Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
Board Meeting
Blue Marlin Restaurant, Columbia, SC
June 11, 2011 Open - 12:55 P.M.
Present: Martin Wheeler, Jim Frierson, Ed Locklin, Ken Davis, Gene Kirkland, Sarah Nuckles (SCDOT Commissioner), Roy Tolson (SCDOT Freight and Inter-modal Programs) and Phil Astwood.

Action Items:
  • Jim will identify SC legislative committee chairs to receive the SC brochure and insert
  • Jim will check list of municipal leaders in cities/towns along routes proposed in insert
  • Phil will prepare a cover letter for mailing insert to municipalities along proposed routes
  • Gene will continue to proof new CAPT brochure and get 20,000 copies printed
  • Martin will check on price for printing the brochure in Charlotte
  • All Board members who have not done so should send updated information for website
  • Gene will get the newsletter out soon
1. Roy Tolson (SCDOT Director of the Office of Railroads) – In 2006, SC’s governor created the Division of Inter-modal & Freight Programs within the SCDOT. The Division included the Office of Railroads among whose tasks were to: Coordinate passenger and freight service, support high speed rail, preserve rail right-of-way, and apply for funds for infrastructure improvement. It is particularly important to support short line railroads that provide an important service in SC so a special effort is made to help these. SCDOT has applied for several sets of funds for studies and improvements, but our success rate has not been high as yet. We must coordinate Amtrak and the freight rails to make sure there are enough slots to separate trains. We have invested $4 million per year for work on SC’s 2,670 grade crossings; 1,264 of which have no protection. Special attention must be paid to those along designated high speed rail corridors. Many years of funding will be needed to fix all. In the last few months there has been increased interest in a Charlotte/Columbia rail passenger route. Columbia Mayor Benjamin is a champion of this. Amtrak has proposed a feasibility study and the Midlands COG is also interested. There is also interest in the development of an inter-modal center at the present Amtrak station. This would need a crossing for Greene Street over the tracks. Florence is also interested in an inter-modal facility which would require relocation of the present Amtrak station because of poor accessibility in its present location. SCDOT is also interested in a passenger rail connection from Florence to Myrtle Beach and a passenger rail connection from Florence to Charleston. No direct rail link currently exists between Flo and MB, but an old right-of-way exists and it would also be possible to follow the I-73 corridor for which there has been planning. This is under study. Many other projects have been studied, some extensively, such as: an Assembly Street rail consolidation, a Rosewood-Elmwood project to make the area more friendly for pedestrians, a project to eliminate a grade crossing in Spartanburg, and moving the Charleston Amtrak station to an inter-modal facility near the airport. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has $20.5 million available for high speed rail crossings. SCDOT has applied for funds to update crossings in Greer and Ulmer.

Answers to Questions: (Tolson) CSX and NS do share some tracks into Charleston. The site for the Florence inter-modal center is under discussion; it probably will be downtown at Baroody Street. There may be a connection to Francis Marion University. (Sarah Nuckles) In order to equalize political power within the state, NC has an equity act that divides the state into equal regions. In SC such an act could stop the Coastal and Upstate favoritism that exists despite legal requirements to the contrary. Short lines may be the first area to receive support like the $2 million they receive in NC. This is important because one rail car keeps 3 trucks off the road. (Tolson) A lot of rail crossings could be eliminated, but local residents oppose it. Some have been closed. Amtrak likes to contract with DOTs, so the Charlotte/Columbia line would be negotiated with SCDOT. The Berkley-Charleston-Dorchester COG has developed a plan for a Charleston area commuter service, but nothing has been released. The time seems right due to increased demand. Members of the DOT Commission should receive copies of the new SC brochure and insert.

2. Secretary's Report - Phil Astwood distributed the minutes of the April 11 meeting via e-mail to Board members and as hardcopy at the meeting. The minutes were accepted as amended with corrections presented at the meeting.

