtrak on how many people would use the service. And they're about to start another study to see how a passenger rail would impact the economy.

Bristol has the train stop, just no passengers. But the city is all aboard.

"Our train station is so nice, we could accept a passenger rail tomorrow," Bristol, Virginia Interim Community and Economic Development Director Bart Poe said.

It's an idea Bristol leaders have been looking at for the past year. According to a study done by Amtrak, a stop in Bristol would add at least 12,000 more riders a year to its route, running up the Northeast corridor.

"That was favorable, we were really excited about that," Poe added.

Once riders hop off the train in Bristol, they would be just steps away from State Street.

"You know, you walk out our front door and you look to your left, and there it is," Fabric Etc. owner Billy Frye said.

Frye is just one of several downtown business owners who are ready for more feet on the street.

"That would be people being dropped off right at our doorstep," Believe in Bristol Director Maggie Bishop added. "We wouldn't have to pull them from anywhere else."

Right now, many stores rely on tourists who fly in or drive on the interstate to make the trip downtown. But with a train stop and plans for two hotels, businesses are betting on that convenience to drive up sales.

"We could be a one-stop-shop for visitors to downtown Bristol," Bishop said.

We talked to people who live in Bristol and visitors who agreed, they would take the train.

"We're typically drivers, but this would probably be a picturesque trip down this way," a couple visiting the Birthplace of Country Music museum said.

"When you're on a train, you go through parts of the country you don't get to see from a car," Frye added.

"I don't fly so it gives me another option to go wherever, pretty much," a Sullivan County resident said.

So news of Roanoke's station opening is giving people here in Bristol hope that we're next.

"The good thing is we get to stand on their shoulders," Poe said. "Their success is something we can build on."

Bristol, Virginia has $400,000 in state funding to do an in-depth economic study. It plans to have that data by the start of the new year. If things stay on track, the passenger rail could be here as early as 2019.

The Roanoke train station will start operating on Halloween. Representatives from our region plan to go to that grand opening.

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