Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
Board Meeting
Charleston County Public Library Charleston, SC
April 20, 2013 Open - 1:30 P.M.
Present: Martin Wheeler, Jim Frierson, Ed Locklin, Bob Bischoff, Larry Libater & Phil Astwood

Action Items:
    Jim will send information on passenger rail to the SC Statewide Transportation Study
    Phil will print cover letters & mailing labels & mail out the brochure, inserts & resolution
    Martin will write to Columbia’s Mayor Benjamin in support of CLT/CLB rail service

Secretary's Report - Minutes of the February meeting were distributed to Board members via e-mail after the meeting and as hard copy at this meeting. Phil Astwood read a summary of the minutes to the meeting and they were approved as corrected. Phil said he would not be able to attend the next meeting. Jim volunteered to take the minutes in his place.

Financial Report - Gene Kirkland was not able to attend the meeting, but mailed the treasurer’s report for the period February 7 to April 18, 2013. The report showed a starting balance of $10,520.59, expenses for printing and mailing of $135.87, cost of meeting room rental of $139.66 and income of $112.23 leaving an ending balance of $10,357.29. The Association currently has 218 members

Report on Charleston Multi-modal Transportation Center Project and Area Commuter Rail Studies - (Jim) CARTA has information about the Multi-modal Center on its website. (Martin) Wikipedia reports that the multi-modal center project has been cancelled because CSX has changed its mind about allowing access to its line at that point. It is concerned about how that access will affect Bennett Yard. CARTA spent $9 million to buy land and make improvements. Faced with CSX’s decision, CARTA planned to sell the land, buy the old Charleston Amtrak station, and convert it for multi-modal use. At the last minute the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) put a stop to the whole project and indicated CARTA might not be able to retain funds from the sale of the land. Christine Wilkinson (CARTA executive director) plans to work with FTA to find a solution. CARTA would like to meet with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the next couple of weeks.

South Carolina Statewide Multi-Modal Transportation Plan - (Jim) There was an interactive Internet presentation of the transportation plan that gave the opportunity for input from the public. The presentation discussed freight rail, ports, and highways but nothing about passenger rail. The study is not over so there is still time for comments. Jim will send in information on passenger rail in SC. There is a link to the study on the SCDOT website. The study is expected to be complete at the end on this year. Rail responsibility at SCDOT is handled by Rick Wyatt who deals with intermodal and freight operations. He is not currently doing anything with passenger rail, but would be willing to talk to a CAPT meeting. So far he has only been working on freight rail and ports. We are still looking for the Wilbur Smith study on transportation in SC. Smith is the primary consultant on this study, however it is now known as CDM Smith. Jeff Burns said this fall they will bring the “Best Friend of Charleston” back from Atlanta to be displayed at the visitor center in Charleston. The new intermodal center would be a great place to eventually display it.

Update on News in NC and SC affecting Transit and Rail Passenger Service - (Martin) NCDOT has just received notice of the cost increases from Amtrak that are specified by S209, the legislation passed by Congress requiring all states with state-supported trains to bear a higher percentage of their cost. To maintain the current level of service in NC in 2014-2015, the state will need to pay an additional $6 million. All states will receive a letter from Amtrak indicating their new contribution. Amtrak will post 180-day discontinuance notices for the effected trains if the states do not agree to sign new agreements which either increase funding or decrease service. So far, only Maine whose contribution does not increase, has signed a new agreement. Allan Paul says NC has not yet decided what action it will take. However, in the opinion of the Board, NC has invested a great deal of money in equipment for the Piedmonts and it would seem logical that they will find the money to continue the use of that equipment. VA has not signed the new agreement, but their legislature recently passed legislation that will provide $50-$55 million for rail passenger service improvements including extending service to Roanoke, adding frequencies to Norfolk and extending Metrorail to Dulles Airport. Amtrak ridership figures for the fiscal year that began in October 2012 show increases for most trains. The Piedmonts are up 8.6%, the Carolinian up 6.3%, the Silver Star is down 5.4%, the Crescent is down 5.3%, and the Silver Meteor is basically unchanged. The Palmetto is up 10.5%. Super storm Sandy may have been responsible for some of the decreases. Corridor ridership has seen a recent decrease but is expected to rise. Overall, short-distance state supported routes saw a 2.7% rise and ridership on long distance trains is up .5%. Paul Worley has been confirmed as permanent director of the NCDOT rail division. Gov McCrory has announced a new formula for the distribution of transportation funds that is supposed to be fairer than the old “equity spending” system that seemed to favor rural areas over urban ones. The new formula is called the 2013 strategic mobility formula. It addresses only highways with no mention of passenger rail. A strength is that it allows smaller divisions to work together on regional projects. RGH will have two transportation centers; the new Amtrak station (“Union Station”) and the “Moore Square Bus Terminal” for local service.

