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In 4 years, ride Amtrak to Roanoke

Having recently added new rail service to Norfolk and Lynchburg, Amtrak is now beginning planning to extend service to Roanoke.

Amtrak's route to Roanoke. Image by the author.

The plan is simply to extend the highly successful Lynchburg train a few miles further southwest. But since Roanoke hasn't had rail service in decades, it will take 3-4 years to get everything ready.

Even if progress is slow, it's exciting to see American intercity rail become popular again.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Love more rail options

by Richard B on Aug 22, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

Will there only be one a day each way? Will there be additional trains between Lynchburg and DC (other than the oddly timed Crescent trains)?

by Gray on Aug 22, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

Awesome. Amtrak's making very nice progress in VA. Now if only we could get SEHSR started...

by ImThat1Guy on Aug 22, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know of a good website, beyond Amtrak's, that has travel times for Amtrak? In other words, from Lynchburg to DC is XX minutes or XX hours? I suppose I can go through steps of making a reservation to see the answer....

by JDC Esq on Aug 22, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

@JDC Esq: There's a .pdf here:

by Gray on Aug 22, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

What would be better? New right-of-way and electrification.

by Randall M. on Aug 22, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

Amtrak to downtown Norfolk is da bomb!

I remember a New Year's Eve in Newport News in the early 80s. I was coming in on the train and my boyfriend drove to Newport News - where the train route ended. We were leaving the station to get in the car when we heard a very young-looking sailor asking the Amtrak official behind the window where Norfolk was. Being from military families, we tapped him on the shoulder and told him we'd give him a ride. He was really grateful. Ends up, he needed to go to Nimitz Hall, which was on our route and we had base stickers, so we could give him door-to-door service.

Well, it ends up he was to be a dental technician on the NEW JERSEY. I told him my uncle had been radioman on on IOWA. But we warned him that his first cruise could be a whole lot longer than scheduled, so take extra stuff with him. In the small world category he grew up next door to a restaurant in Rhode Island my boyfriend's brother in law had been head chef. It was a nice encounter, but it was ludicrous that the train didn't go all the way to Norfolk. They got the bus service going a few years later.

by Capt. Hilts on Aug 22, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

Amtrak is doing this at the behest of the Commonwealth, in cooperation with local stakeholders, and will be executed with the extra funding in Virginia's Transportation Bill to expand the Amtrak-Virginia partnership. It's been talked about for quite some time; it seems the success of the Petersburg to Norfolk extension helped the prod this along.

I'd be curious to know how Virginia is doing with its partnership with Amtrak compared to other states. . . . is it having more success with increasing ridership? . . . spending/recouping more of the money spent?

by Rich on Aug 22, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

I'm so glad Virginia is embracing more intercity rail partnerships with Amtrak. That Northeast Corridor extension to downtown Norfolk is a godsend! I've probably been on it at least 3 times (round-trip) since the service started back in December.

by Bradley Heard on Aug 22, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

Has there been any research into an East-West VA route, Norfolk to Roanoke via Richmond and Lynchburg? No idea if there'd be any demand for that, but it seems like a possible next step.

by Distantantennas on Aug 22, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

IIRC, VA has had much higher than expected ridership numbers for the DC/Lynchburg link (though I don't know about the Newport/Norfolk branches), and that branch of the NE Regional is still making money. So that's good. I wonder, with all this Amtrak work, will the Trans-Dominion Express be run by Amtrak if it ever gets up and running?

by ImThat1Guy on Aug 22, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

Still think they should extend it all the way to Blacksburg. You got some 30k students plus faculty and there are going to be frequent visitors. Plus it would be a direct connection with UVA.

JD, Amtrak is also in google transit which can be quite useful.

by BTA on Aug 22, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport


It doesn't go all the way to Hampton Roads for whatever reason (possibly because Amtrak already has lines there), but it goes from Bristol to Richmond, as well as DC to Bristol, both via Lynchburg.

