In 2008, then-Delegate (now Secretary of Transportation) Shannon Valentine and I were able to pull off a minor miracle by convincing Gov. Tim Kaine to include major state funding for new daily passenger rail service that would run from Lynchburg, in Valentine’s district, through Charlottesville, to Washington, DC. Charlottesville already had passenger service several days per week, but only on long-haul train routes to and from Chicago and New Orleans, which were unreliable and often late. This occurred despite significant challenges, including a Congressional threat to force states to assume responsibility for funding Amtrak’s regional intercity rail routes or risk losing them altogether, and a Virginia budget buffeted by the Great Recession.
The Governor challenged us to find Republicans to sign onto the effort; if we got them, Kaine said, he would find the money. Within a week, we were able to convince three of our Republican colleagues (Rob Bell of Albemarle, Ed Scott of Culpeper, and William Fralin of Roanoke) to join us on a letter to the Governor in support of the project. The Governor delivered, and, on October 1, 2009, a three-year pilot state-sponsored Amtrak service commenced. Three years later, it became a permanent addition to the Amtrak network, and continues to be one of the strongest performers in the entire Amtrak system. And it proves a cardinal rule of politics—decisions are made by those in the room at the time.