Update on Resolution Drive in South Carolina in Support of Expanded Rail Passenger Service - (Phil) Jim has compiled and distributed a mailing list of mayors and county council chairs in areas within 10 miles of the routes proposed in the SC brochure inserts. I have put these 183 addresses into Excel in order to print the cover letters and mailing labels. The Board approved the cover letter as written. It will go in a brown envelope with a mailing label having CAPT’s logo in color. Along with the cover letter, the envelope will contain the SC brochure, the two inserts, and the Resolution. It was suggested that this might not be the ideal time to send these, but it is unlikely that a better time will come soon. It was the consensus of the Board to do the mailing now. As he collects them, Jim will send addresses for chambers of commerce and also the members of the SC House and Senate Transportation committees who will get a similar mailing.

Update on Recent Push by Central Midlands Coalition for a Columbia-Charlotte Connection to the High-speed Rail Network - Martin has not yet written to Columbia’s Mayor Benjamin, but will send all of our information along with a letter indicating our support for the project and offering any help we can provide. Jim said there was nothing new at the Central Midlands COG.

Discussion of Ways to Distribute the new CAPT Brochure - Though SC welcome centers will not accept the brochure for distribution, Art Peterson said the NC centers will. Jim said the libraries, chambers of commerce and the hobby shop he visited were all receptive.

Update on CAPT Newsletter and Website Issues - Website – Martin said he knew of nothing new. John Bobinyec is working on a way to join CAPT and pay dues through PayPal. Newsletter – (Martin) – We are waiting for financing issues in NC to be settled and for some final word on the Charleston multi-modal center. We also need to put out information on the Charlotte Blue Line extension and the trolley line.

Amtrak Update - (Martin) Amtrak seems to have escaped the sequestration problems at least through October. The NAPR newsletter reports that Amtrak seeks more capital and a smaller operating grant in the next fiscal year. Money is requested for new rolling stock and wi-fi on long distance trains - $356 million, improving station accessibility - $75 million, advancing the Gateway project - $167 million, and debt service - $212 million. Amtrak and Pennsylvania agreed to save the Pennsylvanian. There is an article on the Brookings Institute report on ridership and another article on the new Niagara Falls station. (Bob) It is interesting that the Brookings article encourages states to remove the ‘roads only’ exclusion on gas tax revenue. (Jim) SC has already done that, but only .25% of one cent goes to transit. That’s about $6 million/year. (Martin) National Train Day is Saturday May 11. We have participated in the past and we have been requested to do so again. Amtrak will be in charge of their stations. We have a list of NCDOT stations. We have a request for people at Kannapolis (Ed and Bob). Bill Cole will probably be in Charlotte with Martin. Let Martin know what you can do and he will contact NCDOT. All stations in SC are run by Amtrak. Bob has kept a postal box in Charlotte that is the mailing address on our brochures. Board agreed to keep the box for $86/year. Bob will let Gene know where to send a check for rental. Earl Eargle is still interested in his CD project.