Also @Rich that includes a citation for very high ridership (250% of expected!) on the Lynchburg branch like I was talking about.

by ImThat1Guy on Aug 22, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

I looked at the satellite view on Google Maps, and it appears that there are no tracks into Blacksburg. Seemingly more likely is service to Christianburg (as with the TDX) with connection buses (?) to Blacksburg. Unfortunately I doubt we'll get new ROW because politics.

by ImThat1Guy on Aug 22, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport


I was thinking the same thing. Not only do you have thousands of potential weekend/semester/summer travelers between Blacksburg and all points, VA, the VT home games are ALWAYS sold out. So, add potentially 20k more people at least 6 times in the fall and winter months. This doesn't include graduation ceremonies, etc. Makes sense to extend it to Blacksburg.

by adelphi_sky on Aug 22, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

Roanoke is an hour+ drive from Lynchburg, quite a bit more than "a few miles"!

by Scoot on Aug 22, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

Yeah it doesnt look like it would go into town but it would be at most a 3-4 mile 15 minute bus right so that is probably reasonable. There are already some routes that go between the two twons. I'm sure Blacksburg Transit could cover the service considering it would only be a handful of trips a day.

by BTA on Aug 22, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

The ROW might still be there to VT. Check out the Huckleberry Line:

by GP Steve on Aug 22, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport


I looked at the satellite view on Google Maps, and it appears that there are no tracks into Blacksburg. Seemingly more likely is service to Christianburg (as with the TDX) with connection buses (?) to Blacksburg. Unfortunately I doubt we'll get new ROW because politics.

37.197313,-80.37255 This isnt in downtown blacksburg, but it isnt too far either.

by Richard B on Aug 22, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

I think it would be a park and ride for most people anyway with the exception of some students. Maybe they could get a decent zipcar fleet in the area or most rental car companies will provide pick up service.

by BTA on Aug 22, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

If only Blacksburg had some sort of transit system, that would be free for students, that could carry large numbers of people on the existing road network.

by Richard B on Aug 22, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

@Richard B

You could make that argument most places but POBOSR (my term but needs a better ring to it for Plain Old Buses on Shared Road) are slow and don't induce the ridership that rail or even busways would as they are not viewed that positively by a large group of people.

by GP Steve on Aug 22, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

The other project that will be sped up with the additional passenger rail funding is adding 2 additional daily trains to Norfolk. There is $80 million allocated in the Six Year Improvement Plan (SYIP) budget in FY16 through FY18 for CSX capacity upgrades between Staples Mill and Petersburg (and to the NS Norfolk connection). So there could be 3 daily trains to Norfolk by 2018 or so.

The budget has $96 million for NS track upgrades for the extension to Roanoke, but VA DRPT and NS still have to work out exactly what needs to be done and how much the state will pay for it.

The kicker in the current FY14 SYIP budget plan is that with the new passenger rail state sales tax revenue stream is that the projection is that VA DRPT will have about $300 million to spend over the next 6 years that has not been allocated to any projects yet. My guess is that some or much of that will be spent on improvements to the Newport News route and to add a second daily Regional train to Lynchburg ($91 million in NS upgrades estimate). Maybe get started on the long sought Acca Yard bypass in Richmond because the yard is a time killer traveling between Staples Mill and Richmond Main Street stations.

With the additional funding, Virginia will see a nice series of Amtrak service extensions and improvements over the next 6 to 10 years.

by AlanF on Aug 22, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

@GP SteveYou could make that argument most places but POBOSR (my term but needs a better ring to it for Plain Old Buses on Shared Road) are slow and don't induce the ridership that rail or even busways would as they are not viewed that positively by a large group of people.

I dont think there is density or population in blacksburg to put in rail or dedicated busways. If you can get the intercity rail within a mile or two of downtown I think it is an option to use buses. It would be better if it went right to the center of town and right to the gates of the university but that might not be cost effective.