3. Treasurer's Report - Gene Kirkland reported expenditures of just over $500 for brochure development. He has obtained another bid for printing, and predicts that completion of the two brochure projects will use the remainder in the CAPT challenge amount. Thus, with permission, he will move Challenge money to the operating account. Current balance in the operating account is $12,989.35. Adding the CAPT challenge funds of $4,985.58 gives a total balance of $17,473.93. The Association has 190 members. Gene also reported that starting in 2014, the NC General Assembly will cut all funding to state museums including the transportation museum at Spencer which will begin to charge admission

4. Update on an Attempt by Republican Legislators in the NC General Assembly to kill funding for High Speed Rail - Martin Wheeler reported that funds for the Blue Line etc. are still in the budget. The bill to restrict NCDOT acceptance of grants is languishing. The legislators may try to eliminate Amtrak operating subsidies in NC and thus raise fares on Amtrak trains. However letters of support for passenger rail in NC from former Governors Hunt and Martin have appeared in the Charlotte Observer. Any restrictions on NCDOT funds will restrict track updates, station rebuilding, etc. Some legislators also want to cut state maintenance funds for all state transit. The House legislation would require prior legislative approval before acceptance of federal money. Bob Bischoff prepared a letter opposing this bill (422), but since bill is in committee, letter will not be sent until the bill progresses.

5. Update on Resolution Drive in South Carolina in Support of Expanded Rail Passenger Service - Martin distributed copies of the SC brochure with the new inserts. The Myrtle Beach route suggested by Roy Tolson might be better than the one used to prepare the schedule in the insert. We also need to check with someone in Greenville about the “Swamp Rabbit Trail”. Is there enough room for rail? We need to find a direct way into Greenville. The brochure incorporates suggestions from the last meeting, and shows various Charlotte/Columbia alternatives. It also lists possible commuter service at each end. The estimate is that it will cost $940 to print 800 copies. Jim Frierson is still trying to identify committee members who should receive completed copies of the resolution and the new SC insert. It was suggested that we could resend resolution including the new SC insert to cities and towns along the suggested routes. Jim will check for changes in mayors and administrators. Phil will write a letter including a list of those who have submitted a resolution to accompany the new mailing. It should include an offer to come and speak about the project or send additional information. Phil will send a copy to the Board for approval.

6. Status of Efforts to Produce New CAPT Brochure - Gene Kirkland brought proof copies of the brochure with two different cover designs. The Board selected the“Amtrak” cover showing a picture of the Accela. Gene will continue to proof the contents in detail, for example Jim corrected the address for the SCDOT website. On the map, Gene will leave Matthews in and show a line to Monroe. He will correct the location of Burlington. He said he would get it to the printer and have 20,000 copies made by the next meeting. He has received two bids: 10,000 for $2,500 or 20,000 for $3,730 from the printer in Fayetteville; and 10,000 for $2,040 or 20,000 for $3,960 in Raleigh. The Board decided we should print 20,000. Martin will get a third quote in Charlotte. The question now is: Where do we put them? To whom do we send them?

7. Update on CAPT Newsletter and Website - Website John Bobinyec could not attend, but requested that all Board members who have not done so please send an update of their address so that John can put it on the website. Martin will send him a copy of the SC insert to go on the site. Newsletter - Gene said it would be finished up and ready soon.

8. Amtrak Update - Gene reported that Amtrak ridership is up about 5% and this is the 19th straight month in which it has increased. Amtrak will propose a special bus service owned by Amtrak that will use specially designed buses to provide service from Rocky Mount to Wilmington and Atlantic Beach. As demand for the bus service grows it makes a case for the train. This has been approved, but Amtrak does not plan to fund it right away. There are too few cars on the Piedmonts. They need the 8 cars that are being rebuilt. An agent has been named for Cary; the station is scheduled to open at the end of August.

9. NC Transit Update - Martin reported that the line to Mooresville is waiting for money from the state and partnerships. The Blue Line extension money is assured. Its time line calls for the start of service on December 5, 2016. The line will go as far as the university. CATS is still working on 36th St. grade separation. The airport inter-modal center will break ground this summer. As soon as NS moves out, CATS will get the old yard. They plan to use some of it; sell some of it. The cost of the Blue Line extension is still estimated at $976 million. When the extension is complete, CATS will run 7.5 minute headways at rush hour with 2-car trains even though platforms can accommodate 3-car trains in the new area. When all platforms are updated, they will go to 10 minute headways. There have been many meetings with NS. The design work should be done soon.

10. Reports by Officers and Directors -
  • Ed Locklin – At formation of Amtrak, the NE Corridor was a separate unit. If it were separated again, some in Congress are suggesting, Amtrak would have more money for the rest of the country. NARP says an effort to privatize the NE corridor is nothing new. Many believe, however, that private firms would have no interest in doing this and if it were done, it would ruin Amtrak.
11. Planning for Future Meetings – August 13 - Greenville (Phil & David will set this up), October 8 – Asheville (Art will set this up), December 10 - Charleston. (Jim will set this up)

Adjourn - 3:40 P.M.