Reports by Officers and Directors -
  • Bob Bischoff - From Railway Age – “The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees for Amtrak is poised for the third time in 16 years to take Amtrak to the brink of a shutdown. To the horror of all Amtrak workers, that could accomplish the permanent shutdown of Amtrak that has eluded the most conservative of budget hawks and Amtrak critics. They are arguing over a $30 increase in healthcare premiums. At Amtrak, labor costs consume 90% of ticket revenue and exceed 50% of Amtrak’s total cost. While median income for all Americans slid 12% since 2000, Amtrak’s unionized workers have enjoyed a 35% wage boost. Now Amtrak is going to offer another 15% increase over 5 years”. In Illinois they have a deal going with Enterprise where they give a 10% discount to Amtrak customers and the rental cars are available not only in major cites but even smaller cities all over the state. Why doesn’t NC have something like this deal? Rental cars are a real convenience to people when they get somewhere by train and they can’t get to where they are going without an automobile. Charlotte Trolley has been offered space in a mill in Charlotte to restore their cars and store the equipment that they have. It is at the end of the Cedar Street line which we were talking about renting from the state. We were planning to rebuild this line in phases and this mill is at the end of about a 2 mile stretch of track so we need to come up with the money to get to that point. Right now we are talking with the developer who would like to have Charlotte Trolley in that mill. He has some old Charleston cars in the mill now. At least one was used as a house. It has windows blocked out and a kitchen counter. They are in pretty bad shape and need a lot of work. Our #85 is in good shape now, but still not acceptable by FRA standards for use on the light rail line as was intended. It is now in the light rail facility in Charlotte all wrapped up. They’ll move it when there is a permanent home for it. The mill would be a nice location.
  • Ed Locklin - I suggest we all talk up train travel in groups of which we are members. There are a lot of people in the church who know about my passion for trains. A couple of elderly ladies wanting to go to DC told me about it. I told them they might have a good or not so good experience, but they would not have to sit behind a wheel for hours. The point is to talk it up; you never know what affect it will have.
  • Bob Bischoff - In Chicago a couple of years ago, the director of the commuter service was found to have absconded with several hundred thousand dollars of their money. When it was discovered, he stood in front of one of the commuter trains and was killed.
  • Ed Locklin - The Carolinian and Piedmont have hit a number of people and vehicles. It’s a shame they cannot get the information they need from the train and let it go instead of holding it for hours.
  • Larry Libater - Several years ago the Silver Meteor hit three people in separate incidents during one trip and ended up being 25 hours late.
  • Martin Wheeler - In Charlotte the Red Line Regional is still trying to find funding. They are working on a capacity rail study with NS. They have not yet set up the funding and financing mechanism, tax increment financing and other possibilities. The Blue Line expansion project got money to extend the existing platforms for three-car trains. Construction should start in 2014. Some stations will be far more expensive than others. Stations in the extension will be built with 3 car platforms and 3 new sub stations will have to be built to meet power demand of 3 car trains. When they have longer trains they should not have to increase frequency, but once the extension is complete they plan to run 7.5 minute separations during rush hour in place of the current 10 minutes. During the day trains run with 15 minute separations, after 7:30 or 8:00 it’s 20 minutes, after 11:00 it drops to 30 minutes and at 1:30 it shuts down. On the weekend it runs every 20 minutes. There is no longer any published schedule or map, it is all online. Recently we went back to 55 mph as before. There are still some slow orders being worked on. The prior administration cut speeds rather than fix problems. Trips are still about 2 minutes longer than called for in the original design. The present system is 9.6 miles long and 10 or 10.1 miles will be added. Travel time on the new line will be 47 minutes end to end. There is new high-level fencing to keep people off the tracks. We have about 40 transit police to enforce fares and keep people off the tracks. The first of the18 new cars are due in about a year. The yard and buildings will be expanded to accommodate the cars and the workers needed to care for the line. Mark Sullivan who was instrumental in getting the NCDOT rail division established recently passed away at 77 from lung cancer.
Future Meetings - June 8 – Selma (Gene might set this up), August 10 – Aiken, October 12 – Asheville, December 14 – Columbia.

Adjourn - 4:00