The University of Maryland is larger, in a larger town, with more density and it is served just fine by train tracks 1 mile away. It will be better when the purple line brings the tracks through the campus itself, but it will still be a half mile away from downtown college park.

by Richard B on Aug 22, 2013 4:26 pm • linkreport

@GP Steve and others, VA is not going to extend service from Roanoke into Blacksburg itself (would be extremely expensive and a dead end for starters). The plan is to eventually extend service southwest of Roanoke on the NS tracks through Christianburg to Bristol at the far SW corner of the state. It will a rather slow trip from Roanoke to Bristol because of the winding tracks. Roanoke to Bristol took about 4 hours in the 1956 train schedules.

Extending service to Bristol probably does not take place until after Roanoke gets 2 daily Amtrak trains. Which is in the plans. The cross state route from Lynchburg to Richmond is in the plans as Phase VI where service to Roanoke is Phase II, so a cross state train from Bristol to Richmond to maybe Newport News or Norfolk is a (very) long term plan.

Meanwhile, students at VT should be able to take campus buses to the Roanoke station when Amtrak service reaches Roanoke.

by AlanF on Aug 22, 2013 4:34 pm • linkreport

It looks like with a little work you could get to here 37.22492,-80.413298 which would be a very good connection for most of Blacksburg.

by Richard B on Aug 22, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

Yeah, that'd make sense. Maybe hourly (as it is currently) in each direction, with an extra bus from Blacksburg to meet each train and then return?

@GP Steve:

That was a single-track spur with lots of curves, and with the trail there appears to be no more (or very little more) ROW.

@Richard B:
I noticed that line too, but that's also very curvy for an Amtrak line, and has no apparent connection to Christainsburg and points southwest. Maybe not that important, but it could matter.

by ImThat1Guy on Aug 22, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

Also looks like the Huckleberry was cut off by the regional airport there and also some quarry operation and makes a long detour, so the bestest route is gone.

by NikolasM on Aug 22, 2013 4:42 pm • linkreport

I know it's fun to look at maps and pick where trains should go, but it's not that simple. While there was some infrastructure in the past, much of that has been re-purposed or is gone. The Huckleberry Trail is just that... a trail. It's a great trail between Blacksburg and Christiansburg that has received and is continuing to receive a good amount of investment from Blacksburg/Montgomery County and Virginia Tech over the years. The Smart Way buses that connect Virginia Tech to Roanoke are growing in popularity. As others have said, other buses to and from Virginia Tech to Vienna? as well as other locations in Virginia are regularly full and there are also several chartered buses to take fans to games around the state as well. Amtrak actually just recently posted in their blog about how to get to Blacksburg from the NE corridor. Blacksburg should not be a rail priority.

by selxic on Aug 22, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure the utility is there for taking it to downtown Blacksburg for ~4 trains a day though of course that would be great for many reasons. I would probably add a point to point shuttle from campus to the train station in addition to local buses. could be a good spot for the station.

by BTA on Aug 22, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport


Do you have any additional information about the two more dialy trips to Norfolk? My girlfriend and I were considering going to Virginia Beach this summer but it requires a four and a half hour Amtrak trip, light rail, bus and then walking a mile.

With limited frequencies, taking Amtrak to Virginia Beach isn't feasible but this would change if Amtrak offered more frequent service to Norfolk and the Tide is extended to Virginia Beach.

by 202_cyclist on Aug 22, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

@ImThat1Guy: The line Richard pointed out is a pretty active freight route that enters a tunnel there under the high ground that Blacksburg sits on. The other end of the tunnel is around 37.178227,-80.429857

by iaom on Aug 22, 2013 5:04 pm • linkreport

That's not what I was talking about when I mentioned that it was a spur. There is still no apparent connection to the "main line" connecting Christainsburg with Radford and points southwest, which is far more direct for passenger service. And again, just because freight uses it does not make it usable for passenger rail; I don't think anybody wants curvy, 25mph rides, and it's single track so good luck convincing Norfolk Southern (I assume that's who owns the line) to let Amtrak run trains.

