Passenger Rail, the Long-Distance Commuter and Megaregions

This blog post was originally published on February 22, 2013 on the RIDE Solutions blog: http://ridesolutions.org/passenger-rail-the-long-distance-commuter-and-megaregions/ The original post along with a sample selection of some of the 27 comments follows.

MegaRegions-3January 8, 2014 – Mark McCaskill

Megaregions are commonly defined as a large network of metropolitan regions that are tied together economically in such a way that they are becoming the new competitive units in the global economy.  The Regional Plan Association, a non-profit organization, recognizes 11 megaregions in the United States.  In the map above, the area in the black circle, located between three megaregions, roughly corresponds to an area starting around Charlottesville in the north and approaching the Tennessee border in the south.  This area lies between the Northeast Megaregion (Washington to Boston Corridor), the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (Charlotte to Atlanta Corridor) and the Great Lakes Megaregion.  There is likely to be a strategic economic development opportunity to being so conveniently geographically positioned, provided that we can develop the appropriate economic connections from the megaregions to our area.

Completion of the Trans-Dominion Express (TDX) Passenger Rail service from its current terminus in Lynchburg to include Roanoke and extend to the Tennessee border, eventually connecting with any future passenger rail service in Tennessee itself, will provide one such opportunity.  The important point about passenger rail is that it would largely complement our current highway and airline connections to the megaregions, not substitute for them.  Passenger rail is useful for business people, who want to get work done, prepare a presentation/proposal or rest before a meeting while travelling.  With regard to economic development, passenger rail can be useful to several target markets:

·         The Retiree Entrepreneur/Consultant – educated and successful retirees who retire from their corporate careers before they turn 65, and who re-locate to lower cost of living regions who win “Best Places to Retire” mentions in magazines, like our region.

·         The Large Corporation Looking for a Satellite Office – large professional service firms who want to tap a talent pool who can easily travel to clients in multiple megaregions from one satellite location.

·         The Recent Graduate Entrepreneur – recent graduates from Virginia Tech, UVA, Radford University and a variety of other regional colleges and universities, who start technology businesses in our area and need to travel to see clients in multiple megaregions.

There is now renewed interest in getting passenger rail extended from Lynchburg to Roanoke and beyond.  The Honorable David Trinkle and the Honorable Ray Ferris, both members of Roanoke City Council, recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Roanoke times describing this renewed interest in passenger rail.  Passenger rail is much more than train enthusiasts and tourism; it has real potential to foster strategic economic linkages that takes advantage of our geographic position between multiple megaregions.  Passenger rail coupled with an enhanced broadband network could be the combination needed to allow highly experienced and educated entrepreneurs and consultants to live and work in our region while cultivating clients and business relationships in multiple megaregions.  This will be a 21st century version of a long-distance commuter.  These three recent blogs (blog 1, blog 2 and blog 3) have explored a similar economic development potential of alternative transportation.  We should encourage the extension of passenger rail for its economic development potential.

A sampling of comments to the original blog post:

  1. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for the update on the “renewed interest” in brining passenger rail…I have been commuting into the D.C. Metro area ~25 times/year for over 14 years for work/would take the passenger train if available vs. driving. The opportunity costs associated with commuting via vehicle have been great (e.g., hours of lost productivity). What is the anticipated timeline for extending service to Roanoke? Passenger rail would not only offer a much needed transportation alternative for professionals currently living or seeking to live in the Roanoke Valley Region/want to commute into DC Metro area on an ad hoc basis, it would also be a great vehicle to boost tourism in our region. Plus, it would provide access to DC for those who may not be able to and/ or want to drive to the D.C. Metro area. Anything residents can do to help move the process along?

    Thanks,

    Angela L. Conroy

  2. Rex Hammond on said

    Thoughtful article on an important issue. Passenger rail is also an effective way to foster economic development by transporting tourists to a region’s communities and their respective amenities. Visitors from other countries are particularly accustomed to passenger rail options. I strongly agree that passenger rail is not intended as a replacement to travel by highway or air. Ideally, transportation modes should be coordinated to maximize transportation options and commerce.

    I agree that passenger rail would not negatively impact airline service, and it would give citizens many more options for heading north and east. I also worked for several years in the DC area making trips 3 to 4 times a month. Driving was my only alternative because Dulles did not connect with the Metro.
    I would also like to comment that many of us have regular meetings in Richmond and having an airline or a rail alternative to driving would also be a boon. I imagine it would be full both ways during the legislative sessions.

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