BROADWAY — In the roughly 30 years that Mayor Tim Proctor’s been involved in local government, no project has garnered as much enthusiasm in Broadway as the proposed Shenandoah Rail Trail.
At a community meeting Monday night at Broadway CoWorking, Proctor and representatives from the Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership spoke about the proposed Shenandoah Rail Trail, a project that would take a vacant rail corridor currently owned by Norfolk Southern Corp. into a multi-use, recreational trail.
The 48.5-mile trail would stretch between Broadway and Front Royal and pass through or near the incorporated towns of Timberville, New Market, Mount Jackson, Edinburg, Woodstock, Toms Brook and Strasburg. Meetings in those towns are scheduled throughout early spring.
“This project has a 95% plus approval rating in the town of Broadway, for who has come to me. That is unheard of,” Proctor said.
Maya Alexander, community engagement manager for the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, explained that in many areas the rail corridor has been overgrown and unusable where service has been discontinued. She said that over the years, there have been multiple, unsuccessful efforts to restore the rail, but without adequate freight users along the route, and constraints of the single track corridor and speed, “restoring rail service along this corridor [has] not been shown to be economically feasible.”
She said the Shenandoah Rail Trail would make the corridor “a community asset once again,” connecting people to amenities. “It’s also transformative in many different ways,” and would provide an economic boon to local businesses, she said.
Because it would be on the same corridor that a train operated on, the trail would be flat and an easy grade, therefore making it accessible to all skill levels, she said.
A feasibility study conducted by state officials determined that converting the corridor into a trail would be possible, Alexander said. Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties completed an appraisal, and state funds have been set aside to purchase the corridor, she said.
“There are discussions underway with Norfolk Southern about this purchase, and we’re waiting on the news basically any day now,” she said.
Virginia’s current two-year budget sets aside about $90 million for multi-use trails, and some of that funding reportedly is allocated for the purchase of the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail corridor. Congress in December approved a $3 million allocation of federal money for the Virginia Department of Transportation to use to help pay for preliminary engineering work on the project.
A 2021 study completed by public finance economist Robert Cline found that acquisition of the corridor could cost between $15 million and $25 million. If acquired, officials have said they aim to have the project complete by 2030.
According to Cline's study, trail construction is estimated between $28 million and $36 million, bridge construction and repairs are about $26.9 million and preliminary engineering efforts would be between $4 million and $6 million.
Rail removal would cost up to $11 million and upgrades at the trailheads would cost between $7 million and $15 million, according to the study. Operating costs are expected to be $1.4 million per year.
It also found that the economy will generate higher tax revenue each year from state and local governments, including $1.7 million for counties, $200,000 for towns, and $600,000 for the commonwealth.
Broadway Town Manager Kyle O’Brien told attendees that the project is “going to make the Shenandoah Valley a better place.”
The more than 100 people that attended Monday’s community conversation filtered through five stations: trail maps, trail design, trail amenities, trail uses and community character. People wrote on large posterboard what they’d like to see or have on the trail.
“The opportunities are endless,” Alexander said.
When asked how they’d use the trail, some responses included biking, walking, recreation, relaxation, running, bird watching, health and physical education classes and clubs at Broadway High School, field trips from neighboring schools, potential multi-day trips and dog-walking.
The trail would help people get to places such as local shops, historical sites, natural features, local eateries, bed and breakfasts along the trail, other towns along the trail and exploration to find new places, some responses said.
The rail line is within the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District and passes close to Seven Bends State Park, Shenandoah National Park, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
Some possible amenities included bathroom facilities at regular intervals, picnic tables and shelters, bike racks and trailheads and parking areas, view points at areas of interest to enjoy scenery, bike repair stations, educational signage, water fountains, overnight camping options, e-bike charging stations, a children’s play area and dog waste stations.
Things that can reflect Broadway pride and spirit on the trail, people wrote, included having the trail be a host for charity runs, 5Ks and marathons, holding a kids’ fishing day and other events, and pollinator gardens with signage.
Other things people mentioned they’d like to have on the trail included activities and entertainment for children along the trail, river access for a quick dip, a horse path adjacent to the trail, cell phone reception, parking along trails, trash cans, exercise stations and rentals for bikes or strollers.
Project manager Don Hindman noted that some concerns raised were regarding a possible increase in crime, if the rail trail were to be built and used. Hindman said some ways to enhance security would include light installation on the trail, signage and ambassadors monitoring the trail at times.
O’Brien also addressed ideas including having rails with trails.
“There’s a little bit of chatter now about a train,” he said. “And we all love trains and trains would be great. Would we love to have a train go from Broadway to Front Royal to Washington D.C., ... absolutely. That’d be awesome, whether it’s passenger, whether it’s whatever.
“It can’t work. Period. It cannot work, unless you want to spend another 50, 60 million dollars. I mean, that’s just the way it works. So, from that standpoint, you know, we’d love to see a train, we understand there’s some folks that are talking about trains, if you kind of do a deeper dive into that it can’t work,” he continued.
Representatives said they’d gather the data at the end of the input meetings and compile them to see what may be feasible along the proposed trail.
With respect to mrconductor's comment, the $50-60mm referenced in the meeting in Broadway is incremental cost, not total cost. And no one said the trail isn't possible, they said that it isn't economically feasible. Frankly, if it were economically feasible, there would probably be a train running on those tracks right now.
But what's really too bad is that without any evidence whatsoever, mrconductor assets that "Somebody's not being honest." There are so many ridiculous conspiracy theories out there, it needs to stop unless you've got some evidence. Everyone I've seen involved in this rail trail project has been incredibly open and informative. There is a tremendous amount of information out there about it. If you think they're hiding something, then come back with evidence.
"$50M-$60M" for a railroad is far cheaper than $95M for a trail that trashes valuable infrastructure. I'd like to see these folks share their studies that say rail isnt possible, because the Shenandoah Rail Corridor has done private studies that says it is. Somebody's not being honest...
Welcome to the discussion.
We will consider two submissions per writer per month. Letters: 250 or fewer words. Commentaries: Under 500 words. You may submit a photo with a Commentary if you like. Email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.