Like I said, the only real place for a station is at the two-tracked main line through Christainsburg, probably at 37.178227,-80.429857 or a few blocks eastward or westward.

by ImThat1Guy on Aug 22, 2013 5:23 pm • linkreport

@202_cyclist, the 2 additional daily trains to Norfolk are some years away because CSX wants track capacity upgrades first with a new bridge for a 2nd/3rd track across the Appomattox river the big ticket item. What the schedule would look like for the 2 new Norfolk (NFK) trains? Way too early to know. The trip times for the NFK trains will improve as more VA funded upgrades to the NS tracks are completed.

Amtrak does run a Amtrak through bus service from the Newport News (NPN) station to the NFK station and then to Virginia Beach (VAB). You can book the bus as one trip with a bus connection on the Amtrak website. I have recently done that by taking the train to NFK, but came back via the 3 PM bus from the NFK station which drove to the NPN station and then took Amtrak #66 back to DC. It is a long wait however at the NPN station because they leave a lot of slack for traffic jams in the bus schedule. The NPN station is isolated and there is little to do but hang out at the station. The plan is to build a new NPN station at a better location closer to downtown, but that project has a long way to go.

by AlanF on Aug 22, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

If Maryland could just get the Chesapeake Beach train back. I was there today and they said almost all the right-of-way was still there from the DC line.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 22, 2013 7:58 pm • linkreport

Yes! The trail to Chesapeake Beach is pretty much just sitting there waiting to have a train on it!

by Capt. Hilts on Aug 22, 2013 9:39 pm • linkreport

Before Virginians and others get too excited about the new Virginia intercity passenger rail service they should realize that these service enhancements are all put at risk by the House leadership's attempts to carve big funding reductions out of Amtrak's operating and capital budget. Yes, you may say, but the Commonwealth is subsidizing these trains. True, but reductions in funding of 21% in operating assistance and 33% in capital funds would cripple the railroad. With Congress expected to pass a continuing resolution in September, holding Amtrak at FY13 levels or less and further sequestration cuts coming the picture is not as rosy as you might think. Remember too, that those Amfleet Northeast Regional trains that you are riding on into Virginia are over 35 years old with no replacements funded in the foreseeable future. Learn more at

by Steve Strauss on Aug 22, 2013 9:50 pm • linkreport

@Capt hilts
Have the chesapeke beach as heavy rail connecting with the former b&p ,
Or light rail/dmu to blue line ?

by brilliant! on Aug 22, 2013 10:07 pm • linkreport

The article makes it sound like any work is still far off in the future. But planning has already started:

This is very exciting for us DC transplants from the Roanoke area. I am hopeful that the line is successful enough to extend it to Christiansburg and beyond. I don't think a Blacksburg spur would generate enough business (and rebuilding on the Huckleberry will never happen--it's too popular as a bike path). But--if it did, it would be awesome.

by VT Grad on Aug 22, 2013 10:25 pm • linkreport

Christianburg would work fine. There are parts of Rutgers that are 3-4 miles away or so from the downtown New Brunswick station, but that never stopped anyone from getting Amtrak there.

It would be different if you were talking frequent rail service. But once or twice a day doesn't require all that much proximity.

by TomA on Aug 23, 2013 8:17 am • linkreport

A few years ago wanted to take Amtrak to DC from Charlottesville. It was 4 hours late, and the people in the station said the service was always like that. And it would have taken 3 hours+ to arrive in DC. So went down the street to take a bus. Have they really improved service enough to make a trip to Roanoke attractive? Not if it takes 9 hours.

by polo on Aug 23, 2013 8:55 am • linkreport

I agree with Steve Strauss. Every year Amtrak has been setting ridership records and yet the Ayn Rand-disciples in the House of Representatives want to make dramatic cuts to Amtrak or privatize it entirely. The tea partiers who have only one goal-- to wreck our country-- need to go.

by 202_cyclist on Aug 23, 2013 9:02 am • linkreport

The state has talked for a while about extending service even further SW, to Bristol, along the existing NS tracks. THere would be stops in Christiansburg (near Blacksburg and VA Tech) and maybe in a couple of other intermediate towns like Wytheville.

However, I've always felt this seems a little truncated. Bristol is not that big a city. BUT, it is on the TN border and if you follow those tracks further west they go through three major cities (Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis). In Memphis the line would then connect to the City of New Orleans route that runs from Chicago to N.O.

Seems to me a bistate compact would produce a rail service that would serve vastly more passengers than a VA-only or TN-only rail service.

But TN seems to be much more hostile to passenger rail service than VA.

by Logarhythm on Aug 23, 2013 9:50 am • linkreport

Here is a #blog post about the overall context of passenger rail connecting through Virginia:

by Mark McCaskill on Aug 23, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

You couldn't get Tennessee to pay to extend the service down to Johnson City or Knoxville, let alone Nashville (the third largest metro area without Amtrak - behind LV and Columbus, OH) or Memphis.

Also, at that point you are really going beyond the scope of the project. I think the idea is to make it easy to get people from Southern and Central Virginia to the DC area (and maybe later, Richmond).

Once you get into Tennessee you are really creating a new long distance Amtrak line.

by TomA on Aug 23, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

I had always heard of Tennessee discussed in terms of Bristol, Knoxville and then Chattanooga. Chattanooga has its own desires for a higher speed link to Atlanta. So, you are correct, if that eventually works out there could be an eventual long-distance(ish) route from DC to Atlanta. This group is engaging Tennessee stakeholders to discuss the Bristol/Knoxville/Chattanooga concept.

by Mark McCaskill on Aug 23, 2013 10:14 am • linkreport

@polo, from your description, it appears you were waiting for either the Cardinal or the Crescent long distance trains, probably the eastbound Cardinal from Chicago which is often late. The Regional originating in Lynchburg is much more reliable and takes 2-1/2 hours from Charlottesville to DC. Which is faster than Greyhound which shows a 3:05 to 3:10 trip time to DC.

Virginia is providing Short Line preservation funding to fix up the Buckingham Branch RR line the Cardinal runs on in Virginia from Clifton Forge to Charlottesville to Orange and which is often a source of delays. The Cardinal should improve in reliability and trip times in future years as the track maintenance and signal upgrade projects are completed.

The Regional originating in Lynchburg and eventually in Roanoke, operates over 79 mph Norfolk Southern tracks to Manassas so it has faster trip times to DC.

by AlanF on Aug 23, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

@Matk McCaskill: There already is a long-distance route from DC to Atlanta, the Crescent. It takes a far more direct route than out to Bristol and down through Chattanooga, though of course it also takes a long time to make that trip. It also comes through VA at odd hours.

The SEHSR plan would be for trains to go south from DC through Richmond to Raleigh, then along the NC crescent to Charlotte before on through SC to Atlanta. That would allow direct car- and plane-competitive trips between pairs like Richmond and Charlotte or Charlotte and Atlanta as well as the longer distance trips.

I imagine that the main obstacles to actual high speed rail on that route would be SC, which has never been very interested, and NC, which was making great strides in incrementally improving its in-state routes (better than VA, really) until the governing party flipped. NC now has a transportation administration adamantly opposed to funding anything other than roads.

GA, which has been generally against any transit or rail, could probably be convinced to throw a small amount of money at rail to Atlanta, along the lines of what VA is doing. But that's not at all an issue if they have no partners in any nearby states.

by Gray on Aug 23, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

"This group is engaging Tennessee stakeholders to discuss the Bristol/Knoxville/Chattanooga concept."

I used to date a lady from Kingsport (for those not familiar, Kingsport is literally down the road from Bristol) and I spent a lot of time in that town. That place might have been the second most rabid about wanting Amtrak, after Roanoke. Of course, they also required it to go all the way to Knoxville for Vols games...

by Another Nick on Aug 23, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

Love that this is just a short 33 mile bike ride from Blacksburg.

by oboe on Aug 23, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

It's exciting, but Amtrak is INSANELY, INSANELY expensive. The slow, Bulgarian-level-of-service Northeast Regional is MORE expensive -- for shorter distances -- than super, high-speed trains in Europe covering vaster distances at super high speeds.

by James on Aug 25, 2013 6:54 pm • linkreport


Amtrak is prohibitively expensive in parts of the NE Corridor.

by Capt. Hilts on Aug 25, 2013 8:41 pm • linkreport


Its only about 75 further to go Lynchburg-Bristol-Knoxville-Chattanooga-Atlanta, than the current Lynchburg-Danville-Greensboro-Charlotte-Spartansburg-Atlanta route.

And of course neither of those routes hit the Raleigh or Richmond areas on the way to DC.

Reality is that probably all three should exist - Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh-Richmond-DC as a true HSR line and the others as something similar to current Amtrak.

by TomA on Aug 26, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

Even now a rider can take the "Lynchburg Train" to Lynchburg and catch the Smart Way Bus Connector to Roanoke (daily) and to Blacksburg (VA Tech), Fri, Sat, Sun.

When the train replaces the bus, then the Smart Way Bus will probably be terminated between Lynchburg and Roanoke and be replaced with daily connector service between Roanoke and Blacksburg, laying the basis for the next train extension.

by Dan Peacock on Sep 29, 2013 10:59 am • linkreport

The Smart Way bus service started around 10 years as a connection between Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Roanoke. It still has a healthy schedule between the three with several buses per day:

When the train does come to Roanoke a good next step would be to bring Radford Transit into the scene and have a version of the "Smart Way" that connects the train in Roanoke to Christiansburg, Blacksburg and Radford. After Roanoke, a good "incremental" goal for the train is to get all the way to Radford. Once in Radford the focus can change to Wytheville or Bristol as the next increment.

by Mark McCaskill on Sep 30, 2013 9:32 am • linkreport

I agree that, once Amtrak gets to Roanoke, having daily Smart Way Connector Bus service from Radford to Roanoke and Amtrak would be an excellent way to build up ridership between the two cities in anticipation of Amtrak's further extension to Radford, which has Radford University (10,000 students) and a large rail yard for train storage.

At that point, VA Tech and Radford University should require staff and professors who want to use official vehicles for travel to fill out a form comparing using the car versus the bus/train. The later is likely to be far cheaper and more efficient as the bus/train is a "portable office" where the rider can continue to work and communicate via the internet, tasks not possible in a car.

by Dan Peacock on Sep 30, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

The big question is when Amtrak will open an east-west line from Norfolk west. There are many north-south lines in the US, but few east-west lines.

by Screiver on Dec 9, 2013 10:41 pm • linkreport

As a former Norfolker....I believe there is one owned by Norfolk-Southern.

They should give a green light to this innovation.

by Capt. Hilts on Dec 9, 2013 10:54 pm • linkreport

I believe you are mentioning the line which loosely follows Highway 58 west. I'm not really sure where it ends up, but it would be fantastic if they would upgrade it to Amtrak standards and open an east-west corridor to Roanoke and possibly further to West Virginia and beyond. Maybe they could roughly follow the I-64 path all the way to Louisville; but I'm sure I'm dreaming.

by Screiver on Dec 9, 2013 11:11 pm • linkreport

I'm pretty sure it goes all the way to Roanoke, that's why N-W built the Hotel Roanoke way back when.

I think they still head out that way.

by Capt. Hilts on Dec 9, 2013 11:15 pm • linkreport

I'm a tennessean and would love to see passenger rail from bristol to johnson city to knoxville and bristol on up through to blacksburg so I could get to DC without riding a bus or driving or flying

by chase on Jan 17, 2014 8:24 pm • linkreport

I live and work in Washington, DC and travel thru Lynchburge/ Roanoke, VA to Knoxville, TN, Corbin and Lexington, KY to Cincinnati, OH several times a year. It would be very nice if the passenger train continued on instead of just stopping in Lynchburge,VA Riding the bus is not a good experience. I hope someone can make this happen. Best,

by Mr. Risotto on Nov 7, 2016 1:47 pm • linkreport

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